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Duke will hold its annual spring game Saturday at 3PM in Wallace Wade Stadium

Football Friday looks at Duke’s spring game

Duke will hold its annual spring game Saturday at 3PM in Wallace Wade Stadium

Duke Football will hold its annual spring game this Saturday at 3 PM in Wallace Wade Stadium. The event is free to the public and offers fans a chance to get a first look at the 2011 Blue Devils. Duke men’s lacrosse will host Georgetown at 1 PM in Koskinen stadium, so be sure to come out and support Duke athletics on what should be a fun Saturday in Durham!

 

Rejoice, Blue Devil fans! Football Friday is here. Ok, today is not a day for rejoicing. But let’s at least talk some football to take our minds off the…disappointment. And after today’s day of mourning, maybe you can put that bottle down and head out to Wallace Wade Stadium Saturday afternoon to check out the 2011 Blue Devils? Think you could do that for me, sport? Sure, why not!

Well, if you do go, and I truly hope you will, here are five questions to think about as you watch the spring game in Wallace Wade on Saturday:

1. Can the Duke defensive line slow down the run?

I’m sure most have already determined that I’m an eternal optimist when it comes to Duke football. That being said, I have no delusions of Duke having a dominant defense in 2011. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and for a squad that finished 2010 ranking113th out of 120 FBS programs against the run, Duke has a long way to go. In 2009, the Blue Devils ranked 74th against the run, and I’m hoping that with the addition of Rick Petri and a group of young and athletic linemen, Duke moves back in that direction. The defensive line should benefit from going up against a pretty good and healthy Duke offensive line, so this is definitely a matchup to watch on Saturday.

2. Can the Duke defensive line pressure the quarterback?

I promise, all the questions won’t be about the defensive line – just most of them. In addition to struggling against the run in 2010, Duke finished 108th in pass efficiency defense, 113th in sacks, and 109th in tackles for a loss. These are not numbers we want to show potential donors when pitching the Wallace Wade upgrades. There is no question that there was room for improvement in the Duke secondary last year as well, but in general, opposing quarterbacks were way too comfortable throwing against the Blue Devils. The good news is that Rick Petri comes from a Miami defense that led the country in tackles for loss, so he may have a few tricks to help Duke find their way into the backfield. We’ll also have to see if new defensive coordinator Jim Knowles has any new ideas for how to bring pressure from Duke’s linebackers and safeties.

3. Have Sean Renfree and the Duke offense taken a step forward this spring, especially in terms of taking care of the football?

In an earlier edition of Football Friday, I mentioned the key to 2011 success likely lies in the ability of the offense to take care of the football. The 2010 Blue Devils were turnover machines, finishing last in the ACC and 112th in the country in turnover margin. With a full year of starting experience under his belt, the hope is that Sean Renfree and his receivers will be able to eliminate many of their mistakes from a season ago. Of course, in the spring game, this is difficult to evaluate. If the offense takes care of the ball, is that because the defense didn’t apply pressure (see question 2)? These are things that the coaching staff, and fans, should keep a close eye on Saturday.

4. Will Duke be able to consistently run the ball behind a stronger, deeper offensive line?

If you’ve followed some of Duke’s spring practice reports, you might think that Duke has a stable of Heisman-caliber running backs, along with dual-threat QB Brandon Connette. Early in spring practice, many of Duke’s young defensive linemen were still getting their feet wet, and the defense as a whole was adapting to a new coordinator. By the spring game, many of those kinks should be worked out for the defense, and it should be a good matchup in the trenches. Duke’s running backs have been a little beat up this spring, but those who have played, have played fairly well. A consistent rushing attack will alleviate some of the pressure on Duke’s passing game and even the defense.

5. Who will step up and be the leaders of this year’s Blue Devils?

I debated whether to talk about leadership or surprise players in this last question, and I think leadership is more important. Some of the surprise players may not even be on campus yet, but this year’s leaders have to be. If Duke wants any chance of a bowl game in 2011, they will need a group of strong, vocal leaders on both sides of the ball. With a year of starting experience, I expect Sean Renfree to take control of the Blue Devil offense, aided by a group of upperclassmen at running back (Jay Hollingsworth and Desmond Scott), receiver (Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon), and the offensive line (Kyle Hill and Brian Moore). Defensively, leadership is much more of a question mark. Charlie Hatcher is a warrior and the lone senior along the defensive line, while seniors Matt Daniels and Lee Butler (who has missed all of spring practice) should anchor the secondary. Outside of those three players, Duke lacks significant game experience on defense, which means that players like sophomore Kelby Brown and junior Jordon Byas may have to assume leadership roles. On Saturday, keep an eye on the sidelines and in the huddle to see which players are ready to step up and lead this young Blue Devil team.

 

 

QB Sean Renfree is off to a good start this spring - BDN Photo

Football Friday interrupts March Madness

Even in the middle of March Madness, Football Friday is back to satisfy your weekly craving for Duke football. So far, we’ve covered Duke’s incoming freshman class, football recruiting 101, and a look at the fall schedule. While we love us some good recruiting scoop here at BDN, we think it’s also just as important to talk about the players we already have. With that in mind, this week’s Football Friday takes a look at the early reviews from Duke’s 2011 spring practice. [private]

Sir Nolan Smith leads Duke to Chapel Hill - Lance King Images

Duke travels to Chapel Hill

This weekend is all about Duke vs. North Carolina. The Tar Heels have dominated the Blue Devils on the gridiron of late, and that’s a trend that we’d all like to see come to an end this fall. More importantly, however, is to come away with a victory and the #1 seed on the hardwood Saturday, and I think the Blue Devils have a great chance to do it. The two teams match up with each other poorly, and that should make for another very interesting game. In the first game, UNC had no answer for Duke’s guards, while Duke struggled to contain UNC’s bigs. Kyle Singler and Harrison Barnes essentially neutralized each other. I expect to see much of the same on Saturday, and if either team can get a boost from their bench, that could end up being the difference. It’s Duke and Carolina, with the ACC regular season championship on the line, which means we’re in for another thriller.

Recruiting news

The Blue Devils hosted 26 prospects on February 19th for the second of their junior days. The prospects took in Duke’s practice, toured the facilities, and met with the coaches.

Duke commit Erich Schneider enjoyed his visit to Durham

Current Duke commit Erich Schneider made the trip from Florida and got to spend a lot of time with Coach Middleton and the tight ends. The long distance award goes to QB Bart Houston, who flew in from California for the weekend. Houston’s recruiting has recently picked up and offers are starting to come in for the talented signal-caller. A few other prospects were in town this past weekend to take in Duke’s spring practice, including offensive lineman Andrew Jelks. Jelks told BDN he really liked Duke and had high praise for Coach Cutcliffe and Coach Luke. The top Tennessee prospect intends to make visits to Knoxville, Tuscaloosa, and Oxford, Mississippi this spring.

Congratulations are due for Duke TE commit David Reeves, who helped Greensboro High School capture a Regional Championship on the hardwood. Best of luck to David and Greensboro as they continue their quest for an Alabama State Title.

With only 12 seniors scheduled to graduate this season, the Blue Devils will be particularly selective this year with their recruiting. No new offers were extended this week, and the top targets remain the same as we discussed in our earlier Football Friday. Invitations have been sent out to prospects for the spring game on March 26, and it will be important for the Blue Devils to have a good showing, both on the field and in the stands.

Spring Practice

Duke wrapped up the first half of spring practice on Wednesday, and will take a much-needed two-week break for spring break. No coach or fan wants to hear that Duke is banged up this spring, but it’s the truth. Duke has been practicing with about 55 players this spring, which can make it difficult to assess individual performances. In particular, the Blue Devils are thin on the defensive side of the ball, where Kenny Anunike, Kelby Brown, Lee Butler, and Quan Stevenson are out for the entire spring, and other key players have missed time. At this point, everyone is expected to be healthy for the fall, which obviously is most important, but with a young team, you’d like to see players play as many snaps as possible this spring.

QB Sean Renfree is off to a good start this spring - BDN Photo

Right now, the strengths of this team should be no surprise to most fans, and it starts with the play at quarterback and receiver. Sean Renfree has had a very good start to spring practice, and Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone have also made strides since the fall. Renfree told BDN last week that he feels as comfortable as he ever has playing football, and it’s shown on the field. For the most part, he’s been on the same page with his receivers and his offensive line, which has made things difficult for the Duke defense. As we mentioned last week, the Duke offense must take a big step forward in taking care of the football if the Blue Devils are to have any success this fall. So far, Renfree and co. look poised to do just that.

For those who have followed Duke’s spring scrimmage statistics, you’ll note that the running backs have put up some impressive numbers. Josh Snead has been out with a MCL sprain, but Desmond Scott. Patrick Kurunuwe, and Juwan Thompson have played well and shown the ability to break out big runs. The real credit here goes to Duke’s offensive line, where they lose only one starter in center Bryan Morgan. Brian Moore shifts over from right guard to take the starting center spot, and Duke has been working in Conor Irwin, Joey Finison, and Dave Harding as well. Overall, the line looks much improved, and projects to start Moore at center, Kyle Hill at left tackle, Harding at left guard, John Coleman at right guard, and Perry Simmons at right tackle. Redshirt-freshmen Laken Tomlinson and Tacoby Cofield have both played well this spring and will likely back-up Coleman and Simmons this fall.

As you can expect with several starters out, defensively, Duke has had mixed results this spring. The theme on defense seems to be athleticism and inconsistency; Duke is clearly stronger and faster than they have been in past years, but they are extremely inexperienced with only 5 seniors on the entire defensive unit. The key for the Blue Devils will be the play up front, and newcomers Jamal Bruce and Jordan Dewalt-Ondijo have shown some play-making ability and will compete for playing time this fall. New DL Coach Rick Petri is working hard with his young linemen, which include 10 underclassmen. Over the course of the spring and fall, the expectation is that this group, led by returnees Charlie Hatcher, Sydney Sarmiento, and Justin Foxx, will develop under Coach Petri into a solid ACC defensive front, but there will continue to be growing pains along the way. Among the defensive backs, the Blue Devils’ athleticism has been evident, as players such as Austin Gamble, C.J. France, and Jordon Byas appear ready to contribute this fall.  Duke has the athletes on defense to improve from last season’s ACC-worst unit, and consistency will be the key to the group’s success this fall.

In summary, at this point in the spring, the offense is clearly ahead of the defense, which is what you would expect to see with a more veteran group. I think Coach Cutcliffe said it best with his assessment of the first half of spring practice: “I’m not disappointed at all. What you see is that we don’t have a lot of people who are ready to play 50 or 60 snaps of ACC football, so there’s a learning process to that.” Overall, the effort and energy from the Blue Devils has been excellent. The team continues to work hard this spring and improves each day, which is exactly what you want to see from a young team.

Next week

We’ve got lots more football prospect interviews coming your way, so be sure to check back during your March Madness downtime. Until next week, GTHC.

WE ARE DUKE.

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Stats Update: Duke runs over Virginia

I remain convinced a team must successfully run the ball to consistently compete to win. After rushing 45 times for 142 yards in the win at Navy, Duke followed up by rushing for 230 yards on 45 attempts with six rushing touchdowns in Saturday’s 55-48 victory over the Virginia Cavaliers. So far in 2010, through nine games, Duke is averaging 132.8 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 85th out of 120 Football Bowl Series teams. Last season, Duke finished 120th in rushing.

On Saturday, Desmond Scott rushed for 97 yards on 17 carries including the decisive 35 yard touchdown scamper on a toss sweep. Brandon Connette was Duke’s second leading rusher gaining 78 yards on 12 carries, followed by Sean Renfree who gained 22 yards on 10 carries. Connette and Renfree each scored two rushing touchdowns.

Wide Receiver Donovan Varner was the fourth Blue Devil to score a rushing touchdown when he went in motion out of the slot, received an inside hand-off from Connette on a QB option, and darted off tackle for nine yards into the end zone. Varner gained 14 yards on two carries.

Improvement in the ground attack is a positive indicator Duke continues to progress toward turning the football program into an ACC contender.

It is no coincidence Duke has a plus five (+5) turnover margin in their three victories while being minus 14 (-14) during the six losses. Turnovers kill a team’s ability to win games. Duke remains last in the ACC in turnover margin at minus nine (-9) so if they are to extend their current two game winning streak they must value the football.

With all the success Duke has had running the ball recently, make no mistake, the Blue Devils remain a pass oriented offense. Duke is third in the ACC in passing offense averaging 261.3 yards per game. Sean Renfree has passed for 2270 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.

Conner Vernon (5.4), Donovan Varner (5.2) and Austin Kelly (4.4) are first, third and eighth in the ACC respectively, in receptions per game. With Austin Kelly out for the game and Conner Vernon injured returning a kick-off, tight end Cooper Helfet stepped up and caught seven passes for 126 yards against the Cavaliers. Helfet has 20 catches in eight games this season for a 2.5 receptions per game average. He was named one of the ACC players of the week for the second consecutive week.

On Duke’s game winning drive, Donovan Varner converted the critical first down when he caught a 26 yard pass on fourth and 18.

The kicking game is another phase of the game where Duke is excelling. Will Snyderwine is ranked number three in the ACC in scoring (kick) with 72 points. He has made 15 field goals out of 16 attempts plus all 27 extra points attempted.

Duke has attempted six onsides kicks this season and been successful four times.

Lee Butler averages 9.5 yards per punt return, which is fifth in the ACC. His longest return this season is 33 yards and he returned one punt for 26 yards in this week’s victory.

Desmond Scott is sixth in the ACC in all purpose yards with 957. Scott has rushed for 489 yards, gained 260 on kick returns, and caught 22 passes for 208 yards this season.

On the defensive side of the ball, Abraham Kromah ranks second in the ACC in tackles per game at 10.1. Kelby Brown is eighth with 7.6 and Matt Daniels is tied for eleventh with 6.9.

Injuries are starting to mount and could become an issue over the last three weeks of the season so I’m awaiting Thursday’s injury report with trepidation. Duke seeks to extend their winning streak to three games when the Boston College Eagles visit Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday.

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 Previews Virginia at Duke

The Virginia Cavaliers (4-4, 1-3 ACC) travel to Wallace Wade Stadium on Saturday to take on the Duke Blue Devils (2-6, 0-4 ACC) in an ACC Coastal Division matchup. The Blue Devils are looking to build momentum coming off a win in Annapolis, while the Cavaliers are riding a two-game winning streak after an impressive victory over the Miami Hurricanes. The game will kickoff at noon ET and will be televised on espn3.com; tickets are still available at GoDuke.com. The Blue Devils will be honoring former standout WR Clarkston Hines at halftime on his upcoming induction into the College Football Hall of Fame; many other Duke football alumni, including St. Louis Rams’ QB Thad Lewis, will also be in attendance. 

Duke in Week 9

The Blue Devils put together a near perfect first half of football in Annapolis last Saturday, jumping out to a 24-0 halftime lead against Navy. QB Sean Renfree returned to his early-season form, completing 17 of 18 first half passes for 180 yards. Duke scored on its first four possessions, starting with a 30 yard Will Snyderwine FG on the opening drive, and then adding three rushing touchdowns, one by freshman QB Brandon Connette and two by Renfree. The defense forced a fumble on Navy’s opening drive and then held the Midshipmen to just 67 yards of offense in the first half.  

The second half was a story of survival, as the Midshipmen began to move the ball through the air with little resistance from the Duke defense. QB Ricky Dobbs ended the day with 227 yards through the air and 83 yards on the ground, almost all of which came in the second half. He connected with his receivers for 2 second half touchdowns and added another on the ground to put Navy within 3 points in the closing minutes. On Navy’s final drive, a key tackle for a loss by Matt Daniels helped the Blue Devils’ defense force a turnover on downs and sealed the 34-31 victory. 

Virginia in Week 9

The Cavaliers jumped out to a big lead of their own last Saturday, taking a 24-0 lead early in the 4th quarter against Miami in Charlottesville. After knocking out QB Jacory Harris early in the game, the Cavaliers finished with 5 total interceptions, including two each for S Corey Mosley and CB Chase Minnifield. RB Keith Payne ran for 81 yards and 2 touchdowns, while QB Marc Verica threw for 176 yards and a touchdown. The Hurricanes did not go down without a fight, however; QB Stephen Morris led a furious 4th quarter comeback, scoring 19 points in the final 10 minutes. The rally fell short in the closing minutes as the Miami defense failed to get a needed stop, allowing Virginia to pick up two crucial first downs on their final drive of the game. The Cavaliers were able to run out the clock for a 24-19 upset victory. 

Analysis

In the standings, this is a matchup between the bottom two teams in the Coastal Division, but on the field, this is a compelling game. Duke and Virginia are two programs on the rise in the ACC, both looking to sustain winning streaks into November. Both teams are coming off their most impressive victories of the season, and the teams matchup well. Duke boasts the 2nd best passing offense in the conference, while Virginia features the conferences’ second best passing defense, led by standout CB Chase Minnifield. The two teams frequently go head-to-head on the recruiting trail, and much will be at stake on Saturday afternoon in Wallace Wade. 

This is not the same Virginia team that has fallen to Duke the last two seasons, and it will take a solid 60 minute effort for a Blue Devil victory. Virginia’s two-headed rushing attack leads their offense, featuring 6’3” 255 pound RB Keith Payne (69 yards per game, 12 touchdowns) and speedy sophomore Perry Jones (58.5 yards per game, 5.0 yards per carry). Fifth-year senior Marc Verica takes the snaps under center and enters the game 4th in the conference at 208 yards per game passing. Junior WR Kris Byrd has been Verica’s favorite target, ranking 3rd in the conference in receiving yards per game at 72. The Cavaliers, like the Blue Devils, have had some turnover problems of their own, having thrown 10 interceptions (5 in the red zone) and lost 6 fumbles on the season. After giving up 15 sacks in their first 5 games, the offensive line has allowed just 2 sacks in the past 3, which has opened things up for Verica and the running game. 

Defensively, Virginia has switched to a 4-3 defense from Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme, with mixed results. They rank second in the conference and 17th in the country in passing defense, but rank second to last in the conference and 111th in the country in rushing defense. Sophomore linebackers LaRoy Reynolds and Ausar Wolcott lead the team in tackles with 49 and 41, respectively, but it is the secondary that is the strength of this unit. CB Chase Minnifield leads the ACC in interceptions and is second in passes defended. Junior DE Cam Johnson anchors the defensive front and leads the team with 10.5 tackles for loss and 5 sacks. On special teams, Minnifield is a dangerous punt returner, and Raynard Horne has a kick return for a touchdown this year. Placekicker Robert Randolph missed his first 3 FG attempts of the season, but has connected on his last 6, and Jimmy Howell ranks fifth in the conference in punting. 

The keys to this game for Duke are:

    Defensive fundamentals: Duke has to stay disciplined on defense – make tackles and defend the ball. If Duke is unable to bring down Virginia’s running backs, particularly Payne, it will be a long day for the Blue Devil defense. After getting torched by Ricky Dobbs, the secondary will have to step up and make plays.
    Offensive line: Duke has several injuries along the offensive line, but will have to control the line of scrimmage to allow Renfree time to make accurate throws. If he is rushed, the Virginia secondary will take advantage.
    Special teams: In what may be a close game, mistakes on kick or punt coverage could swing the momentum. Will Snyderwine is having an impressive junior campaign and will have to continue to put points on the board for the Blue Devils. 

BDN Prediction

This is an old-fashioned conference matchup that should be won or lost in the trenches for Duke. Despite injuries along the offensive line, Duke will have to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball to compete with the Wahoos. If the Virginia backs are able to find running room, Duke will have a tough time slowing the Cavaliers offense. Virginia’s defense has been most vulnerable to the run, and Duke will need to have big days from Desmond Scott and Jay Hollingsworth to open things up for Sean Renfree and the passing game. The Blue Devils will have to put together their best 60 minute effort of the season to come away with their first ACC win in 2010. 

Duke 30

UVA 28

Stats Update: Sean Renfree has record setting performance in win over Navy

Sean Renfree (right) and Conner Vernon (left) were key performers in Duke's win over Navy.
Duke beat Navy 34-31 on the strength of a record setting performance by Sean Renfree and a strong first half by the entire offense; however, the defense played great and acknowledging true freshman linebacker Kelby Brown’s 12 tackles, along with Abraham Kromah’s 11 tackles, and Matt Daniel’s huge tackle on 4th down is appropriate. The defense dominated Navy for three quarters and provided many key performances in the victory.

The Top 8 Statistics in Duke’s Win over Navy:

1. Sean Renfree set a single game pass completion percentage record with his 28-30 (93.3%) performance. Renfree didn’t set just a new Duke record or an ACC record, he set a new NCAA record, for games with a minimum of 30 passes thrown, by besting Steve Sarkisian’s 31-34 (91.2%) performance for BYU against Fresno State on November 25, 1995.

2. Zero turnovers for the Blue Devils. Multiple turnovers doomed Duke in losses against Wake Forest (four), Army (Five) and Miami (seven). The importance of not turning the ball over cannot be overstated. Entering the game, Navy was ranked tied for fourth nationally in turnover margin, while Duke was ranked 119th.

3. Two for two on onside kick recoveries. Navy attempted two onside kicks in the 4th quarter but first Conner Vernon and then Cooper Helfet foiled Navy’s attempts by successfully catching the ball for the Blue Devils. Navy’s offense was hitting on all eight cylinders in the 4th quarter and these two key plays by Vernon and Helfet prevented the Midshipmen from gaining extra possessions.

4. Duke’s vaunted receiving corps earned their accolades: five receptions for 90 yards and a touchdown by Conner Vernon, seven receptions for 69 yards by Cooper Helfet, five receptions for 57 yards by Donovan Varner, five receptions for 49 yards by Desmond Scott, four receptions for 23 yards by Austin Kelly and two receptions for 26 yards by Brandon Braxton. Fifteen of Duke’s 21 first downs were achieved on pass receptions.

5. The defense dominated Navy’s triple option offense until the 4th quarter. Kelby Brown recorded 12 tackles including three solo and Abraham Kromah had 11 tackles with five being solo. Patrick Egboh was credited with 1.5 sacks.

6. Time of possession. Duke mounted multiple long drives and controlled the ball for 36 minutes and 57 seconds. The drives included: 10 plays for 68 yards resulting in a field goal, 14 plays for 76 yards resulting in a touchdown, 10 plays for 45 yards resulting in a touchdown, eight plays for 64 yards resulting in a touchdown, 10 plays for 70 yards resulting in a touchdown, and 12 plays for 60 yards resulting in a field goal.

7. Conversions on 3rd and 4th down. Duke was two for three on 4th down and 8 for 15 on 3rd down. Converting on these plays allowed the offense to mount multiple sustained drives, which kept Navy’s offense off the field.

8. Duke rushed 45 times for 142 yards and six first downs. Desmond Scott was the leading rusher with 42 yards including a key 17 yard run during Duke’s opening drive. Quarterbacks Sean Renfree and Brandon Connette combined to rush for 61 yards and three touchdowns.