The 2017 Duke Blue Devils are not the team that lost to Northwestern last year.

When the Blue Devils played the Wildcats in the third week of 2016, they were tied seven all at the half. Duke was held scoreless in the third quarter and lost 24-13. According to Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, this year’s game will be much more competitive.

Northwestern Challenge

Cutcliffe has great respect for Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald, dating from when he coached Peyton Manning and Tennessee to a 48-28 victory against Northwestern in the 1997 Citrus Bowl. Coach Fitzgerald played linebacker for that Wildcats team.

Déjà Vu…

In this week’s press conference, Cutcliffe talked about the Wildcats. “Very good football team. This may well be the best Northwestern team we’ve played. Starting with their defense. They’re physical. They’re experienced… We’re very familiar with their personnel. Talented people. Smart people. The interior of their offensive line is back. A lot of receivers, the tight end, a heck of a player, he’s back. So I’m looking at the tape, I’m seeing déjà vu, but I’m seeing an ever better team.”

… All Better Again

But if the Wilcats seem like the same team, but better, the Blue Devils have taken their team to a whole new level with offense, defense, and special teams.

On his offensive line, Cutcliffe says, “They’ve worked very hard. They’ve taken a big challenge in the weight room. They’re stronger. They’re more athletic. [Offensive Line Coach Marcus] Johnson has just driven those guys every day in practice to do every little thing better.”

On the Same Page

After practice on Tuesday, Cutcliffe felt that his offense can be more aggressive when quarterback Daniel Jones executes well. “Our receivers, our quarterback, our line, our tight ends, our running backs, I think Daniel and Quentin were able to get them all on the same page. That created some execution level to the last half of our practice which was all against Northwestern. We had a really good day.”

Up for the Challenge

As for Saturday’s game against Northwestern, Cutcliffe is looking forward to it. “It’s a big game, between an ACC team and a Big Ten team. So we’re excited about representing our conference, and we’re certainly excited about the challenge.”