Tag Archives: Matt Daniels

DL Carlos Wray is the 6th verbal commitment in the class of 2012

BDN Free Football Friday Encore

DL Carlos Wray is the 6th verbal commitment in the class of 2012

Is it Friday already? Time flies when you’re knee deep in recruiting season. As we did last week, we’ll share Football Friday with everyone this week. If you like reading what we have to say, please consider joining BDN Premium. We’ve quickly become the best resource for all things Duke athletics around, and we’d love to have you join our community.

 

College football preview season

We mentioned last week that college football previews are in full swing as magazines hit newsstands and websites begin publishing their own predictions. While Duke is flying under the radar for most prognosticators in 2011, several Blue Devil players have garnered pre-season accolades. Will Snyderwine and Conner Vernon were named as preseason 1st Team All-ACC, while Matt Daniels, Cooper Helfet, Kyle Hill, Sean Renfree, and Donovan Varner were tabbed on the 3rd Team by Athlon Sports. I would caution those who are sleeping on Renfree and Varner in 2011; both have taken huge steps forward this offseason and are poised to lead the Blue Devils to a bowl this fall.

Chris Tavarez featured

Duke’s freshman safety has already made a name for himself in the acting world, and will star in a new NBC movie, “Field of Vision.” The Blue Devils are looking forward to Tavarez’s arrival on campus later this month.

Busy week

It’s been rapid fire at BDN this week, kicking off with the Blue Devils’ 6th verbal commitment in the class of 2012. Carlos Wray joins Allen Jackson as future Duke defensive linemen under new Coach Rick Petri. Wray and Jackson are both athletic prospects who will be fun to watch in Wallace Wade Stadium in the years to come.

With camp season in full swing, BDN checked in with several new Blue Devil prospects to learn more about where they are in their recruiting process, and learned that Duke has made a significant impression on many of them. Some of the new interviews we featured this week included:

LB Jeremiah Allison

OL Steven Foster

OL Bryce Kennedy

OL Casey Blaser

Duke would love for Keilin Rayner to join Deion Williams at LB in the class of 2012

We’ve also recently checked back in with two of Duke’s top targets on the defensive side of the ball:

LB Keilin Rayner

DT Korren Kirven

If you’ve followed Duke football recruiting in recent years, you know we are just getting started here in early June. Buckle up and enjoy the ride!

 

Recruiting rewind

Most Duke fans are conditioned to expect recruiting success due to Coach K’s historic run in Durham. In football recruiting, you win some and you lose some. At BDN, we believe it’s more important to focus on the recruiting victories and keep things in perspective. Here’s a quick recap of some of Duke’s biggest recruiting coups in the last two classes alone.

Class of 2010

LB Kelby Brown

Duke fans didn’t know how good of a player they were getting when Brown committed to the Blue Devils in July 2009. The coaching staff was able to secure Kelby’s commitment over nine other scholarship offers from programs like Arkansas, Boston College, Louisville, Northwestern, UCLA, and Wisconsin. After knee surgery cut his freshman year short in 2010, Duke fans are expecting Brown to lead the Blue Devil defense in 2011 and beyond.

QB Brandon Connette

With Sean Renfree entrenched as the heir to Thad Lewis, it was easy to overlook the commitment from Connette, which the Blue Devils received early in the recruiting season, in May 2009. The Duke staff was able to beat out in-state power Stanford for Connette, who came in and led the Blue Devils with 8 rushing touchdowns as a freshman, a new school record.

RB Juwan Thompson

The Duke coaching staff went down to Georgia in the spring of 2009 and stole a pretty good running back prospect from the Peach State. Thompson committed to Duke in June 2009 over offers from Minnesota, Ole Miss, Stanford, UVA, and Wake Forest. After finishing in the ACC’s top 10 in kickoff returns as a freshman, the Blue Devils expect Thompson to see an increased workload in 2011.

RB Josh Snead

After landing 4-star prospect Desmond Scott in 2009, the Duke staff continued their impressive in-state recruiting, adding the speedy Snead to the class of 2010 in December 2009. Snead chose the Blue Devils over Georgia Tech, Louisville, NC State, and Vanderbilt. Along with Scott and Thompson, Snead is expected to be a key playmaker in the 2011 Blue Devil backfield.

 

Kyler and Kelby Brown are two of the Blue Devils' biggest recent recruiting successes

Class of 2011

OL Cody Robinson

The Duke coaching staff landed four impressive prospects from the state of Tennessee in the class of 2011, led by the 300-pound Robinson. Cody chose the Blue Devils over 8 other scholarship offers and is expected to anchor the Duke offensive line for years to come.

OL Marcus Aprahamian

Coach Luke and the Blue Devils went into the Midwest and secured a commitment from the top offensive line prospect in the state of Wisconsin in May 2010. Aprahamian, who called Duke his “dream school,” is expected to join fellow 300-pounder Robinson and anchor the Blue Devil offensive line.

LB David Helton

Another good-looking Tennessee prospect, Helton chose Duke over 7 other scholarship offers, including ACC rival Georgia Tech. Helton is a player many think could contribute as a true freshman in 2011.

CB Jared Boyd, CB Tim Burton, S Chris Tavarez

Duke fans are going to love watching this trio of defensive backs develop in Wallace Wade Stadium. The three bring a distinct swagger to Durham, and they all know how to make plays. Boyd, who hails from Georgia powerhouse Stephenson High School, chose Duke over 14 other scholarship offers, including programs like Georgia Tech, Ole Miss, Stanford, and Vanderbilt. Burton brings the reputation of a big-time speedster and trash-talker from the talent-rich state of Florida, where he chose Duke over 7 other offers, including Big Ten power Wisconsin. Tavarez may be best known for his career as an actor so far, but he plans to make a name for himself on the gridiron at Duke, which he chose over 6 other offers, which included Maryland and Vanderbilt.

DE/LB Kyler Brown, ATH Jamison Crowder

Do you remember where you were on February 9, 2011? What about March 13, 2011? Of course, you were watching the Blue Devils beat the Tar Heels on the hardwood. What a great feeling for a Duke fan! So why don’t you remember July 20, 2010? Or February 1, 2011? Duke beat the Tar Heels on those days as well, landing commitments from Jamison Crowder and Kyler Brown. With Crowder’s athleticism and Brown’s family lineage, Blue Devil fans should know to expect both to find a way to make an impact this fall.

You could certainly add more to this list – TE David Reeves, who signed with Duke after a late push by SEC power Auburn; WR Blair Holliday, who chose Duke over hometown UCLA; big DL Sam Marshall, who chose Duke over ACC rivals NC State and Virginia; Will Monday, the top ranked punter in the class; and several others. For a program whose last bowl game was over 15 years ago, the Blue Devil coaching staff is doing an impressive job on the recruiting trail. If recruiting success is any indicator, Duke fans should expect to see results on the field sooner rather than later.

 

Keep up with all things Duke athletics here at BDN. As always, thanks for reading. Until next week, WE ARE DUKE.

 

Duke safety Matt Daniels is poised for an All-ACC senior season

BDN’s Football Friday!

It’s Friday afternoon, which can only mean one thing – Football Friday! This week, we take a look at Duke’s 2011 ACC opponents spring practices along with some recruiting updates. [private]

It’s a long one this week, so I won’t distract you with any witty opening filler. Let’s get right to it.

Matt Daniels named to Lott IMPACT Trophy Watch List

Duke DB Matt Daniels strikes a pose for BDN Photo

That’s a mouthful of an accomplishment. Interestingly, there were 11 candidates from the ACC, more than any other conference. Daniels is a player that I’ve enjoyed watching develop over his four years in Durham, and I always feel like he has another level we still haven’t seen. Hopefully, this will be the year that he reaches that level and helps to turn around the Duke defensive unit. As one of the most versatile players on defense, his playmaking ability will be key to the Blue Devils’ success in 2011.

Scouting the ACC spring practices

With lots of transitions occurring on the sidelines and under center around the ACC this year, it may be a good opportunity for the Blue Devils to pull off a few upsets. Several teams will wrap up their 2011 spring practice this weekend with their spring games, so be sure to tune in to the ESPN family of networks to scout out some of Duke’s 2011 opponents (ESPN – you can email me for the address to mail my endorsement check). So sit back and enjoy a cold one while we take a whirlwind tour around the ACC. Oh wait, you’re still at work, so grab a cup of coffee instead? Anyway, here are some of the headlines from Duke’s 2011 ACC opponents this spring:

Boston College: the Eagles will be Duke’s first ACC opponent this fall, which may be a good thing for the Blue Devils. BC will return nearly all of their offensive starters, who will be operating under a new coordinator in Kevin Rogers. The emphasis so far this spring appears to be on the passing game, which has been inconsistent so far this spring. In the first scrimmage of the spring, Chase Rettig was on the same page with his receivers, and the BC offense finished with 5 touchdowns. In their second scrimmage, however, the defense had their way with the new offense, finishing with 4 interceptions and 4 sacks. BC will be a tough opponent, as we saw last year in Wallace Wade Stadium, mostly due to Montel Harris on the ground, and Luke Kuechly on defense. If Rettig and his receivers can develop consistency, BC will be a dangerous team for the entire ACC.

Florida State: most expect the Seminoles to be at the top of the ACC in 2011, and you can see for yourself on Saturday at 4PM on ESPN3. This team will go as far as QB E.J. Manuel can take them, and the indications this spring are pretty good. Manuel is the athletic signal-caller that has given the Blue Devils trouble in recent years. Perhaps the biggest question for the Seminoles will be their offensive line, where they will have to replace 2 starters and had 4 players out for spring practice. Overall, the Seminoles lost only 3 starters each on offense and defense, and the expectations are high in Tallahassee.

Wake Forest: the Deacs’ will hold their spring game on Saturday at 1 PM. After a disappointing 2010, Wake Forest loses 8 starters. Tanner Price is the unquestioned starter on offense and will be backed up by Ted Stachitas. Both players gave the Blue Devils trouble last year in a  54-48 loss in Winston-Salem. Much like the Blue Devils, the Deacs struggled mightily on defense last year, and Coach Jim Grobe has been pleased with the defensive intensity this spring. The running game will be led by Josh Harris and Brandon Pendergrass, but questions remain in the kicking game for Wake Forest. The expectation is for this team to be improved from a season ago, but in order for that to happen, they will have to show more consistency this fall than they have this spring.

Virginia Tech: the Hokies lose perhaps the most of any Duke opponent in 2011, but in Blacksburg, they reload, not rebuild. The defending ACC champs lose QB Tyrod Taylor along with RB Ryan Williams and RB Darren Evans to the NFL, leaving the Hokies’ offense in the hands of redshirt-sophomore Logan Thomas and junior tailback David Wilson. There have been rave reviews this spring for Wilson (even though he’s missed several practices due to track), who is working under first year running back coach Shane Beamer (yes, Frank’s son), after long-time assistant Billy Hite retired. The VT defense also has questions as they replace 5 starters from 2010, but the Blue Devils will have to keep the ball away from returning CB Jayron Hosley, who led the country with 9 interceptions and 17 defended passes in 2010.

Miami: lots of changes in Coral Gables this spring under new head coach Al Golden. The Hurricanes will hold their spring game on Saturday at 3 PM, and questions still remain heading into the fall. The coaching staff has been openly disappointed in the intensity and conditioning of many of the Miami players this spring, and Golden has left the depth chart up for grabs this spring. That includes quarterback, where Jacory Harris and Stephen Morris are battling for the starting job, though Spencer Whippel was the starter heading into the spring. We’ll get to see lots more from the Hurricanes, as they’ve struck a deal with ESPNU to air a series of All-Access shows this spring.

Virginia: the Wahoos wrapped up spring practice last week with nearly as many questions as answers. It’s a complete toss-up at quarterback, where the updated depth chart lists Michael Rocco and Ross Matheney in the “first group” and Michael Strauss and David Watford in the “second group.” In short, no one has established themselves as the leader of this offense this spring, and that has to be a concern for a team that loses 19 lettermen, including 5 starters. After a shootout in Wallace Wade Stadium last year, the Blue Devils will be glad to hear that QB Marc Verica and RB Keith Payne are among the starters lost. The Cavaliers’ defense should be improved from a year ago as they enter their second year in the 4-3 scheme, and will be anchored in the secondary by CB Chase Minnifield, who finished 2010 with 6 interceptions. Offensively, it’s tough to evaluate a team with 4 inexperienced potential starters at QB.

Georgia Tech: the Yellow Jackets are yet another ACC team who will be breaking in a new QB in 2011, as Tevin Washington takes over for Josh Nesbitt. The Blue Devils saw plenty of Washington in 2010 in their 30-20 loss in Atlanta. This spring, head coach Paul Johnson has been disappointed in the play of his offensive line, which returns three starters from a year ago. In addition to Nesbitt, the Jackets’ triple-option offense will have to replace Anthony Allen at B-back, but return Roddy Jones and Orwin Smith at A-back. Defensively, GT will have to replace 6 starters, but they do return all 3 starters up front in Al Groh’s 3-4 scheme. The front three will have to be the strength of this defense, and it has impressed the coaching staff this spring.

North Carolina: if you thought Bieber fever was annoying, wait until you meet the Tar Heels with Renner fever. Bryn Renner inherits the starting job at quarterback, and impressed the Tar Heel faithful with a 9/13, 123 yard performance in their spring game. The highlight was a 43-yard pass to Erik Highsmith, something UNC saw far less often during the T.J. Yates era. After a tumultuous 2010 and an ongoing NCAA investigation, the Tar Heels will have several new faces on both sides of the ball in 2011. Five starters depart on both offense and defense, which means that the few returning starters, such as senior DE Quinton Coples and senior TB Ryan Houston will have to shoulder (no pun intended) much of the load on defense and offense, respectively. Despite suffering a broken scapula in the spring game, head coach Butch Davis expects Houston to be an every-down back for the Tar Heels this fall.

 

Spring evaluation period starts today

Ok, I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted after that tour of the ACC. That took some serious work, and I didn’t even talk about NC State, Clemson, or Maryland. Anyway, recruiting gets back into full gear today, as the spring evaluation period opens up. So what does that actually mean? The Duke staff has 168 evaluation days to use between now and May 31. An evaluation day is a day spent in evaluation of a prospect’s athletic and/or academic ability. The staff is limited to 1 athletic evaluation and 1 academic evaluation per prospect during this time. So whom will the staff be visiting? Let’s take a look at the offers out there by position.

Bilal Marshall is the first 2012 QB with a Duke offer

Quarterbacks: we’ll start with the glamour position, and one that Duke has built into a strength for 2011 with Sean Renfree, Brandon Connette, and Anthony Boone. Miami’s Bilal Marshall remains the only quarterback prospect with a Duke offer, and we’ll check back in with him soon to get an update on his recruitment. There are 19 other QBs on the board, highlighted by names like Bart Houston, Casey Cochran, and Matt Johnson.

Running backs: Duke remains committed to taking at least one or two running backs in the class of 2012, and they’ve extended 7 offers with 17 other prospects under evaluation. Keith Marshall is at the top of every school’s list, but he’s joined by Todd Gurley, Dami Ayoola, Dondre Brown, Dontonio Jordan, Jay Jay McCullough, and Nick Tompkins as prospects with verbal offers.

Wide receivers: with Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon now upperclassmen, the Blue Devils will look to reload at receiver in the class of 2012. Seven receivers have verbal offers, which include Nelson Agholor, Jared Crump, Desmond Frye, P.J. Harris, Justin Johnson, Max McCaffrey, and Darius Powe. Twelve other receivers are on the Blue Devils’ list of 2012 prospects.

Tight ends: the Blue Devils’ got on the board early with a commitment from Erich Schneider, but remain in pursuit of top TEs Dan Beilinson, Kent Taylor, and Evan Baylis.

Linemen: as would be expected, linemen make up the majority of verbal scholarship offers to date. On the offensive line, Duke is looking to add a few top prospects and has extended 11 offers to players like Patrick DeStefano, Mark Harrell, D.J. Humphries, Andrew Jelks, Eric Olson, and Max Tuerk. The emphasis, however, is the defensive line, where Duke has extended 17 verbal offers to players like Allen Jackson (committed), Korren Kirven, D.J. Reader, Jordan Watkins, and Carlos Wray. In addition to the prospects with offers, Duke has over 40 other linemen on their recruiting board.

Linebackers: Duke is going hard after two linebackers in particular early in Keilin Rayner and Deion Williams. There are several others under evaluation, but the Blue Devils remain in good shape with those two players.

Secondary: the defensive secondary is another position of emphasis in the class of 2012, and the Blue Devils have extended offers to 13 prospects at cornerback and safety. In addition to players like Michael Summers, Albert Reid, Ron Geohaghan, and Dwayne Norman, the staff is evaluating another 15 prospects.

We’ll be back

Lots of recruiting coverage coming this week as the staff hits the recruiting trail and we tag along for the ride. No idea what we’ll talk about next week, so you’ll just have to come back to find out. As always, feel free to join in the discussion on our message board if you need a football fix before next Friday. WE ARE DUKE.

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Sean Renfree found Conner Vernon for a 6-yard 2nd quarter TD.  BDN Photo

White defeats Blue, 21-14 in Duke Football Spring Game

Sean Renfree found Conner Vernon for a 6-yard 2nd quarter TD. BDN Photo

DURHAM, N.C. – Anthony Boone’s 32-yard touchdown pass to Tyree Watkins with 11:15 remaining in the fourth period lifted the White squad to a come-from-behind victory over the Blue unit in Duke’s annual Spring Game on Saturday afternoon at Wallace Wade Stadium.

Saturday’s event brought spring practice to a close for the Blue Devils.

The Blue team opened the scoring with a 14-yard touchdown run by Patrick Kurunwune at the 8:51 mark of the first period.  Just over four minutes later, Brandon Connette found the end zone from 14 yards out on the ground to push the lead to 14-0.  The White team managed to pull within seven prior to halftime when Sean Renfree hooked up with Conner Vernon on a six-yard touchdown pass.

Midway through the third quarter, Desmond Scott brought the White unit even on the scoreboard with a 16-yard touchdown run.

On the day, Renfree connected on eight-of-14 passes for 105 yards and one touchdowns while Boone was seven-of-15 through the air for 94 yards with one touchdown and one interception.  Scott paced the White team with 56 rushing yards on 13 carries while Juwan Thompson gained 35 yards on nine rushes.  For the Blue unit, Connette completed 10-of-16 throws for 102 yards while rushing for 34 yards on eight attempts whileJosh Snead picked up 54 yards on six carries.

Watkins finished with six receptions for 67 yards while Brandon Braxton (21 yards), Cooper Helfet (64 yards) and Vernon (19 yards) had three catches apiece.

Defensively, Jamal Wallace carded a game-high seven tackles while Austin Gamble had six total stops.  Issac Blakeney, Walt Canty, Matt Daniels, C.J. France, Tyree Glover and Jonathan Woodruff logged five tackles each, with Blakeney also contributing two tackles for loss, one quarterback sack, one caused fumble, one quarterback pressure and one pass breakup.  Charlie Hatcher, Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo and Tony Foster each recorded one quarterback sack while Garrett Rider’s interception in the fourth quarter was the game’s lone turnover.

Cutcliffe also announced the program’s award winners for spring practice award winners with Thompson (Most Improved Offensive Player), Ross Cockrell (Most Improved Defensive Player) and Preston Scott (Blue Devil Heart Award) claiming honors.

Duke opens the 2011 season at home on September 3 against Richmond.  Season tickets are available online at GoDuke.com or by calling the Duke Athletic Ticket Office at 1-877-631-3853.

White 21, Blue 14

1st – 8:51 – Blue – Patrick Kurunwune 14 run (Jeffrey Ijjas kick)
1st – 4:15 – Blue – Brandon Connette 14 run (Paul Asack kick)
2nd – 7:05 – White – Conner Vernon 6 pass from Sean Renfree (Will Snyderwine kick)
3rd – 7:30 – White – Desmond Scott 16 run (Will Snyderwine kick)
4th – 11:15 – White – Tyree Watkins 32 pass from Anthony Boone (Will Snyderwine kick)

RUSHING: Desmond Scott 13-56, Josh Snead 6-54, Juwan Thompson 9-35, Brandon Connette 8-34, Anthony Boone 5-31, Sean Renfree 2-25, Patrick Kurunwune 4-23, Sean Schroeder 3-7, Team 1-(-1)
PASSING: Sean Renfree 8-14-0-105, Brandon Connette 10-16-0-102, Anthony Boone 7-15-1-94, Sean Schroeder 3-8-0-13
RECEIVING: Tyree Watkins 6-67, Cooper Helfet 3-64, Brandon Braxton 3-21, Conner Vernon 3-19, Juwan Thompson 2-43, Josh Trezvant 2-31, Desmond Scott 2-16, Braxton Deaver 2-13, Josh Snead 1-20, Preston Scott 1-12, Danny Parker 1-4, Jack Farrell 1-3, Patrick Kurunwune 1-1
PUNTING: Alex King 5-204-40.8
FIELD GOALS: Jeffrey Ijjas – 44 (no good)
TACKLES: Jamal Wallace 7, Austin Gamble 6, Issac Blakeney 5, Walt Canty 5, Matt Daniels 5, C.J. France 5, Tyree Glover 5, Jonathan Woodruff 5, Charlie Hatcher 4, Kevin Rojas 4, August Campbell 3, Nick Sink 3, Jordan Byas 2, Ross Cockrell 2, Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo 2, Anthony Young-Wiseman 2, Garrett Rider 2, Tony Foster 2, Jamal Bruce 2, Zach Greene 1, Garett Patterson 1, Curtis Hazelton 1, Steven Ingram 1, Will Boeckman 1, Sydney Sarmiento 1
TACKLES FOR LOSS: Issac Blakeney 2, Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo 1, Tony Foster 1, Charlie Hatcher 1
QUARTERBACK SACKS: Issac Blakeney 1, Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo 1, Tony Foster 1, Charlie Hatcher 1
PASS BREAKUPS: Issac Blakeney 1, Jordan Byas 1, C.J. France 1, Ned Smith 1, Johnny Williams 1, Anthony Young-Wiseman 1
QB PRESSURES: Issac Blakeney 1, Kevin Rojas 1, Jamal Wallace 1, Anthony Young-Wiseman 1
CAUSED FUMBLES: Issac Blakeney 1
INTERCEPTIONS: Garrett Rider 1

 

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.

 

 

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.

Stats Update: Conner Vernon has an Excellent Game but Turnovers Tell the Tale

Conner Vernon leads the ACC in Receptions per Game and Receiving Yards per Game
Sometimes statistics can be misleading while other times they concisely tell the tale. In Saturday’s 35-21 loss to the Army Black Knights one needs to look no further than the five Blue Devil turnovers to understand the outcome. Sean Renfree threw interceptions on two of Duke’s first three possessions, which resulted in the Cadets jumping all over the Blue Devils early and never looking back.

Duke lost fumbles on their first two possessions of the second half and Army pushed their lead to 35-7 by converting Duke’s turnovers into touchdowns. With five turnovers on Saturday, the Blue Devils saw their turnover plus/minus fall to minus four for the season, which is last in the ACC.

On the positive side, wide receiver Conner Vernon had eight receptions for 129 yards and a touchdown. Vernon has three touchdown receptions so far this season and all have been on receptions greater than 50 yards.

Vernon leads the ACC in Receiving Yards per Game (112.1) and Receptions per Game (7). Those numbers result in a national ranking of seven and 14 respectively. In post game comments, Coach Cutcliffe described Vernon as, “…one of the toughest young men that you will ever come across…he can be a great football player.”

As good a game as Vernon had, he was responsible for one of the turnovers when he fumbled while fighting for extra yards on a reception early in the second half.

Donovan Varner is tied for fourth in the ACC, with Florida State’s Bert Reed, in Receptions per game with 5.8, while Austin Kelly is number eight with 4.8 receptions per game. With three of the league’s top eight receivers, Duke’s receiving corps is living up to its reputation as the most talented in the ACC.

Sean Renfree’s seven interceptions this season are troublesome; however, he still leads the ACC in Passing Yards per Game at 278.2 yards and he has thrown nine touchdowns. Renfree seemed to be a bit out of sync against Army so he needs to have a good week in practice and reacquire the razor sharp edge he has previously displayed.

Duke continues to display an ability to run the ball by rushing 24 times for 111 yards against the Black Knights. Duke is averaging 144.5 yards per game, on the season, which is ninth in the ACC and number 72 in the nation. Duke has rushed for over 100 yards in all four games this season after accomplishing the benchmark only once in 12 games in 2009. The one occurrence in 2009 was against FCS opponent North Carolina Central University.

This season Desmond Scott (277 yards), Josh Snead (158 yards) and Brandon Connette (118 yards) all have the potential to breakout on a long run. Their long runs on the season are 63, 27 and 48 yards, respectively.

On the defensive side of the ball true freshman linebacker Kelby Brown recorded six solo tackles and was credited with four assists for a total of 10 tackles. Senior Abraham Kromah was responsible for a total of 13 tackles with four being solo. Safeties Matt Daniels and Walt Canty were credited with nine and eight tackles respectively.

Kromah is tied for ninth in the ACC at 7.8 tackles per game while Daniels is tied for 12th with 7.5.

Two worrisome defensive statistical categories are Sacks and Tackles for Loss. Duke does not have a single player who breaks out amongst the 20 listed by the ACC in these two categories. Duke is tied with Boston College for last place in the ACC in sacks.

Here is how Duke stands in the ACC and NCAA in 10 statistical categories:

1. Total offense: dropped to number four in the ACC and number 38 in the nation. Offensive yardage dropped from 443.7 to 425.8 yards per game. Duke was number three and 27 last week.

2. Time of possession: dropped from number one in the ACC to number six as Army dominated this statistic. Duke’s time of possession fell from 32 minutes and 27 to 29 minutes and 21 seconds per game.

3. Third down conversions: Duke was 1 – 8 on third down against Army, which lowered their success rate to 42.9% resulting in Duke falling to number six in the ACC and number 48 in the nation.

4. Red zone offense: Duke remains at 100 percent success in the red zone scoring nine touchdowns and four field goals in 13 opportunities.

5. First downs: fell from number one in the ACC to number three with 87 first downs. The Blue Devils have rushed for 29, passed for 52, and been awarded six via penalties. These numbers result in Duke falling from being tied with Notre Dame at number 16 in the nation last week to being number 37 this week.

6. Total defense: improved to number 11 in the ACC and number 110 in the nation as they decreased total yards allowed to 466.2 from 510.7 yards of offense per game.

7. Scoring defense: Duke remains last in the ACC giving up an average 44.5 points per game down from 47.7 points per game. Those numbers still rank number 118 in the nation. The 35 points given up to Army can be partially attributed to the Blue Devils turnover issues.

8. Opponent first downs: improved to number 11 in the ACC and number 106 in the nation by giving up 92 first downs. Opponents have rushed for 47, passed for 39 and been awarded six via penalty.

9. Red zone defense: Opponents have scored on Duke in 16 out of 18 red zone opportunities. Duke improved to being tied with Clemson for number nine in the ACC and number 91 in the nation.

10. Turnover margin: Last but definitely not least, Duke now has a minus four (-4) in turnover margin, which is last in the ACC and tied for number 100 in the nation. Last week the Blue Devils were ranked number five in the ACC and number 33 in the nation.

Turnover margin is the one statistic Duke must turn around in a hurry if they are to win ball games. Turnovers played a crucial role in the losses to Wake Forest and Army. Without the turnovers, Duke could arguably be sporting a 3-1 record. Teams cannot win ball games against an evenly matched opponent when they turn the ball over. Saturday’s game against Maryland is a game the Blue Devils are capable of winning if they take care of the football and force the Terps to cough it up once or twice.

All statistics quoted in this article are from www.theacc.com and www.ncaa.com.