DURHAM, N.C. – Duke has lost a shootout against an instate conference rival followed by a blowout to top-ranked and defending national champion Alabama.
Coach David Cutcliffe is eager to see how his Blue Devils respond when they face Army on Saturday.
Cutcliffe felt encouraged by seeing plenty of effort from his players during last week's 62-13 loss to the Crimson Tide in their most anticipated home game in years, even after the score turned lopsided. But he knows that the Blue Devils (1-2) simply have to play better than they have the past two games, particularly for a defense that has allowed 116 points to Alabama and Wake Forest.
"We have playmakers that aren't consistently enough making plays and I'm meeting with them, talking with them, but we're looking at everything we're doing to try to get those guys turned loose and confident," Cutcliffe said. "I don't know anybody can ever make plays if they don't get off their heels and, at this point, we've gotten on our heels pretty bad."
Offense hasn't been much of a problem so far, with first-year starter Sean Renfree showing a good early grasp of Cutcliffe's passing game. Even the running game, which has been an annual problem in Durham, has shown some improvement with Desmond Scott and true freshman Josh Snead.
The ugly loss to Alabama wasn't a surprise, though it's hard to say what the Blue Devils can take away from it considering they won't play another team that talented the rest of the year.
"We just got dominated in all phases of the game," Snead said. "We're not looking back."
Army coach Rich Ellerson said he didn't expect Duke would simply disregard the Alabama game film.
"You don't just throw it out. You don't just disregard it," Ellerson said. "There is a lesson to be learned from every adventure and every experience. Some are harder to take than others, but sometimes those are the ones that help you the most.
"They can't wait to play. They don't like what happened and they're looking at our tape licking their chops and can't wait to get out there and play, I'm sure."
The Black Knights (2-1) are coming off a 24-0 win against North Texas, which was their first home shutout in 17 years. Army runs a triple-option offense that has five players averaging at least 40 yards rushing, part of an attack that ranks seventh nationally at nearly 284 yards rushing per game.
While Ellerson said he had been having "visions of Duke going up and down the field," the Blue Devils will also have to generate some clock-controlling drives that keep the chains moving and keep that struggling defense on the sideline as much as possible. That means they can't rely solely on that passing game and will have to get something on the ground, too.
Duke's struggling defense at least has experience with Army's offense. The Blue Devils won last year's meeting 35-19 on the road, and see a similar offense from Atlantic Coast Conference division rival Georgia Tech each season.
"They play in a conference and with a schedule where they routinely see Georgia Tech and Navy (on Oct. 30), so they're not freaking out when they're watching us on tape," Ellerson said. "They'll have a plan. They'll have veterans who have executed the plan before, so they're advantaged in that regard."
AP Sports Writer John Kekis in West Point, N.Y., contributed to this report.