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September 1, 2007DURHAM, N.C. - While those who follow college football may have found it hard to overlook the fact that Duke entered Saturday with a 20-game losing streak, head coach Randy Edsall was determined to make sure that wasn't a factor in the first game of the season.
The Blue Devils have not won a game since beating VMI early in the 2005 season and haven't beaten a Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly Division I-A) opponent since toppling Clemson late in 2004. But with a retooled offensive coaching staff and a unit that returned all 11 starters from last season, the expectations were that Duke would not only be able to contend - they might beat UConn.
Edsall refused to specifically identify that situation after Saturday's win, instead referring to it amongst the media with a degree of understanding. But while the focus was not on the players, there was plenty of pressure on the coaching staff to make sure the Huskies did not become the ultimate victim.
"This was a very difficult situation to come in to play," Edsall said. "You don't like to be in these situations like this. They're no fun. They eat at you. It takes years off your coaching life."
Questions about the streak started to rise Tuesday afternoon at the team's first media luncheon of the season and heightened after center Keith Gray admitted he had no idea the Blue Devils had lost that many games. To that point, Edsall had attained his goal - he was able to shield the players from the possibility of entering a routine game with too much confidence.
Quarterback Tyler Lorenzen knew before the week began that Duke had not won many games recently, but when he found out Tuesday that the Blue Devils had a rather dubious streak intact, he worked to keep it out of his and his teammates' minds.
"From my perspective, I don't really pay attention to what outside people have to say on our program. We focus on what we have to do," Lorenzen said. "We were just worried about getting a win, getting the first win of 2007 and starting things rolling."
That pressure may have bubbled over Thursday night, when former Notre Dame head coach and UConn assistant coach Lou Holtz picked Duke to break its streak during halftime of the nationally-televised LSU vs. Mississippi State game. At that pont, defensive tackle Dan Davis knew something had to be done.
"In all seriousness, I guess you can say we deserve it," he said. "But last year is last year, and right now, we're setting the basis of what we want to do this year. We're going to take this program to the next level starting now."
Several UConn fans made the trip to Durham to cheer on the team, a fact that the players respected and valued. After defeating Duke, the captains led the Huskies to the UConn section, raising their helmets and toasting the fans to thank them for making the journey.
Davis found the fans' attendance and support as something worthwhile and made a pledge after the game.
"We're really, really grateful for that and we came over to them to give them the acknowledgement they deserve," Davis said. "I mean, they came what, X many miles to come support us? There was one point they were chanting for us and you would have thought they were the home team
"We're going to spoil the fans this year and we told the guys at the night with coach Edsall, we're going to go out there and play hard every week and we're going to make it a good season for them," Davis said.
NOTES: With 1:21 left in the first half and the Huskies facing a third-and-two situation on the Duke 19-yard line, the coaching staff called a timeout and returned with a play more becoming of college football.
Lorenzen took the snap and handed the ball off to Donald Brown, who then dumped it off on a reverse to D.J. Hernandez. While Hernandez took the ball himself up the right side of the field for a 15-yard gain, Edsall said the original play called for an additional degree of trickery - an option pass from Hernandez.
"With him being a quarterback, he knows the coverage, so there he ran," Edsall said. "I thought that was a good call by Rob Ambrose, the offensive coordinator] in that situation." Offensive tackle Lawrence Green left the game with a knee injury and will be evaluated on campus by the training staff this week. Linebacker Ryan Henegan, who has notoriously been evaluated as "day-to-day" by Edsall for the past two weeks despite a large brace on his left knee, did not make the trip to Durham. "I didn't bring him because I wanted him to get better and stay back and work on academics and get some more treatment so that he can start doing even more than what he was doing at the tail end of last week," Edsall said. Players were excused from class Friday and with Monday being Labor Day, no classes are scheduled.