Steve Mitchell-US PRESSWIRE
COACH FISHER: Looking forward to a very big game versus Duke this weekend. Duke has done a great job this season. Have a very dynamic passing attack, done a super job on defense. Have an excellent punter and kicker. It will be a huge challenge for us this weekend. We'll have to bring our A game.
Coach Cutcliffe has done a tremendous job with those guys. He has them playing tremendous football. They are very sound, very good players, dynamic explosion on offense, defense, cause a lot of problems, different blitz packages, pressures. Do a great job in special teams. Happy to get a great road win. Proud of our team, getting over adversity in the beginning. Playing behind, playing solid football throughout the rest of the game, overcame a lot of things in the rest of the game. Typical rivalry game. Something was always different. That's the way rivalry games are. Very fortunate to come out on top.
Very proud of our kids. I think we got better in the game in a lot of phases. We must continue to get better again this week when we play Duke because, like I say, I think Duke has had an outstanding season, done a great job, has excellent players and are coached extremely well. We have to be on top of our toes. Very proud of the way our kids are practicing this weekend and looking forward to playing Duke this weekend.
Q. Coach, the big news this week is the loss of Chris Thompson. How much of the offensive playbook will change with him being out of the lineup?
COACH FISHER: None of it will. Our young guys have adapted. Wilder has played a bunch, Freeman started almost all of last year. There will be no changes in what we do or how we do it.
Q. Obviously Duke is also riding a major high, being bowl eligible for the first time since '94. In your opinion, what player on their roster has made the biggest impact on their team this year?
COACH FISHER: I don't know if you can say any one. The quarterback is outstanding, two receivers do a superb job. One of the quiet guys on their team is their punter, 45‑yard net average, freshman, 12 returns all year against him, does a tremendous job. Their turn around defense, they're very smart how they play defense, great leverage on the ball, very well coached, picks up the blitz packages. I don't know if you can say any one player. I think that's why they're bowl eligible. It's not just one player. I think it's they're whole team. They are a very sound team.
Q. When you look at the passing numbers in the year, do you think it's more of a by‑product that so many teams have junior and senior quarterbacks or is this just part of where the games going now with more points, yards across the board?
COACH FISHER: Both. I really do. Look at the NFL. It's the way it's spread out. I think the kids are getting developed better at quarterback across the country right now because now that football has taken on all the seven‑on‑seven things, kind of like AAU basketball has. The kids are more developed. When they get to college, they can adapt better. There's more athletes playing. Everybody has skill guys. Everybody wants to put you in space. I think it's a by‑product of the way it goes. Advancement of the game. It's just kind of a trend in the way things are going. But experience does matter at the quarterback position. I think having an experienced quarterback is making a big difference too.
Q. When you talk about seven‑on‑seven, the emphasis on that is primarily offense, it would seem. Are there elements of the game that are being ignored or is there balance?
COACH FISHER: No, I don't think it's being ignored. Teams still run the ball. Defensive players get to play that all the time. Skilled players at linebackers, DB. They're all developing because they're playing against that year‑round, seeing it. Teams still run the ball. They're tired of trying to knock out all the big guys, spreading out. That's what you want in the running game anyway. I don't think any elements are being ignored. It's just you have more athletes. In football, even when you wad them up, you're trying to block and create a hole. You're trying to create space. They're just doing it in different ways.
Q. Obviously when you have your star defensive end get hurt, you had the depth to deal with that situation. Do you feel as confident, less confident in terms of the depth at runningback?
COACH FISHER: No, I feel very confident. Freeman played all last year. Wilder had some big games for us in big‑time situations. Lonnie Pryor, he's still back there. We feel very confident in the tailback situation. Freeman played almost the whole season last year. Wilder had a tremendous year, played a lot last year. We feel comfortable in the depth at that situation.
Q. When you look at the Duke film, what jumps out at you?
COACH FISHER: I think they're playing with a lot of confidence. I think they're better offensively. The quarterback is even better than he was. We thought last year he was a tremendous player. The receivers, Vernon and those guys are all doing a good job of getting open. They ran the ball last game for 200 yards. Defensively they're mixing up blitzes. Very sound in what they do. Create great leverage on the ball. They're pressing, they're off, doing great things. Special teams, I said it before, their punter, net 45 yards a punt, you're changing field position. Making guys go the long way, not giving up big plays on defense, being sound on the run, making you beat them. They're playing better overall as a team and have better confidence.
Q. I wanted to ask you about the running. Up until the game with North Carolina, when you watched tapes, they haven't run the ball really well. What changed in that game against a good defensive front?
COACH FISHER: Here is the thing, they were always committed to running. They always still ran the ball. Maybe their numbers weren't as good. Maybe they were focusing on the passing game, but all of a sudden those runs start coming out. I think their ability to throw the ball has created the ability to run. People always think you got to run to throw, but you can throw to run. I think their passing game, the things they create, makes it very hard to not load up on pass things. All of a sudden they're pounding that ball. Coach Cutcliffe, their offensive coordinator, they got great coaches. They've all been around and know how to manipulate things. I think the pass is setting up the run and now they're getting balance.
Q. All the talk is the two division leaders, which I don't think anybody pre‑season would have predicted. They might have predicted you might be leading the Atlantic, but Duke. You played them last year, handled them very easily in Durham. Do you see any signs they could do this this year?
COACH FISHER: I mean, it does not surprise me. Last year in our game, even though the score was what it was, they played good football. We had some big plays in the game. You get a quarterback and receivers like that, now you're punting the ball, doing a great job on D, it doesn't surprise me at all. Any time a team has a great quarterback, they have confidence in what they're doing.
Q. Jimbo, I see you're moving Tyler back to handle punt returns. Any other personnel changes you're making for Saturday night?
COACH FISHER: No. He's done it all year, too. Probably eight to ten all year. We had co‑returners for a while. We let Rashad have it, now Tyler will have it just for a little bit. But no other changes.