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Coaches talk ACC Championship Game

Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher and Duke head coach David Cutcliffe spoke with the media on Sunday afternoon to discuss their upcoming appearances in the ACC Championship Game.

Florida State Head Coach Jimbo Fisher

COACH FISHER: Very excited to be in the championship game again. I think it's a terrific opportunity for our football team and a great accomplishment by our football team for what we've been able to achieve this year so far, and we've played with great consistency, and we'll have to continue to play that way.

Duke right now is playing tremendous football. They're on a great hot streak. They've won I think eight games in a row. Very balanced as an offense, can throw it, can run it. Quarterback does a great job.

Defensively creating pressure, creating a lot of sacks, creating different problems on defense.

Special teams doing a great job, returning kicks, kicking the ball.

David has done a tremendous job with this group. They're very big, they're athletic and he's done one heck of a job, and we're going to definitely have to bring our "A" game, but we're looking forward to the opportunity and looking forward to the challenge, and hopefully finishing off the season on a good note, the regular season here, until we get to the bowl games and where everyone is going to go.

But I think it's a great opportunity. It's a great venue there in Charlotte, and looking forward to playing Duke and the team that David has created there. They've done a tremendous job.

Q. You played them last year. What do you think just from what you know of them this year is where they've made the biggest strides on the field in terms of Xs and Os?

COACH FISHER: Well, in terms of Xs and Os, I think it's confidence in what they're doing. I think last year they got into the first bowl game in a long time. David did a great job and he's built their confidence, and I think they understand what they're doing. And I think their quarterback, the two-headed quarterback situation is a very tough problem to have. They can both run and throw the ball, both of them equally, and I think just they've grown in confidence in everything that they've done, and they've become much bigger and more physical and they run better in the secondary and have just gotten overall better talent, and David has done a great job recruiting and developing his players.

Q. You mentioned the quarterbacks. Using two quarterbacks doesn't work for a lot of people but it obviously has worked for them. Why do you think that is, and what are the differences in those guys that you see?

COACH FISHER: Well, I think they've created roles for each other, and they understand what each guy is going to do. I'll tell you the funny thing, being the head running quarterback and passing, now I think now both of them are throwing it and running it pretty equally. So I mean, they're very tough guys to defend, and it gives them two different guys, and each guy is fresh.

Q. You guys are in a position today this program hasn't been in in 13 years. You talk about expectations, and this is what you expect at Florida State, but still, it's different for these guys. Will you say anything to them, and how do you expect them to handle this now being No. 1?

COACH FISHER: Well, No. 1 has nothing to do with it. What we have to do is play well against Duke. I'm not worried about what we're ranked and what we're doing. That'll all take care of itself. What we need to focus on is preparing for a great game this week and playing a great game against Duke. Whether you're 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, whatever, it has no bearing on what we have to do this week. The only thing we can control is how we play and what we do this week, and that's what I'll tell them.

Q. Just curious when it started kind of creeping on your radar that Duke could be your opponent in the championship game?

COACH FISHER: Three or four weeks ago. I've noticed them. You see highlights and you see the numbers and what's going on. I said, Duke has got a very good team. I know if they had a chance to win out they could be there, and I've felt that for the last three or four weeks as far as who's playing. I don't really worry about who's your opponent, I just look at who's playing well, and I knew they were playing very well. I knew if they got hot, they could be there.

Q. Last year you took the team to Charlotte and not a whole heck of a lot of those guys had been to the ACC Championship a couple years before that, and for a lot of the guys this year it's going to be a new experience. Do they embrace that experience? Is the ACC Championship game, even though it's no longer in Florida, is this something the kids, once they've got it clinched is something they've been looking forward to?

COACH FISHER: Oh, no doubt, it's your Conference Championship and that's one of the main goals within your season is you want to win your conference. Our kids are very much looking forward to going to Charlotte and competing.

Q. I guess they've understood this all year about the process and everything, one game at a time, but these guys understand that nothing is going to happen until you win your conference as far as --

COACH FISHER: Exactly right, and we've told them, we're in the position we're in because of what you've done, and this is the next step that you have to take to reach some of the goals which you have.

Q. Your quarterback has had such a great year, almost obscures what your receivers have done. Do you feel those guys get overlooked at times?

COACH FISHER: No, I don't. I don't at all. I think everyone knows that for a quarterback to have the numbers and to have the season he does, he needs the guys that can receive and catch the ball, and I don't think – Rashad (Greene) and Kenny (Shaw) and Kelvin (Benjamin) and Nick O'Leary I think are all very well respected especially by the opponents they play and they definitely are by us in our own organization, that's for sure.

Q. I remember last year you talking about when you took the job you had sort of a five-year plan in mind, how things might be able to go. Where you are now, is that about where you hoped you might be at this point and what do you think were the crucial aspects to get you here?

COACH FISHER: Well, I think very much so. I think it's exactly where we want to be and was hoping to be where we're at, and I think the key is being able to recruit well consistently year in and year out and being able to make the changes internally in our organization and in our player development, and I think behind the scenes a lot of folks don't see, I think that's been very critical in the things we're able to do.

Q. During halftime of the game on Saturday you had said to I think the sideline reporter about how similar you and Jameis are and sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes that's a bad thing, but even just kind of seeing the relationship he has with your sons and stuff like that, the off-the-field friendship relationship type of thing that you have with Jameis, what has that meant to the overall success of both your relationship on the field?

COACH FISHER: Well, I think it's been very critical, and I think because on the field you have to be the boss, you have to be this is what we're going to do and how we're going to do it. But I think off the field they have to see that you care. If you're going to coach them hard and demand from them, they've also got to know you care off the field, and I definitely do care not only for Jameis but for every one of our players. I'm very tough and challenge them to be the player they can become, not the one they are. But at the same time when they're off the field let them know that we do care about you. I do care what happens to you as a person, as a student and everything else, and I think that's critical time so that you can coach them the right way on the field, and I think that's even more critical, like I say, to the relationship than when you get to the field.

Q. Given the ongoing investigation involving your quarterback, how do you manage to insulate the team from that, just given the attention that Jameis receives, his importance to the team, and I'm also wondering if the investigation has altered your preparation or practice in any way.

COACH FISHER: No, it hasn't altered it in any way. Our team is not insulated from it, and we deal with it and we address those issues, and like I say, we control what we can control and that's how we prepare and how we play, and that's how they go about it.

Q. I was just curious, when you heard about the Alabama-Auburn score were you watching it live on the bus, and what was your reaction to that play?

COACH FISHER: We were watching on the bus at five minutes to go. I actually heard it, I was driving home in my truck from the stadium. I was listening to it. I was driving home and had it on the radio, and I was just listening to what happened in the game, and I was going, huh? I never dreamed of it ending that way, either. Just caught me off guard and I had to get home and see it on TV. Kind of was astonishing, really was.

Q. As a head coach, if you could put yourself in both guys' position, obviously Gus did the right thing by putting a guy back there, but sometimes Nick -- you have a field goal kicker that can kick a 56-, 57-yarder.

COACH FISHER: If I had Roberto I would kick it. I mean, Nick knows his players better than anybody. We can all doubt, but you don't know what that guys is capable of. He watches him every day, and he's been hitting 60-yarders and he had the wind at his back, why not try and win that game on the road and have a kick, and the odds of that happening. Now, you've got to go over and cover him. I'll guarantee Nick has coached that up, I promise you that. We do it here, and that's the way we handle that.

There's chances in everything you do. If he makes it, he's a hero. You play to win the game, you don't play not to lose the game.

Q. I was just curious what it's been like for you? I know you've got a relationship with David Cutcliffe and what it's been like for you to see from afar what he's done at Duke over the last couple years?

COACH FISHER: Always had a lot of respect for David. Always thought he was a great coach. We competed against each other many years in the SEC, and for me it's been very gratifying because I thought he did a great job as the head coach at Ole Miss, always have, and watched him build that program and how he's done and the influence he's had on them, it's been very fun to watch them. Very happy for them. He's a good guy, and he's a tremendous coach.

Q. Is it unexpected at all? You look at Duke and the history of that program, there isn't a whole lot there, at least not in the last 50 years or so. Is it weird for you to see -- is it unexpected for you to see what he's been able to do that given what little he had to work with coming in?

COACH FISHER: I think it's been a tremendous accomplishment, but if you know David, David always finds a way to get things done. It doesn't surprise me that David was able to do that, but it is a tremendous accomplishment what he's been able to do considering the history and what's been done there before. My hat's off to him. He does a tremendous job.

Q. Just curious, where do you think their receiver Jamison Crowder ranks among the receivers in the entire league?

COACH FISHER: Well, he's No. 1. He's caught the most balls and made the most plays. That guy is a tremendous player now. He's caught 88 balls if I'm not mistaken. I'm going off the top of my head right here, but I think he's caught 88 balls and a ton of plays. He is definitely a playmaker for them.

Q. Yeah, statistically speaking, he obviously is, but in terms of --

COACH FISHER: Oh, I think he's as good as anybody in the league. I think he's a heck of a player.

Q. How does he compare with somebody like a Sammy Watkins?

COACH FISHER: Sammy may be a little faster. Of course, Sammy may be faster than anybody in our league, his explosiveness, but I mean, production-wise he's been just as productive.

Q. What makes him so good? Obviously he's the No. 1 option, yet he's still able to have 88 receptions?

COACH FISHER: Well, I think he moves him around, they can get him in different spots. Understanding how to run routes, he's got tremendous body quickness to get in and out of his cuts. He understands the timing and the rhythm of their passing game is very good, got very good hands, can beat you deep, can beat you underneath, can double move you. I think with his versatility he can run all the routes that are necessary so it's hard to create different coverages for him. I mean, and the guy understands the ball and knows how to sit down in zones and get open, also.

Q. And one other question if I can: Last year a lot was made about ticket allotments and maybe not being able to sell out the allotment on both sides. What kind of a crowd are you expecting from your side this year?

COACH FISHER: I guess we're expecting a great one. I actually haven't had any talks with our AD I've been so involved in just trying to win football games. I let those folks all take care of that.

I promise you, if there's five people in the stands or it's sold out, we're going to be there and play, I promise you that. I think it'll be a tremendous following. I think everybody will go, and it sounds like there's a lot of excitement about it down here anyway.

Q. Just a quick question, I know rankings have nothing to do with what you guys do and you don't pay attention to any of that stuff, but is there something to be said the way you guys have continually climbed throughout this season whereas other teams just weren't able to stay perfect?

COACH FISHER: Well, I mean, hopefully your consistency and hopefully we can do it one more week until the bowl season starts. We've been able to focus and do that, not pay attention to the outside things and worry about anything. We can't worry about where we're ranked and what goes on. We've just got to worry about preparing and playing, and that's all we tell our guys, and hopefully we can do that at least one more week right here.

Q. Is there any different feel or is it same ol' same ol'?

COACH FISHER: No, not one bit.

Q. I was hoping you could talk about Duke's running game, and that's been an area of dramatic improvement for them especially over the last couple years. They were one of the worst rushing teams in the country two or three years ago. They made a big move there. Do you see their offensive line doing things really well, their stable of backs?

COACH FISHER: I think overall. I think their overall talent level. They're very physical at being able to run the football. If they're running for 179 yards a game, and I think being able to run the quarterback has really added a dimension, given them the extra blocker and the extra guy in the backfield, and I think that aspect in college football especially has really changed running games across the board, and they're doing a tremendous job of it.

No, they're doing a good job in all phases. They're scoring points. Not only just running the ball and throwing it, but scoring points 33 points a game. That's a lot of points, and doing a great job.

Q. As a young coach what caught your eye about David Cutcliffe?

COACH FISHER: When I first came into the league, they were doing a great job with quarterbacks at Tennessee. I think when I first came in in '93 and as a young guy in the late '80s, that's when they starting having Francis and Heath Schuler and all those guys were early at Tennessee, and then of course Peyton Manning and started that run. His ability to coach quarterbacks and be a dynamic offense and throw the football around, you always tried to watch a lot of tape of those guys when you were early in your career, watching what they were doing and how they did it.

Q. In retrospect, especially in regards to Jameis, do you think it's beneficial that you guys got challenged a little bit physically yesterday, and faced a little bit of adversity deep into the second quarter and responded I'm sure as well as you had hoped for? Is that going to help this week and then beyond?

COACH FISHER: Well, I hope so. I mean, any time you are challenged I hope you learn from all your experiences you have on the football field. We definitely knew we were going to be by Florida. I think Florida is a very talented defense, very physical, big, can run, can cover, and we knew it was going to be a very tough game. We had to keep a lot of patience and poise in the game and they were going to make plays, and we just had to keep sawing wood and make the big plays. We had a couple really big 3rd down conversions and got the momentum going, and we built off of that. So hopefully we can learn from that experience, and like I say, all the experiences we have.

Q. And is there an explanation, that 3rd and 26 yesterday, and they came up with this stat that Jameis has on 3rd and long which I'm sure you've seen. Regardless of his physical skills, what is it mentally that enables him to take it up a notch when he's faced with situations like that?

COACH FISHER: Well, I think he understands the situation. I think our receivers get to where they're supposed to get, not only him but you have receivers making plays. And that play Kenny Shaw made, took that hit. You know that ball is going to be in the air a long time. You're going to be in seams. Generally very rarely it's man unless it's all-out blitz, which is pressure, and you're going to have to throw the ball in a seam somewhere and take a shot, and I think it says a lot not only for Jameis but our receivers and everybody else involved in what you're trying to do, and the line being able to protect, I think it's something we spend a lot of time and work on.

Q. Duke has a two-quarterback system that they've been using all year against all these other ACC schools. What do you have to do for Saturday when they might throw in the other quarterback or vice versa?

COACH FISHER: We've got to play the tendencies and what they do and they know that and they've probably change it and mix them in, too. You've got to go against what Duke does and have a game plan and be sound versus all phases of what they do when those put those guys in.

Q. Talk about you guys being undefeated going to the ACC Championship game. Do you think there's a lot more pressure on you guys to be undefeated?


Q. Or is this just another game?

COACH FISHER: No, just got to play the game. We can't worry about the outcome, can't worry about what's ahead of us or what's been behind us. All we can focus on is how we play the game and to play loose and be prepared for the game and play like we can play.

Q. Duke kind of runs this two-linebacker sort of unconventional defense and they're running based on their personnel. I know you probably haven't had a lot of chance to delve too much into it, but what they're doing defensively, have you seen any variation of it?

COACH FISHER: Yeah, a lot of people play it. A lot of people play that. It's more of a 4-2-5 look and more of a nickel situation with different coverages that they do. It's actually more common than it is uncommon now.

Q. But as far as their personnel, I know a lot of youth, a lot of predicated on speed. Obviously you have had successes against it. Could you speak to that a little bit?

COACH FISHER: In what way? I'm sorry. I didn't understand what you were asking me.

Q. When you have faced that defense this year, could just talk about the challenges that facing that type of defense may present?

COACH FISHER: Yeah, you're going to have to be very sound in your routes and how you do things and be able to run the football and get extra guys in the box to fit the runs, and they're going to mix it up and do a good job, and they also do a good job with their blitz package, so we're going to have to be aware and make sure we're understanding where we're going with the ball because they keep great leverage and do a great job of fitting the box.

Q. I just want to ask you, I think it was probably after the Boston College game I think that you had kind of moved Christian Jones more where he was playing up on the line almost all the time. I was curious what impact you think that's had on the defense as a whole better?

COACH FISHER: I think it has. It keeps our best players on the field, and I think Terrance Smith's emergence as a linebacker has a lot to do with that, too. I think Christian is more natural on the ball, and I think Terrance getting into our lineup with the versatility and athleticism he has is very critical, also.

Duke Head Coach David Cutcliffe

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Honored to be headed to Charlotte and representing the Coastal Division. Certainly excited about it. We are more than honored to be playing an opponent like Florida State, the No. 1 team in the country, and rightfully so. I've seen them on tape with common opponents, off and on this season, and truly you already know that this is one of the finest teams in recent memory in college football.

We're pretty healthy, which is always good when you can hit late November, December now, and have a fairly healthy football team. We've got a huge, huge task in front of us. The thing we've got to do is prepare as we've prepared every week and keep that focus, and it's obviously -- I've told them all along, if you keep winning, the next one gets even bigger, and now this one is the biggest of all. We're excited about the challenge and looking forward to it, and I'll take your questions.

Q. When was the turning point for you in being able to get more athletes to come to Duke? The kind of athletes that can make a difference in where the program was a few years ago and where it's been the last couple of years.

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, I think what we've managed to do is just progress each year. We've worked very hard at recruiting, like everyone does, but we've got a lot of great people here that are involved with the staff and certainly coaches, support group, and I think that after we had really -- the first class, which is these fifth year seniors, was certainly a quality class, and I think each year when we've kind of made a step in the right direction, people are saying us as what we are: A good program to be a part of.

I think the last three recruiting classes have been as good as we've had, or close to it anywhere. And so we're looking forward to the future, and we've got more speed and we have focused on that, and we've got people in both lines of scrimmage that have chance to compete. So that's been the biggest difference.

Q. And finally, since the Pittsburgh game, what's been the biggest turnaround? What are your kids doing better in the last eight games since that one?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, our defense just did not play very well, particularly the first half, and we have a lot of good football players over there that have played a lot of snaps, and I really think it embarrassed them. There has just been a determination, and I think we've prepared better than we have since we've been here, and as I've said we've remained more -- a little more healthy than we have in the past, and we have more depth, and we've started playing more people and benefitted from that.

And then our kicking game has steadily improved, as well. This is a team that the reason we've been able to win is that all three phases find a way to make critical plays at critical times in the game, and hopefully we can continue to do that.

Q. I remember a couple weeks ago you said that this season wasn't a flash in the pan for your program, and I was wondering, what is your plan to make sure that it's not?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, recruit. I mean, it's really that simple. I think we have a realization -- we've been at this a long time, and the way you win is with great organization, a systematic organization, and then great people. We've got to keep our staff together. That's always a part of it. You're going to have some minimal loss. We lost Mike MacIntyre to a head coaching position. We lost Scotty Montgomery to the National Football League, and he's now returned. We've had good people, but we haven't had a lot of change, and I think that's really important, consistency there. We're not going to have hopefully much turnover in our support staff. I don't see anything happening there. So I'm very pleased with that. And if you keep your people, and we've got a great systematic approach, I've been mentored by a lot of good people and we believe in how we do things, so we're going to continue to do things well, and if you do that, you're going to be successful.

Q. The other thing I wanted to ask you was just in terms of how important defense and special teams have been to you guys this year, do you see that continuing in this game and just where do you think you've made the biggest strides in those two areas?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, we run better on defense. First thing you've got to be able to do is get to them to get them on the ground. You can't get them on the ground if you can't run. We run better. We'd better run better in this one because these guys have I think more weapons than anybody in the country.

Special teams are always going to be a big part of what we do. We work very hard at it. We spend a lot of time with it. It's the one -- I'm in every one of those meetings. It's the one thing I'm going to be a part of 100 percent of the time. I'm in and out both sides of the ball, offensively and defensively these days, but I am never going to walk away from special teams, and then Zac Roper, our special teams coordinator, has done a tremendous job. He took over for Ron Middleton when we lost Ron to the National Football League, and he has just been outstanding this year as a coach.

Q. Obviously Florida State's quarterback gets a lot of attention for the great season that he's had. Do their receivers get overlooked? Some of those guys are really good?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: No, they're not some of them good. They're all good. They've got size and speed. They've got quickness. All of them catch the ball extremely well from tight end to wide receiver. Their running backs are excellent receivers out of the backfield, which is a Jimbo Fisher trait. They're difficult. They're very difficult to match up with. I've been looking at that all morning, and they cause everyone problems in that regard, just the match-ups, because like I said, it's not just speed and quickness, it's also size that's such an issue.

We'll be working all week on that answer. We don't have anybody that can line up and match up physically with Benjamin. He's just a monster and with great skills. And then certainly the other guys are -- there's some of them with good size, but good gosh, they are quick, explosive, very athletic guys.

Q. Just curious if you had a chance to look through your book and see where winning the division came on your path to glory.

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Yeah, I did my evaluation of what we were doing or what I was doing, some of it obviously gets in the realm of personal stuff, but I did a 90-day, a three-year, and this was not quite three years ago, a 90-day, a three-year and a 15-year. I'm hoping I'm going to live a lot longer.

Anyway, in the three-year I did put down there to play in the ACC Championship game, so we're just making that right under the gun from when I did that, looking at this team or next year's team.

Q. I wanted to ask you, I dug up a quote you said in summer of I think it was 2009 where you said your goal was not just to build it back to respectability but to play for championships, and then you said something like I don't care if people laugh at that, it'll just make it sweeter when it happens. When did they stop laughing?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, probably not until this week, in some cases, and maybe they still are. These guys deserve more respect than what people have given them really overall because we're not just fortunate. We're a good football team. We wouldn't be where we were if we weren't good.

We were a good football team a year ago. We lost some games that got away from us.

You know, I'm very excited about what's happening to this team because it's going to help our program. Our guys have believed and have believed very strongly, and you know that. They've done what we've asked them to do as well as they can possibly do it. But this just strengthens that and we move forward, so I'm very appreciative to our senior leaders. The legacy they're leaving is going to make our younger players -- our freshmen, I just saw a bunch of them a little while ago that weren't -- that we're redshirting that weren't over at Chapel Hill in the locker room, and I had a conversation with them, and I congratulated all of them for winning the Coastal Division because you can't imagine how bought in they are to work as the scout team.

They're just beaming with energy, and that's a good thing for our program.

Q. You mentioned a couple games got away from you last year. One of them was the game with Florida State. Is there anything looking back at that game that gives you encouragement that it can be a different story this year?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Yeah, I looked at the game today, and all of us, we make lessons.

I'm not going to go into those because those would get into some of the game plan. We make really detailed lessons after a ballgame. If we can correct a few things on both sides of the ball, which are correctable, not dreaming, very correctable, we have a chance to play better. We can't play like we did a year ago and think we're going to be competitive in this game. But we're very capable of playing better, and we just have to -- it's a game where you've got to play every snap, and we didn't do that a year ago. We played intermittently pretty darned well, but you can't do that against the No. 1 team in the country. We've got to put together a complete ballgame, and it really goes against people's nature to be that focused and intense for that length of time, and we've got to -- we're getting better at that, and we have to master that to play against this quality of an opponent.

Q. I wanted to just ask you about from the standpoint of the physical conditioning, the strength and conditioning improvement from not only day one but maybe even from last year that your team has made to this season and how that's happened in these games, particularly in the fourth quarter?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, Noel Durfey, our strength and conditioning coach for football, is incredible and consistent. Now you've got guys -- you've got to remember guys that have been in our system five, four, three years, and that's making a difference. We are a stronger, more fit, faster team. We practice -- we condition as we practice, and the way we practice, it's really continual motion, and then when Noel has them in the off-season, we train the same way. We don't take breaks.

So our theory is that obviously we believe we're a developmental program. We know that. We've got to develop people to be the best they can be, and given a four- or five-year cycle as to what we can accomplish with great things. I think these guys are starting to become the product of that. So wouldn't want anybody else in the country touching our strength and conditioning program but Noel Durfey. He had been with me at Ole Miss, he was with me briefly at Tennessee, and he's spectacular.

Q. The success this November versus some struggles in past Novembers, what has been the difference in finishing this season where maybe in past seasons you weren't able to capitalize on some early-season success?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, I think the leadership of our team since January by our players. Our senior and junior leadership I should say has been very, very good, and it's been -- that's been the theme was finish. We've also stayed healthier. We've kept the same lineup for the most part, and we haven't been able to do that here, and one of the reasons is that we are deeper and we've played more people all year, so we don't get quite beat up as badly.

I would point at all of those things as the biggest difference.

Q. I saw you challenged your fans to show up by the thousands and thousands on Saturday. What kind of crowd are you expecting, and just what's the excitement been like there on campus?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: It's been incredible. Our last two home games have been full houses with people that were really cranked up, and I got a message earlier today from one of our administrators that we sold our allotment out today (NOTE: Duke sold out two of the price points). So hopefully people are finding a way to get them through Charlotte or through the conference office. I know that they were going really fast here, and I'm excited about that. It's obviously a great geographic location for Duke fans, and last year we had probably 25,000 mappable Duke fans at the Belk Bowl. So I certainly think we can certainly match that in this circumstance.

Q. Quick question I had in regards to it seemed like you caused during the last play yesterday when the interception was thrown, you paused before you celebrated. Could you just go into your thoughts at that moment?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, I wasn't in a jump-up-and-down mood. I had a lot of emotions running through me. I wanted, first of all, DeVon to get on the ground, and then I wanted to see the guys that had either played at Duke or been at Duke a while and congratulate them. It was real important to me that Scotty and Re'quan and Jomar Wright and Jeff Faris and all of our guys that are former Duke players, and Hap Zarzour, our long time trainer, and I saw Sonny Falcone, who I think was born at Duke and has lived his whole life here. I wanted to see those people.

I felt a lot of emotion for all of those men that have put so much into this program. I knew it was a good moment for them, and that's really all that was running through my mind, and then after that I finally got to see my family, as well, and I just didn't get much past that.

Q. How have you managed to make the two quarterbacks work for you when it doesn't work at so many places?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: You know, because of the quality of those two young men, it's been able to work, and then we've had some force-feeding as you know because they've both been hurt. Both played well independent of each other, and so we worked hard back in August with this system, also, because Brandon Connette can do so many things. We call him The Phantom. He could line up on the line of scrimmage as a tight end and block. I mean, he's a physical, strong guy.

If we could keep both of them healthy, and we hope that's what happens as we move into the future, there's a lot of fun things we can do with that, and we try to make it fun down there as opposed to make it turn into something that could be a negative circumstance. As I said, they are truly unselfish people, both from those types of families, and they're really quality young men.

Q. I was just looking at the stats, and I saw you guys on offense have had the fewest negative yardage plays of anybody in the conference this season. I'm just curious, is that more to do with the way the offensive line is getting that push off the line? Are your running backs hitting the hole a little harder this year to prevent those things from happening?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: It is experience, certainly. That always points to your offensive line. Lack of penetration, it's certainly the running backs, but it's the quarterback managing the line of scrimmage himself. We were able to make decisions at the line of scrimmage to keep you out of bad plays, and it's good play called by Kurt Roper, so it really is a combination of things, but an experienced offensive line and an experienced football team always helps that, and I think it's one of the critical factors in winning, so we make a huge emphasis of that as we start spring practice. We don't wait. I mean, that's a spring practice item that we really focus on on offense.

Q. I wanted to ask about DeVon Edwards. What was it that made him a right fit for you when so many, I guess, coaches would see the 5'8", 5'9" and take a pass?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: You know, DeVon is -- I'll tell you how great a youngster. He had a 4.0 GPA in high school, but his coaches told me, let me tell you the kind of young man he is. He's real popular in school. He's quiet but really popular. So people are always stopping him in the hall, so as soon as the bell rings to end a class, he starts a stopwatch to make sure that he is not late for his next class.

Well, they didn't need to tell me much more of that. Then I started watching his highlights, and he had a knack of making big plays at big times, and that's kind of funny now to think about what he's done here, that knack has certainly continued, and I think a big part of that is just being a good player.

And then I went and watched him play basketball. You just mentioned his height, and not only was he the leading scorer but he was the leading rebounder on his team. He thought every ball that came off of a missed shot was his. I mean, he was incredible going after loose balls and rebounds.

That's just the kind of guy you want to associate yourself with. He simply is a winner.

Q. Was the football season over by the time you had a chance to start seeing him in person?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Well, yes, it was at the end; that's why I only saw him in person play basketball. But we got started on him a little bit later than we normally do in recruiting, but we loved everything we were learning about him, and then when I went down there and then went to his home, I mean, I was just thrilled that he was going to -- he had already committed by that time but was thrilled that he was a part of our football family. He's an exceptional young man.

Q. I wanted to ask, next week was supposed to be a recruiting weekend. You had some kids coming in. How does that work logistically? Do you have to reschedule or can you invite them to Charlotte?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: No, we can't invite them to Charlotte, but we will reschedule the weekend. Kent is busy. As Art said last week on the radio, Kent was the most nervous person around last week, so you can only imagine flights, motel rooms, catering, meals. We've got a big meal that was planned out at my home, so my wife is involved in all of that change.

But you know what, everybody is smiling right through every bit of that.

Q. I just wanted to make sure I have my timeline right. Three years ago you made your timeline that had you guys in the championship game?

COACH CUTCLIFFE: Yeah, it was a little less than three years ago when I put that three-year plan into process. Probably I'm going to say 26 months ago is the date on it.

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