When he took the Duke job, whether out of ambition or delusion, Mike Elko talked about how he wanted to make Wallace Wade outdoor stadium feel like Cameron Indoor Stadium, to bring at least some semblance of the atmosphere that made the basketball gym famous across the plaza in the fall.
He’s not the first Duke football coach to entertain that kind of impossible aspiration before seeing it crushed under the weight of reality, but wherever that bar was realistically set Friday night, the first game of the Elko regime managed to clear it.
Not only on the field, in a 30-0 win over Temple that was the Blue Devils’ first shutout win over an FBS team since that game — the Spurrier Scoreboard Photo Game at UNC, with Steve Spurrier’s grandson Gavin taking mop-up snaps for Duke on Friday, no less, time being a flat circle and all — but also in the stands, where the students filled not only their new chairback seats behind the opposing bench but overflowed into a decent chunk, by Duke standards, of the end zone as well.
“We asked a lot of people to believe in where this program could go,” Elko said. “And it was just awesome to see the students to come out like they did tonight. That’s something really special and if we want this program to go where we all want it to go, that has to continue. I’m just so happy those guys came out to support us tonight.”
Some effort went into that: The freshmen in the Class of ‘26 all had their own No. 26 jerseys and students were invited to a pregame tailgate party — supplemented, it was apparent upon the ritual playing of Cascada, by a good deal of unofficial refreshment. And if you really want to replicate the true Cameron environment, playing the song is a start but enduring a lengthy and problematic issue with the game clock certainly has the ring of authenticity.
Things thinned out considerably at halftime with Duke up 24-0, but there was genuine interest and enthusiasm in Duke football to begin the season after a few years when the team’s increasingly persistent lack of success seemed to turn back the clock to darker days. Just as the team will find it much tougher next week at Northwestern, it’ll be difficult to maintain the momentum in the stands when the novelty and excitement of a new era quickly wears off.
For the moment, though, it was hard to imagine Elko’s tenure getting off to a much better start. He’s so new to Duke, he hadn’t yet stumbled across the lore of the Spurrier photo until after the game, but whatever the fans, new and old, wanted to see from this newest iteration of Duke football, they got it. Their presence was rewarded by not only a historic shutout but Duke’s first win in 49 weeks, ending the eight-game losing streak that marked the end of David Cutcliffe’s time in charge and led to Elko’s arrival from Texas A&M, where he had been the defensive coordinator.
Given his background, it’s hard to argue with a stifling opening-night shutout, Duke’s first against all opponents in seven seasons, not that Temple offered much of a challenge. But the offense was clicking as well, with Riley Leonard completing his first 15 passes and his nominal backup, Jordan Moore, proving Duke’s most dangerous weapon as a receiver. Whatever first-night issues there might have been were smoothed over, lost in an otherwise dominant performance.
It may be a short honeymoon, but a night like this should not be taken for granted. There’s so much that could have gone wrong for Duke — and has too often gone wrong in recent years — that went right, and even if Temple was clearly not at Duke’s level, anything can happen with new head coaches on both benches. Instead, aside from a couple missed field goals that would have made the score even more lopsided, it was anything and everything Elko would have conjured up for his Duke debut.
Even the students, who heeded his call and showed up to see what this new regime was all about.
“Having that support from the Duke community we really haven’t had in the past few years, it meant the world to us,” Leonard said. “We really didn’t hold anything back.”
While it wasn’t exactly Cameron — it never will be — it was a start, a first step in a new direction on and off the field.
Never miss a Luke DeCock column. Sign up at tinyurl.com/lukeslatest to have them delivered directly to your email inbox as soon as they post.
Luke DeCock’s Latest: Never miss a column on the Canes, ACC or other Triangle sports
This story was originally published September 2, 2022 10:31 PM.
Read the full article here