When you’ve been as bad as Duke as has been over the last four seasons and then open 3-1 and win your first ACC game since 2004 in convincing fashion… well, expect lots of recognition. Especially when you’re the counterpart of perhaps the most famous team in the country, when you’ve hired an outspoken coach who has walked the walk and, more than anything, when you deserve it.
One game after Thaddeus Lewis and Vincent Rey were named ACC offensive and defensive players of the week, linebacker Michael Tauiliili was awarded ACC defensive lineman of the week after his career day against Virginia. The senior collected a team-high 16 tackles, forced a fumble, recovered a fumble and intercepted one of four Marc Verica picks on the day. He now leads the conference with 46 tackles. The ACC honor comes one day after he was named national defensive player of the week by the Walter Camp Foundation.
Not surprisingly, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe was effusive in his praise for Tauiliili Sunday, one day after proclaiming he would vote for Tauiliili and Rey as co-winners of the Butkus Award for the country’s best linebacker.
“He’s certainly improved his game,” Cutcliffe said Sunday. “He’s playing at a much faster pace. He’s a much better tackler. I think he’s grown as much as anybody on our team to this point, since we’ve been here.”
Cutcliffe paused. Perhaps prompted by a pause on the teleconference, he decided to continue.
“I think he’s playing like an All-American linebacker, personally.”
Cutcliffe has made some outlandish claims this year, chief among them the assertion that Duke’s student section is the best in the country. We know that’s not true—but this one about Tauiliili might be.
In her chat on ESPN.com, ACC blogger Heather Dinich hinted Tauiliili and Rey might be the frontrunners for ACC defensive player of the year right now. She also included Cutcliffe as the favorite for coach of the year—at least right now. Of course, reality will hit soon. Duke hasn’t played an away game and has only faced off with the worst team in the conference. Might be time to enjoy it while it lasts.
Then again, if the Blue Devils can, somehow, manage three more wins and become bowl-eligible… Jake from North Carolina on Dinich’s chat said it best: “…does Cutcliffe get pronounced coach of the year, king, and any other title he wants?”
—by Ben Cohen