Tag Archives: BDN’s Sunday Quarterback

BDN’s Sunday Quarterback – Recapping Duke’s win over Virginia

Duke's Donovan Varner makes a play - Photo GoDuke, Duke Photography

The Duke Blue Devils earned a win on the football field in Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday afternoon by scoring 55 points, the most of any team in the past decade.  While it is true, the defense struggled to stop Virginia, the real story was that these Blue Devils had no quit in them no matter the circumstances.  There were a lot of positives to come out of the game and we'll discuss those in our weekly BDN Sunday Quarterback article.

An ACC win and hindsight

Duke got a much needed conference win and in the process now have a three game winning streak against Virginia, a team which was coming off a win over Miami.  One cannot help but look back at contests with Maryland and Wake Forest, two other games the Blue Devils could have easily won had the ball taken one extra bounce.  That would put them at 5-4 on the season.  While fans cannot dwell on that, it is a sign that Duke, at least on offense has improved and that they are playing their best football this season after Saturday's effort.

Sean Renfree continues his great play

With 6:07 to go in the fourth quarter, Sean Renfree broke down the field for a 37 yard run and a touchdown, but it was his throw on 4th and 18 from the Duke 13 yard line to Cooper Helfet that really put the Blue Devils in position to win an exciting game.  Renfree  beamed with confidence in the post game press conference and it's safe to say that he has turned another corner on the learning curve.

Duke Tight Ends, Helfet left - BDN Photo, Rick Crank

Speaking of Cooper Helfet ...

The Duke tight end made some big time catches and led his team 7 catches for 122 yards.  With Conner Vernon knocked out of the game, he became the playmaker and all his catches were huge.  UVA clamped down on Vernon and Donovan Varner so Coach Cutcliffe used the big tight end to get Duke out of a lot of jams.  Meanwhile, he got Varner in the game with a 9 yard run off the left tackle which scored.

And then there was Brandon Connette

Renfree looked like he had been in a prize fight after the win with some bloody nicks on his face and  Connette was no different.  Connette, a true freshman was a load for the Cavaliers defense rushing for 81 yards on 12 carries.  On one drive Connette and Duke had the ball on the 46 yard line. The tough nosed youngster ran the ball the first five plays from scrimmage until the ball was on the Virginia nine yard line before the aforementioned  Varner went untouched into the end zone while the Cav's defense was prepping for another  Connette run.  By the way, both Renfree and Connette scored two rushing touchdowns apiece.  Now go see when the last time two QB's did that in one game at Duke via the record books.  Oh yeah!  And his two rushing touchdowns ties Chris Douglass as the most from a freshman.

A third quarterback from St. Louis played a role as well

I am an on the field guy when covering the games but the weather kept me in the press box during the first half.  But once entering the battle zone in the second half, I got to talk to and see Thaddeus Lewis, Duke's record setting quarterback who is now with the NFL's St. Louis Rams.  I came to know Lewis over his four years at Duke and his character hasn't changed one bit.  When Varner scored, he came up to Lewis who was by my side and the two exchanged pleasantries before he went back to the bench.  Lewis was yelling encouragement to his ex teammates all game long and in crunch time he rolled into the bench area for support.

The game was physical and for men

The two teams were laying down some hits all game long and the play from up close was very physical in nature.  After one defensive stand, Duke nose guard Charlie Hatcher came off the field right beside me and was punch drunk.  I put my hand on his shoulder pad and pointed him the direction of the bench and about that time a teammate came up and got him there.  Hatcher was a warrior in the middle and came right back and made plays including a shoe string sack of  UVA quarterback Marc Verica.

Picture from GoDuke, Duke Photography

Desmond Scott and Duke ran the ball well

The last time Duke gained 259 yards rushing was against NCCU last season but it was 2003 when Chris Douglass played that Duke gained as much against an ACC foe.  Desmond Scott fell 3 yards short of 100 yard for the day but his touchdown as time was winding down will be long remembered.  I just happened to be standing at the pylon near the endzone andthat meant I had an incredible birds eye view of the play.  Scott ran wide with the ball and just when you thought he was down and Duke was close to allowing Will Snyderwine to be a hero, but the sophomore had other plans.  Scott made a move and then tight roped his way down the sideline jumping and stretching toward the pylon two feet in front of me for the score.  His effort was tremendous and he grew up even more as a running back on a play I can still see in my minds eye.

Ross Cockrell is a playmaker

There were times when I wondered what Cutcliffe had seen in his redshirt freshman defensive back for he has learned on the fly by trial and error this season.  Cockrell had a coming out game versus Virginia with two interceptions and he was so close to a third that was called a dropped ball when nobody in the stadium saw it as such.  The replay was insufficient for the angle was bad, but many feel he made the play, but why harp on that with a huge Duke victory?  For what it's worth, Thaddeus Lewis said he was going to be the real deal and used his name in the same sentence as other great Duke DB's like John Tally.  The lessons learned this season will make Cockrell one of the best at his position as his career moves ahead.

You should have been there, you really should have been there

Duke has just under 23,000 in attendance and those who missed this game, missed a good old fashioned offensive shoot out.  I cracked on the students  via our twitter  game updates in that there may have been 30 there for kickoff and that number went to maybe 120 for the game.  The students who were there were supportive and warriors and are to be commended but for others to not support a team playing their hearts out late in the season is a tad tacky if not selfish.  The students there were shown appreciation by Cut and the team when they ran over to greet them after the game and it was emotional in a most good way.  Cutcliffe would later say he appreciated their support, calling them and those around for the celebration their real fans.  It would be nice to see the place full for the Boston College game this coming week where Duke can win their third straight game and  pick up another ACC win.

Closing the season on a high note thus far

After many early struggles, this Duke team has showed they have no quit in them.  Duke wants togo into the off season with momentum and they have a chance to do that in their remaining three games, two of which are at home.  Duke had several recruiting prospects at the game and word is they were impressed by the direction the Blue Devils are going in.  Many of the Dukies return a season from now and the rebuilding process is on track in a year when they lost key defensive players.  Cutcliffe said their goal was to get better each day in practice and that hard work is starting to pay off.  But nothing is sweeter than a win and yesterday Duke reached deep and won in exciting fashion.  See you in Wade for the Boston College game and when I do let me see the friend you invited by your side.  BDN supports Duke Football and so should  you!

BDN’s Sunday Quarterback – Duke gets much needed win

Only wins cure ills

Duke got a much needed victory on the road at Navy and nothing cures ills like a win.  Duke was in desperate need of a few plays going their way and that happened in a 34-31 road win.  The Blue Devils now know they can move the ball and that should bode well down the stretch.

Sean Renfree is back

What an amazingly effective performance from Sean Renfree where he missed a mere two passes and his receivers caught the ball for him.  Heck, even a drop went right through Conner Vernon's hands, but no biggie for the wideout had another big game.  Renfree got his confidence back and we knew all along that he was a much better signal caller than he showed in recent weeks.  This is a performance which you can build on and expect the effort to carry over down the stretch.

Don't knock Cutcliffe

Okay, Cut sat Sean Renfree late but one needs to look at the big picture before they complain.  Renfree had a great game and there was no way Duke would gamble and take a chance of him throwing an interception that would have thwarted the progress made with his confidence.  Instead, Duke ran down the clock behind Brandon Connette and it was the right thing to do when looking at the big picture.

Three and a half quarters

I will admit that I thought Duke was on the verge of putting together four full quarters and they almost did.  Navy rallied late and scored 24 points in the final quarter but had the defensive backs held on to sure interceptions and cut out untimely penalties that wouldn't have been the case.  Navy picked on one DB all day long but we'll not call him out and we hope he gets it together by the UVA game.

Speaking of the UVA game ...

Duke should compete with the Cavaliers and have a chance at a much needed ACC victory which is the next step in closing the season on a positive note.  Fans need to turn out and help their Devils this coming Saturday for a two game winning streak is a possibility.  Before you get to confident though, remember how close the Cavaliers played USC on the road and of course, they took care of Miami this past week in a huge upset win.

Kelby Brown has a bright future at Duke

Duke linebacker Kelby Brown has been a pleasant surprise for this seasons team, despite the fact that he is but a true freshman.   Brown is showing early signs of being a leader for years to come and he simply has a nose for the ball.

Matt Daniels is a player

The Duke secondary has struggled this season but Matt Daniels has been a constant and his huge tackle for a loss versus Navy helped the Blue Devils claim their second victory of the season.  Daniels is a playmaker and I have a feeling he has some big ones coming before the season ends.

BDN’s Sunday Quarterback

Special to BDN from Lance King Images

The Duke Blue Devils dropped to 1-4 on the season with a 21-16 loss at Maryland and BDN takes a look at the game -

Turnover issues haunt Duke

Coach Cutcliffe has made it clear that Duke must win the battle of turnovers to win and once again Duke had two critical interceptions kill drives.  The worst one was a third down  interception at the Maryland 17 yard line with Duke leading 9-0 with minutes left in the half.  Maryland went on a long drive as time ran out where they score a touchdown and take momentum into the locker room.  Had Duke played it safe and gone for the field goal, they would have had a 12-0 lead and later in the game a field goal would have sent it to overtime.  Then again, a 16-0 lead would have crushed the Terps confidence.

Failure to take advantage of red zone opportunities

Duke was in the red zone four times in the first half and scored just 9 points.  The Blue Devils are having trouble finding the end zone of late and if just one of those went into the end zone it would have changed the complexion of the game. 

Another tough third quarter showing

The half ending touchdown allowed Maryland to seize momentum in the 3rd quarter and Duke only adjusted as the period was running out.  Not sure what to make of this other than until they win the battle in the third the spiral will likely continue.  Maryland outscored the Devils 7-0.

Duke outplayed the Terps

Duke outgained the home team 399-294 yards and 70 of those came on one big play.  Duke also had 21 first downs to Maryland's 14.

Big plays were brutal

The punt return for a touchdown and a big pass play both resulted in Terp touchdowns.  Nuff said.

Special teams not so special

We talked about the punt coverage where the lead gunner was faked out and the rest of the team offered no support.  The Devils punted 4 times for a net average of 23.5 yards.

Take away one big play and the defense was solid

The Duke defense stymied Maryland for most of the first half and take away the big pass play for a touchdown and the D held their opponent to just over 200 total yards, a vast improvement.

Youngsters made big plays

True freshman Kelby Brown was in on some key 3rd down stops and Walt Canty played his best game of the season.  Another freshman, Brandon Braxton had two key receptions on drives and Sydney Sarmiento played wel on the defensive front.

Snyderwine back in the groove

After struggling in the pre season, Will Snyderwine had a sweet stroke on his three made field goals.

Off week ahead

Duke will have a chance to gain more practice reps and rest for the ACC's highest ranked team in Miami two weeks down the road. 


BDN’s Sunday Quarterback – Game Review and Thoughts

Photo - Lance King

It was one of those days for the Duke Football team this Saturday, one which the team, coaches and fans want to move on from as soon as possible.  BDN takes a look at yesterday's 35-21 loss to Army and we share some idle thoughts.

You cannot turn the ball over and win

Texas turned the ball over against UCLA yesterday and that helped the Bruins shock the nations fourth ranked team in their own backyard.  Duke turned the ball over five times to Army losing two of two fumbles and throwing three interceptions which all led to scores.   To make matters worse, Army lost three fumbles and recovered each and every one. The bottom line is that you simply cannot win the game shooting yourself in the foot with critical turnovers while the other team does the opposite.  "We have to play mistake free football to compete or win," said Duke Coach David Cutcliffe," and he's absolutely right about that. 

Growing pains for Sean Renfree

That early Army interception of Sean Renfree set up a quick 7-0 deficit for the Blue Devils and a hole they would never recover from.    It was a harbinger of things to come as Renfree had two more interceptions.  It took the second half before he found wideouts besides Conner Vernon and that was the first time we'd seen that kind of performance from him.   Chalk it up as his first tough lesson and remember he is not Thaddeus Lewis who started for four seasons and is now with the St. Louis Rams.  Renfree will learn on the go this season but there are few who doubts his abilities.

Youth is served

You could still mistake Duke freshman Kelby Brown as a high school student and many of the post game media had to ask him who he was.  Brown led the team with six solo tackles and he was in on four assists.  The Duke linebacker showed off what fans can look forward to in the future.  Brown was originally scheduled to redshirt in his first season but has been forced into action.  Leaving the post game press conference I spoke briefly to his parents asking his Dad if he thought the experience of playing as a freshman would lead to future leadership.  We'll have more on that this week. 

Who will step up on the defense?

The Duke defense has struggled early on yet showed better against Army.  One of these kids needs to take on a leadership role.  In short, Duke needs playmakers, guys who create their own breaks.  Duke is sorely missing the big O's on the defensive line, Vinnie Rey behind them and Leon Wright. 

The talked about punt

Duke elected to punt the ball with just under ten minutes to go in the fourth quarter, down 35-21.  It brought about a for the first time, a few boo birds and I pondered the choice myself.  But then you have to think about the fact that the defense had actually played it's best game of the season and that they had to deal with the five aforementioned turnovers and a short field all day long.  Add to that the fact that Duke was struggling moving the ball and Renfree had just thrown three incompletions.  Mix the ingredients and I think Cutcliffe made the right choice.  Had Duke failed to pick up a first down, the Duke defenders who were on the field all day from the lack of offensive continuity would have suffered again and why break that units confidence? 

Next up Maryland

This isn't an ideal match up for Duke in that Coach Friedgen is fighting to keep his job and he has his Terp's off to a 3-1 start.  They are chomping at the bit for revenge from last seasons 17-13 Duke win and want win number four which could set up the kind of season that is needed to save his job.  In order for Duke to compete in this game, I give way to Coach Cut's theory on turnovers and this years squad.

Be patient

Duke fan must show patience with this young team for things will get better but it may be tough  getting there at times.  Duke is rebuilding this season and trying not to burn more redshirts which are critical to long term success.  If they hang in there and we do the same, eventually some good things will happen.  There is talent on this team that simply needs to come together.  We'll see how the team looks when a couple of early breaks go there way and opponents begin to overlook them.