Duke University safety Jeremy Cash, who grew up playing Pop Warner football for the North Dade Bulldogs and Scott Lake Vikings and starred at Plantation High School, is looking forward to returning home to South Florida this weekend.
But the 6-2, 205-pound hard-hitting redshirt junior and co-captain of the Blue Devils’ defense said he’s not coming back “for the white, sandy beaches and the palm trees.”
He’s coming to hunt Hurricanes.
Duke, 4-0 for the first time since 1994, still has many doubters outside its locker room who believe last year’s run to the Coastal Division title was a fluke.
Cash says that’s fine because the Blue Devils, seven-point underdogs this week despite beating UM 48-30 last year in Durham, prefer to make believers one win at a time.
“[Beating Miami] meant a lot last year,” Cash said. “But only because it was one of the victories that led to the Coastal Division championship. At Duke, we don’t put too much into one particular game.
“Over the last couple years, we’ve brought in a whole lot of talent that Duke hasn’t had in previous years. Even then, we may not be the most talented on the field, but the morals and habits we stand upon have proven to be able to outmatch anyone’s talent.”
Duke, unbeaten in 12 consecutive regular-season games, has only been outclassed twice over their last 14 games — when national champion Florida State beat them to win the ACC title and when former Heisman winner Johnny Manziel beat the Blue Devils in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
On paper, recruiting rankings will tell you the Hurricanes (2-2) have a significant advantage in talent over Duke. The Blue Devils have one four-star recruit on the roster: running back Shaquille Powell. The Hurricanes have 18, including another three five-star recruits.
But Hurricanes coach Al Golden argued this week that that means little when Duke has such a high volume of redshirt, veteran players in their two-deep.
“That’s usually symbolic of a program that’s settled into a system,” Golden said.
Last year, it was the fourth quarter that separated the Blue Devils and Hurricanes. Duke outscored Miami 17-0 over the final 15 minutes as Duke’s defense allowed UM to pick up only one first down on its first three drives of the final quarter.
Cash had 13 tackles in that game, second-most on the team.
“I believe it wasn’t so much a skill thing,” Cash said. “I think it was more of a want to, a heart, a desire and passion-to-win thing. We needed it in order to be able to win the Coastal Division.”
This season, the Blue Devils have beaten four teams that hardly put fear in anyone: Elon (1-2), Troy (0-4), Kansas (2-1) and Tulane (1-3).
Offensively, Duke has been impressive, but the defense hasn’t been far behind. Although the Blue Devils rank 92nd against the run (182.25 yards per game), they’ve been very good against the pass, Cash points out.
Duke is one of only six teams nationally that has yet to give up a passing touchdown. The Blue Devils also have six interceptions (tied for eighth most), and opposing quarterbacks are completing only 48.9 percent of their passes against them (fifth-lowest percentage nationally).
“Last year when we played [UM], they didn’t have Duke Johnson nor Phillip Dorsett,” Cash said. “With those two, I think they’ll try to stretch the field in the passing game and running the ball.
“But ultimately, it’s not about them. It’s more about us. It’s what we’re going to do to be able to stop it. I think our preparation throughout the week has been good thus far. And when the dust settles on Saturday, we’ll see who wins.”
Cash, who originally signed with Ohio State out of high school before transferring to Duke in 2012, is quite familiar with UM’s roster. He played with both Deon Bush and Tracy Howard growing up. He just was never much of a Canes fan.
Cash said his favorite player growing up was Michigan’s Charles Woodson, so he was a Wolverines fan. Plantation coach Steve Davis said UM’s previous coaching staff offered Cash a scholarship before his senior season. Cash, though, always wanted to go away to school.
Now at Duke, Cash hopes to continue the tradition of former South Florida players who develop into a headache for the Hurricanes, such as quarterback Thaddeus Lewis and receivers Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner before him.
Duke signed four players from South Florida — all three-star recruits — in last year’s signing class. None, though, had Miami offers, according to Rivals.com.
“It’s a real honor to be captain,” said Cash, who said he has left behind 15 to 20 tickets for family members for Saturday’s game. “It’s not too often a transfer gets named captain by their teammates. But I think my play and the respect level my teammates have for me was why they voted me captain.”