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Despite losing streak, Duke feeling good about bowl eligibility

Just past the halfway point of the regular season, Duke has itself on track to make a bowl game.

That’s a major goal for Duke, especially after the Blue Devils slumped to 4-8 last season and, for the first time since 2011, failed to qualify for a bowl game.

The Blue Devils won their first four games this season, appearing to put last season’s struggles far in the past. A three-game losing streak followed that hot start, though.

At 4-3, Duke is in good shape to end its losing streak when it faces struggling Pittsburgh (2-5) on Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium.

The ups and downs of a season can take a toll on players as they seek to keep an even keel. At this point, coach David Cutcliffe said, his players are equipped to handle the situations well.

“I hope we have the quality of young people that are more resilient than letting a losing
streak impact them,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s not a matter of how you arrive at 4-3. You learn from the mistakes you’ve made and from the good things you’ve done. It’s interesting that in a win or a loss there is still a lot to learn about our team. Moving forward, you don’t focus on what you don’t have, but on what you have to do.”

Though Duke lost 17-10 to Florida State to see its losing streak reach three games, the Blue Devils walked off the field feeling far better about their play that a week earlier.

An Oct. 7, 28-21, loss at Virginia bothered the Blue Devils because they admitted the Cavaliers won the second half in all phases. Cutcliffe even said Virginia’s players “whipped” his players.

In practices the week between Virginia and Florida State, the Blue Devils worked to ensure that didn’t happen again.

Though the result was another seven-point loss, the Blue Devils were confident they executed better against the Seminoles.

Offensively, I thought we ran the ball with consistency better than anybody we’ve seen play Florida State,” Cutcliffe said. “Our execution was crisper on offense. We can do things better. We have to create explosive plays.

“Defensively we didn’t tackle as well as we would like. That’s something we can work on,
but we got in good position and in places we needed to be. Every time they made a play, we
responded with good play.

“Our kicking game and our specialists were better for the most part.”

Now the task is to play that way against Pittsburgh, which along with one-win North Carolina is mired at the bottom of the ACC Coastal Division.

Duke needs to win two of its final five games to reach the six wins needed to ensure bowl eligibility. With Coastal Division contenders Virginia Tech (Oct. 28) and Georgia Tech (Nov. 18) still ahead, the Blue Devils’ games with Pittsburgh, Army (Nov. 11) and Wake Forest (Nov. 25) appear their best bets to land those two wins.

Of course Duke must play confidently and stay on task like it did while losing to Florida State. Any regression to its second-half struggles at Virginia could leave Duke home at bowl season once again.

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