This used to be a laugher, an “off’’ week played on the football field.
The “doormat,” the “cupcake,” the college football team with the perennial “L” on its collective forehead has won 12 consecutive regular-season games, is ranked 23rd in the USA Today coaches’ poll and is 4-0 in 2014.
That’s right. Duke University, the school with the bonafide brain power, now has some football muscle to go along with it.
Going into Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. nationally televised game (ESPN2) at Sun Life Stadium, the Miami Hurricanes (2-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) are one loss away from a losing record, while the ACC’s defending Coastal Division champions are trying to extend their flawless slate.
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“New week, new game,” Hurricanes freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya said. “We can’t dwell on tough losses. We’ve got to keep moving.”
After an especially disheartening 41-31 loss at now-No.19 Nebraska, the Canes will face their first Coastal opponent in the start of what they’re calling their “new season.”
“Our season starts now,” defensive end Anthony Chickillo said.
Added linebacker Denzel Perryman: “It’s Game 1 for us.”
Game 1 or Game 5, the Hurricanes badly need to find their run defense. They allowed 343 rushing yards at Nebraska, registering neither tackles-for-loss nor sacks as they were bullied up front and were sloppy all-around.
Canes fans subsequently stormed sports talk radio and Twitter with calls for a more aggressive scheme — and the firing of UM defensive coordinator Mark D’Onofrio. But Canes coach Al Golden has remained steadfast in his support of D’Onofrio, saying repeatedly that everyone is responsible, and it starts with him.
“There’s a lot of things we’ve got to do, starting with me and the personnel and play selection and scheme and everything, going all the way down to each individual player and tackling and our fits,” Golden said. “Everybody in the building is accountable to right it now.”
The Hurricanes are seven-point favorites in Las Vegas, but not in the eyes of everyone. Three of four college football writers for ESPN.com chose Duke to defeat Miami.
If it happens, it would be the second year in a row.
UM lost 48-30 last Nov.16 in Durham, North Carolina, after nine consecutive wins over the Blue Devils.
Duke rushed for 358 yards that day, even after the Canes realized during the game that underdog Maryland had defeated Virginia Tech to put Miami right back in the ACC title race.
“I remember losing; that’s all I remember from that game,” Perryman said.
“We found out during halftime [about being back in ACC contention] and at the end of the game it was an “L”, so it was pretty frustrating.”
The only games Duke lost in 2013 were to No.1 Florida State in the ACC title game and to No.20 Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Though the Blue Devils are now ranked 17th nationally in scoring (43.5 points per game) and average 261 yards rushing (21st nationally), they have played a suspect non-conference schedule: Elon (1-2 in the FCS), Troy (0-4), Kansas (2-1, with wins over Southeast Missouri and Central Michigan) and Tulane (1-3).
This year they’re led by running back Shaun Wilson (404 yards and four touchdowns on 28 carries for a 14.4-yard average) and receiver Jamison Crowder (296 yards and two touchdowns).
The Hurricanes also have a couple of offensive weapons who were sidelined with injuries last year at Duke: running back Duke Johnson and receiver Phillip Dorsett.
“It’s different between watching and playing,” Johnson said this week. “They look the same — good, disciplined defense. They make plays.”
Johnson said the most “frustrating thing” about last year’s game was that the Coastal title game “was right there within our reach. … The second half just didn’t look like we wanted it. Duke came out [in] the second half, and they wanted it more.”
Duke safety Jeremy Cash, who graduated from Plantation High School, was asked this week how the respect factor of the Blue Devils has changed since he was a child.
“From an outside perspective,” Cash said, “I think people still don’t believe in Duke football. People have strong feelings that everything we’ve done thus far has been a fluke. That’s alright with us because we know outside opinions don’t affect us in any way, shape or form.
“We come out with the mentality that we’ll let people run their mouth, and we’ll run our business. People are going to hate — that’s fine. Just remember to spell our names right.”