DURHAM, N.C. – Duke senior safety Matt Daniels earned first team All-ACC honors as announced Monday afternoon by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media Association. Three other Blue Devils earned recognition with senior punter Alex King and junior wide receiver Conner Vernon garnering second team accolades while senior tight end Cooper Helfet received an honorable mention citation.
Daniels, a 6-1, 210-pound native of Fayetteville, Ga., is tops among ACC defensive backs and third overall in the league in tackles per game (10.5) after posting 126 total stops on the year. He added 4.0 tackles for loss, two interceptions , one caused fumble and 14 pass break-ups – the second-highest single-season PBU total in Duke history. Daniels, who finished his 46-game career with 324 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, 27 pass break-ups, four interceptions, seven caused fumbles and three fumble recoveries, is the first Blue Devil safety to earn first team all-league honors since Ray Farmer turned the trick in back-to-back seasons in 1994-95.
King, a 6-1, 210-pound native of Winston-Salem, N.C., punted 50 times for 2,104 yards and a 42.08 yards per kick average. Currently ranked third in the conference in punting average, King placed 17 boots inside the opponent 20 yard line against just four touchbacks. His season average is the ninth-best in school history.
Vernon, a 6-1, 195-pound native of Miami, Fla., earns second team recognition for the second straight season after posting 70 receptions for 956 yards and six touchdowns – all team bests. In 2011, Vernon matched the school single-season record for most games (9) with five or more catches while becoming the first player in ACC history to post multiple seasons with 70 or more receptions. Through three seasons, he has 198 catches for 2,675 yards and 13 touchdowns to rank second on Duke’s career charts in both receptions and yardage and tied for eighth in TDs.
Helfet, a 6-4, 240-pound native of Kentfield, Calif., picked up an honorable mention citation for the second year in a row after catching 43 passes for 395 yards and four touchdowns. Among Duke tight ends, his 43 grabs are the most since 1994 while matching the seventh-highest single-season total. Helfet finished his 23-game career with 77 catches for 775 yards and six touchdowns.
With wins over Tulane and Florida International, Duke heads into their Bye Week with a 3-2 record riding a three game win streak. In the two wins, the Blue Devils racked up 868 yards total offense and scored 79 points, while allowing Tulane and Florida International to combine for 886 yards total offense and 54 points.
Seeing as Red Zone performance was prominently featured in “The Ugly” section of this season’s first stats article, it seems appropriate to address the team’s success at the top of this update. Duke scored on all 10 Red Zone possessions in the last two games. Eight of the ten scores were touchdowns. Juwan Thompson ran for four touchdowns of 20, 9, 6 and 1 yards. The ability to successfully run the ball in the Red Zone is a development, which should pay huge dividends in the future.
Duke made all four field goals attempted in the two games. Will Snyderwine made three successful kicks and Jeffrey Ijjas was successful on one kick.
While Duke has shown vast improvement in these two areas, it is worth noting they still rank last in the ACC in these categories due to the bad start so it is important for the team to maintain improved performance.
Key Team Accomplishments
Obviously, the most relevant team accomplishment the past two weeks was winning the games. In the final analysis, the final score is the most important statistic.
Passing Offense improved from 297 to 311 yards per game. Duke is now ranked three of 12 in the ACC (up from number five) and 19 of 120 nationally (up from number 25). Numbers for Total Offense are also impressive with Duke’s 409 yards per game ranks six of 12 in the ACC and 56 of 120 nationally.
The ability to sustain long drives results in Duke being ranked two of 12 in the ACC and number 17 of 120 nationally in Time of Possession at 32 minutes and 56 seconds per game. Against Tulane, the Blue Devils reeled off touchdown drives of 18, 12 and 9 plays; while against Florida International they had an 11 play drive which ended with a field goal.
Duke’s four touchdown drives in the FIU game were short drives of 1, 3, 4 and 5 plays.
Even though Duke achieved success running the ball in the Red Zone the past two weeks, overall Rushing Offense remains a concern. At 97 yards per game, Duke is 11 of 12 in the ACC and number 108 nationally.
Key Individual Accomplishments
Conner Vernon leads the ACC in Receptions per Game. His 6.8 receptions per game place him at number 23 in the nation. Vernon is also third in the ACC in Receiving Yards per Game at 101.
Matt Daniels leads the ACC in Passes Defended. His 1.8 passes defended per game place him at number five in the nation. Additionally, he is sixth in the ACC in Tackles with 48.
Sean Renfree is third in the ACC in Passing Average per Game. His 272.2 passing yards per game place him at number 25 in the nation.
Jamison Crowder is sixth in the ACC in Kick Return Average and ninth in the ACC in All Purpose Yards. He is averaging 21.8 yards per kick return and 127.4 all purpose yards per game.
Alex King is fifth in the ACC in Punting averaging 41.2 yards per punt.
Donovan Varner is seventh in the ACC in Receptions per Game at 5.8.
The next three games will be played in Wallace Wade Stadium so Duke will have home field advantage accompanying momentum gained during the current three game win streak. It is time for the Blue Devils to step up and record a signature victory in order to make the rest of the ACC sit up and take notice. The first opportunity will be on October 15th against the Florida State Seminoles.
Renfree drops back, completes a pass to senior Austin Kelly across the middle. Kelly tries to elude a tackle but is brought down by Quan Sturdivant at the Duke 41 yard line. The clock hits zero. The Tar Heels celebrate and reclaim the Victory Bell. Duke’s 2010 season is over.
That was the last we saw of Sean Renfree and the Blue Devils, all the way back on November 27, 2010. Over the past nine months, Duke’s coaches and players have shed blood, sweat, and tears in preparation for the 2011 season. The 3-win 2010 season is gone, but not forgotten. It’s week one of the 2011 college football season, and time for Blue Devil fans to recite their familiar credo, “this year has to be better, right?”
KEYS FOR DUKE
Second-year starter Sean Renfree and the Blue Devil offense have the potential to be one of the ACC’s top units in 2011. In order for that potential to be realized, the Blue Devils must accomplish two things: take care of the football and establish a consistent, effective running game. After struggling with turnovers early in 2010, the Blue Devils showed dramatic improvement in their final five games. Turnovers have continued to be a point of emphasis all offseason. Junior Desmond Scott and sophomore Juwan Thompson will pace the ground game and have had an excellent training camp running behind a big, experienced offensive line. Dave Harding has stepped in flawlessly for the injured Brian Moore at center, and he will have to play at a high level in his first college game action snapping the football. With several question marks on defense, the margin for error for the Duke offense is slim.
Defensively, Duke needs to see big games from their returning stars in senior Matt Daniels, sophomore Kelby Brown, and senior Charlie Hatcher. These three players will be supported by a group of talented but mostly inexperienced Blue Devil defenders, a typical recipe for inconsistency. Similar to the offense, there are two primary goals for the Duke defense in 2011: limit explosive offensive plays and improve their play at the line of scrimmage. Duke has a deep group of high-level athletes in their secondary, and the new 4-2-5 defensive scheme will rely on their ability to make plays all over the field in an effort to slow opposing offenses. In his second year as a starter, Ross Cockrell will have to develop into a shutdown cornerback for the Blue Devils. Seven redshirt-freshmen will enter the rotation on the defensive line for Duke in 2011, and the maturation of these young athletes will be key to the defense’s success. Expect to see flashes of ability from players like Jordan DeWalt-Ondigo, Jamal Wallace, and Dezmond Johnson. If the Blue Devils are able to successfully execute their new defensive gameplan, this group’s results should be greater than the sum of its parts.
If Duke is going to make a bowl game in 2011, their special teams unit will have to be special. The Blue Devils have the talent in the kicking game to dominate special teams at times this season. Will Snyderwine has established himself as one of the top kickers in the country. Alex King is a proven veteran with experience and versatility. Freshman Jamison Crowder is a playmaker at kick and punt return. Improved depth across the roster should lead to better kick and punt return units. The pieces are in place for a solid special teams effort; the players simply have to execute.
To put it lightly, Duke was plagued by turnovers in 2010. Duke’s 28 turnovers, however, are eclipsed by Richmond’s 32 turnovers a season ago. Needless to say, the team that takes care of the football stands to have the best chance of winning this matchup. Late in the season, Sean Renfree appeared to turn a corner, throwing just three interceptions in the final five games. Limiting turnovers has been a point of emphasis for the Duke offense all spring and summer, while the Duke defense is hoping to create more turnovers than they did a year ago. If the Blue Devils can build a first half lead, expect the Duke secondary to make some plays when the Spiders are forced to pass. Duke should win the turnover battle.
Richmond plays a physical game of football, and in the last two meetings between these schools, dominated the line of scrimmage. The Duke defense has struggled to pressure opposing quarterbacks. With youth along the defensive line and a pass-happy offense, Duke will rarely win the sack battle. The key will be to limit the loss of yards on offense and to make some timely tackles for loss against the Spiders. The Spiders did graduate their top 3 tacklers from 2010, but still have the players to apply some pressure. Richmond will win the sack battle.
3rd Down Production
Richmond converted just 34% of their 3rd downs in 2010, while the Blue Devils were able to convert 40% of 3rd down opportunities. With a veteran offense returning, Duke should again have success on 3rd downs, utilizing their deep receiving corps to pick up 1st down yardage. The Duke defense has struggled on 3rd down in recent years, but with an improved secondary and a better scheme, they should do a better job of limiting big conversions. Duke will win the 3rd down battle.
The game features a trio of All-Conference wide receivers, all capable of opening the game up with an explosive play. Tre Gray will be a challenge for the Duke secondary, and his matchup with Duke’s Ross Cockrell will be one to watch. The “Killer V’s” will be up to their usual tricks, but Richmond will have to pick their poison as senior Cooper Helfet and sophomore Brandon Braxton also have big-play ability. On the ground, the Spiders will utilize a committee approach, while Duke will feature a heavy dose of Desmond Scott and Juwan Thompson, two players who have dominated training camp with big plays. Duke has too many weapons on offense; they will win the explosive play battle.
Richmond will look to establish their running game early, and if they are able to control the line of scrimmage, it could be another long season opener for the Blue Devils. Duke will be able to counter with a veteran offensive line and three talented runners of their own in Desmond Scott, Juwan Thompson, and Brandon Connette. With a deep offensive line, Duke should be able to run the ball into the end zone when needed. The Duke defense will have their hands full with trying to keep Richmond’s Kendall Gaskins out of the end zone, but Duke has a deeper stable of proven runners. Duke will punch a few in on the ground.
Both teams feature outstanding All-Conference kickers. Duke’s Will Snyderwine has connected on 86.4% of his career field goal opportunities. Richmond’s Will Kamin has hit 90.9% of his career field goal opportunities. This matchup is a push.
Since the arrival of David Cutcliffe in Durham, the Blue Devils have been one of the most disciplined teams in the ACC. In 2010, Duke committed just 55 penalties for an average of 40.6 yards per game. The Spiders were even better, committing just 50 penalties for an average of 35.5 yards per game. That trend should continue under new Head Coach Wayne Lineburg. This matchup is a push.
Fool us once, shame on you. Fool us twice, shame on us. Fool us three times, not going to happen. Duke is ready for Richmond. There are sure to be some first-game jitters, but Duke won’t get tangled in the Spiders’ web. Sean Renfree has emerged as a leader on this Blue Devil team, and he will guide the Duke offense to a big night. The game will be won (or lost) along the line of scrimmage, and Duke’s linemen are bigger and stronger than they were two years ago. Desmond Scott and Juwan Thompson will have big days on the ground. Playing from behind, Richmond will be unable to establish a consistent power running game, forcing Corp to make plays through the air against the deep Duke secondary. The Blue Devils should come away from this game with a lot of positives to build on and a lot to learn from, while Duke fans will leave Wallace Wade Stadium thinking, “this year will be better!”
Prior to the arrival of Head Coach David Cutcliffe, Duke fans remember all too well the days of missed field goals (and extra points!!), botched snaps, muffed punts, and missed tackles. Duke’s special teams is now light years ahead of where it was just a few seasons ago, and should continue to improve and become a strength for the 2011 Blue Devils.
Losses: Nick Maggio
Key returners: Will Snyderwine (R-Sr.), Paul Asack (R-Jr.)
2010 Review: Lou Groza semifinalist Will Snyderwine handled the kicking duties for the second straight season in 2010. After taking over for the injured Maggio in 2009, the former walk-on has now hit 38 of 44 (86.4%) field goal attempts in the past two seasons for the Blue Devils, with a career long of 52 yards at Georgia Tech in 2010. Snyderwine converted 32 extra points in 2010, extending his perfect career streak to 56/56. The combined field goal and extra point totals placed second all-time at Duke, with 95 points, and earned him All-American honors by the American Football Coaches Association, making him the first Blue Devil All-American kicker in school history. His value to the Duke team extended beyond field goals and extra points, as he increased his touchback numbers from 2/47 in 2009 to 11/60 in 2010. Charged to work on on-side kicks last offseason by Coach Cutcliffe, Snyderwine delivered, as the Blue Devils were able to recover 4 of 6 on-side kicks in 2010. Overall, the Duke kickoff unit ranked 3rd in the ACC and 18th in the country, allowing just 19.71 yards per return, with opponents average start at the 24 yard line.
2011 Outlook: Snyderwine returns to anchor the kicking game again in 2011, and has already garnered several preseason accolades, including the Lou Groza Award Watch List and several preseason All-American honors. The former walk-on has developed into a potent weapon for the Duke offense and special teams units. Snyderwine appears ready to cap off a historic career at Duke with a big senior season. With increased depth throughout the roster, the kick coverage should continue to improve and become a strength for the Blue Devils. Big plays occasionally haunted the Duke coverage unit, and they did give up one touchdown return on the season against Alabama. The only concern with the Duke kicking game in 2011 might be depth at kicker, where an injury to Snyderwine could significantly weaken the Blue Devils.
Losses: Kevin Jones
Key returners: Alex King (Sr.)
Newcomers: Will Monday (Fr.)
2010 Review: Jones lost the starting job to King after a botched punt against Wake Forest in 2010. King was mostly dependable for the Duke punting game, averaging 41.1 yards per punt, finishing 7th in the ACC. Of 55 punts on the year, King was able to pin opponents within the 20 yards line 21 times, with 6 touchbacks. The Blue Devils’ punters achieved a net of 33.6 yards per punt, which ranked 9th in the conference and 106th in the nation. The punt coverage, however, faired worse, allowing 14.4 yards per return, which ranked last in the conference and 117th in the nation. The Blue Devils were only able to force 7 fair catches on the season and allowed a punt return touchdown against Maryland.
2011 Outlook: Punting appeared to be the biggest weakness among Duke’s special teams unit in 2010, and stands to be an area of significant improvement in 2011. The hope is that with better depth, speed, and athleticism, the punt coverage unit will do a better job of limiting opponent returns. Punting should improve as well, as King now has nearly a full year of starting under his belt, and will be pushed by highly-touted freshman Will Monday. The competition between King and Monday will definitely be one to watch this month.
Key returners: Patrick Kurunuwe (R-Jr.), Desmond Scott (Jr.), Conner Vernon (Jr.), Josh Snead (So.), Juwan Thompson (So.)
2010 Review: Scott, Snead, and Thompson were the leading return men for the Blue Devils in 2010, and Duke ended the season 4th in the ACC with an average of 20.9 yards per return. As true freshmen, Snead and Thompson ranked 7th and 8th individually with averages of 22.0 and 21.7 yards, respectively. The Duke return game provided the offense with an average starting position of the 27 yard line.
2011 Outlook: Duke has yet to return a kickoff for a touchdown under Coach Cutcliffe. Will 2011 be the year? With the three primary return men all back, Duke seems poised to continue to use kick returns as a strength. Scott, Snead, and Thompson will continue to share carries in the Duke backfield, and will also split the kick return duties. With their combination of size, vision, and speed, it may be difficult for any newcomers to break into the rotation, but the Duke staff has shown a desire to rotate multiple return men in an effort to keep players fresh throughout the season. The kick return job is another key competition to watch during training camp.
Key returners: Lee Butler (Sr.), Johnny Williams (Sr.)
2010 Review: Butler handled the vast majority of punt return duties in 2010, finishing with a respectable 8.6 yards per return, which ranked 5th in the ACC and 31st in the nation. With a season long of 33 yards, Butler was able to consistently advance the ball, but rarely broke out for big returns. Williams showed some explosiveness as a punt returner in 2009, but due to injuries and a position change, only returned 2 punts in 2010.
2011 Outlook: With both Butler and Williams back, along with a group of speedy youngsters headed by Jamison Crowder, Duke appears ready to develop the punt return game into a significant weapon. There is likely to be significant competition for the starting job, and with some improved blocking, 2011 might be the year that fans see an explosive punt return game from the Blue Devils. Coach Cutcliffe has historically emphasized the kicking game in past training camps, and the punt return unit is likely to see significant reps this August.