Duke tunes out distractions, focuses on Pinstripe Bowl
The Blue Devils (7-5) will need to find a new offensive coordinator soon and their team MVP will miss the bowl game with an injury.
Despite that, coach David Cutcliffe said his team's focus hasn't wavered heading into the Dec. 26 game against the Hoosiers (6-6) at Yankee Stadium.
''The challenge for us is to play our best game - that's what you should do in your last game, that's what you should do in a bowl game,'' Cutcliffe said Thursday. ''It's about the preparation right now and we've been very focused and very pleased with what we've gotten accomplished to this point.''
It's been a busy week off the field at Duke: Offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery was hired Sunday to coach East Carolina, but will call plays in the bowl game before taking over the Pirates' program.
Three days later, the team announced that senior Jeremy Cash - an All-America safety who was voted the team's MVP - will miss the bowl game after having right wrist surgery.
Cutcliffe said Cash was injured in Duke's next-to-last game at Virginia, was bothered during practice before the finale at Wake Forest and worsened during the second half of that game. Cutcliffe said team doctors told him an MRI revealed that ''this needed to be done, and it needed to be done immediately.
''It's really frustrating to him, but I get it,'' the coach added. ''The health of the player is always first.''
Cutcliffe said he won't start searching in earnest for a new offensive coordinator until after the bowl game, saying he's received more than 100 emails and about 90 phone calls about replacing Montgomery.
''The process is always started because my brain does work,'' Cutcliffe said. ''I don't have time for that and to do the job I should be doing for our squad. I am totally focused on the Pinstripe Bowl preparation. ... I have some thoughts, I have plans, but I'm not working on them.''
Having a coordinator take a new job - but stick around for the bowl - isn't exactly new territory for the Blue Devils. Two years ago, then-OC Kurt Roper took the same job at Florida but called plays for Duke in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against Texas A&M.
''When Coach Roper (took the Florida job), we found that out and came back to practice, and it was business as usual,'' center Matt Skura said. ''That's kind of the same thing it's been here. (Montgomery) hasn't mentally moved on. He's probably coaching us harder right now than he ever has, and we're taking it as business as usual. Everyone's locked in. `Coach Mo' wants to win this game just as bad as all of us do, and we've been seeing that in practice.''
Going to bowls may have become expected at Duke - which is in the postseason for the fourth straight year after reaching zero bowls from 1995-2011. They've held fourth-quarter leads in all three bowls during the current run, but haven't taken the next step and won one.
Duke's last bowl win came in the 1961 Cotton Bowl.
''If you just look at the 0-3 record, you'd think there's a problem there,'' Cutcliffe said. ''We could have won all three of those games. ... Easily could have won all three of them.
''I'm looking in their eye to see if they've learned it, if you understand what I'm saying,'' he added. ''There is a hunger that can exist. It's a relentless thing. I've seen teams with it. I've seen teams without it. I hope they understand that.''
Follow Joedy McCreary at http://twitter.com/joedyap. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/joedy-mccreary
AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org