Sunday Morning Quarterback: Recapping Duke’s 41-27 win over Elon

Coach Cutliffe leds his troops to a 41-27 opening day win over Elon - BDN Photo

DURHAM – BDN takes a look at several aspects of the game and individual play in our first addition of Sunday Morning Quarterback for the 2010 season.

Sean Renfree Debut is solid

Renfree was one cool customer in the Blue Devils opening win throwing for 350 yards and 2 touchdowns.  More impressive was his completion percentage of 31 for 39.  Renfree took a sack in the game but from my vantage he looked off his receivers and when none were open took the sack instead of throwing what would have been a risky pass.  Renfree had control of his team and showed he was cool under pressure but he admitted that he was at times nervous.  Renfree is the key to Duke’s success this season and teams will start to come after him beginning with Wake Forest this Saturday.

Running game led by Scott

Durham native Desmond Scott rushed for 77 yards on 15 carries for a 5.5 yard average.  True freshman Josh Snead [1 touchdown] added 29 yards and fellow frosh Juwon Thompson 26 which translates into 4.1 and 3.1 yards per carry.  Jay Hollingsworth scored a touchdown but was not as effective gaining 16 yards on 10 carries.  Reserve quarterback Brandon Connette showed off his running ability scampering 48 yards down the sideline on his only carry.  Overall the running game improved but there is plenty of room for improvement with concerns to making big plays.

Offensive front solid

The offensive line seemed improved as well and Cutcliffe was able to play several backups as the game progressed which is for the first time in many years allowing the Blue Devils to build some depth.

Conner Vernon picks up where he left off

Vernon led Duke in receptions with 10 catches for 129 yards and the sophomore wideout shows tremendous confidence on the field.  There were several instances where he let the coverage know they could not stop him and that edginess to his game is refreshing.

Donovan Varner just as good

Varner took a while to warm up and he saw more coverage than any Duke receiver.  He still brought in 7 catches for a touchdown and 123 yards in receptions.

Good night for Brandon King

A few years ago King caught a TD pass vs UConn and it looked as if he would be a playmaker for Duke.  The Blue Devils are deep at the tight end position but King stood out last evening with a touchdown catch of 7 yards to go with his 5 catches.  Duke held out Cooper Helfet and Brett Huffman hauled in 2 passes as well.

A great opening night crowd

Fans turned out in force selling out Wallace Wade Stadium and the atmosphere was solid most of the evening.   The 33,941 fans still do not quite get on a whole when to cheer on key defensive downs but they are getting better and the support was appreciated by Cutcliffe and his team.  If Duke can beat Wake this weekend, Duke will have a strong crowd for the Army.  And Alabama?  Get there three hours before kickoff.

542 yards of total offense

Not bad, huh?  The offensive output was the most in the David Cutcliffe era.  The previous high was 502 in the win over N.C State last season.

The good

Offensively Duke looks as if they are really grasping Cutcliffes system in his third year at the helm.  Getting off to a 1-0 start is always nice and Elon is a good football team.  The passing game looks great after one game and the crowd was supportive and all promotions came off in a positive manner.  Duke was able to play a lot of players which will bode well for the future.  Duke had some young guys shine.

The bad

Duke had opportunities to put the Phoenix away but allowed them to hang in the game when the offense stalled via mistakes.  The Duke defense let up a whopping 400 plus yards and they could not stop Elon in the fourth quarter which is a concern.  The punting game was so-so and a missed field goal is concerning

The ugly

The third quarter was atrocious for Duke and they cannot afford that kind of a drop off versus Wake.  The Blue Devils came out a bit passive and that allowed the Phoenix to gain confidence and cut the lead to 27-20.

The bottom line

There were plenty of positives for Duke as has been mentioned but the defensive effort will have to improve if there is any chance of a win over Wake Forest in Winston Salem this week.  Bare in mind that Duke did not show their hand on offense and kept it close to the vest at times trying to establish a running game. Duke responded to adversity when the lead was cut to one score by getting it done on offense.  The bottom line is Duke is 1-0.

Next play

Duke will now travel to Wake Forest who has defeated the Blue Devils ten straight times.  Coach Cutcliffe keeps some game balls in his office and this is one of those wins which would mean another one on the shelf.  It is oh-so important to get a conference win for both schools and a shootout may be in store.