DURHAM — Trailing 28-21 against Virginia two weeks ago, Daniel Jones had the ball in his hand at the end with a chance to tie the game. His last three plays were two incompletions and a sack, turning the ball over on downs.
Against Florida State, last week, down 17-10, Jones again had the ball in his hand at the end with a chance. He finished the game with three straight incompletions, including one in the end zone on fourth down.
This week, Jones had the ball with a chance to tie the score against Pitt. An interception eight yards away from the end zone resulted in a 24-17 loss, in a game Duke led by 10 late in the third quarter.
Coach David Cutcliffe has seen enough.
“I don’t get frustrated,” Cutcliffe said during a prickly postgame press conference. “I’m mad. I’m angry.”
Duke gave up 254 rushing yards to Pitt’s Darrin Hall, including a 79-yard touchdown run and a 92-yarder, which was the longest run in Pitt history, breaking a record that had stood for 100 years.
The latter run sparked Pitt’s late-game comeback.
“You have a situation where we cover a kickoff that well after a score to go up by 10,” Cutcliffe said, “you need to play that play like it’s gonna win the game. I know we didn’t do that.”
Pitt scored 18 seconds after Duke went up 10, then retook the lead four minutes later. The Blue Devils never scored again.
“It’s one of those things where as soon as we feel like we get inflated, you take a pin and pop the balloon,” Cutcliffe said.
The sense of urgency Duke lacked on the 92-yard run was a recurring theme for a Blue Devils team that picked up three offsides penalties on fourth-down plays, one giving Pitt a first down and one moving a potential 50-yard field goal attempt into more makeable territory.
“If you understand how to play the game, you are playing at that moment like it’s the last play of the game. That’s what good football teams do, which right now we’re not,” Cutcliffe said. “Playing football right now for us, we may be playing the play that will win or lose the game on every down, and I don’t think I saw us playing like that.”
How does that get fixed? At the moment, Cutcliffe isn’t sure.
“There’s no simple commentary I can give you about the game,” he said. “I can’t sit here and tell you I know exactly what I’m going to do at this moment, because I don’t. … Tomorrow does bring a new day. What I expect to see is a bunch of people that aren’t consumed with self pity, trying to find answers. Obviously not enough have been found. At times, what we’ve done is create ourselves new problems.”
As a result, a Duke team that once was 4-0 is now 4-4 and in danger of spiraling.
“I have no idea where we’re headed at this moment,” Cutcliffe said.