Conner Vernon is the real deal, ESPN's Kirk Herbstreit said. Credit: CHRIS SEWARD
Earlier this week, I caught up with ESPN Gameday host Kirk Kerbstreit and asked for his thoughts on Duke's season so far, the upcoming game against UNC, and, of course, whether he ultimately thinks the Blue Devils will earn a bowl bid. Check out the Q-and-A below:
When you look at Duke sitting at 5-2, what are your initial thoughts?
Kirk Herbstreit: My initial thoughts are it’s great to see them being able to get things done and try and get bowl eligible. I thought last week after Duke had that big lead on Virginia Tech, boy, this would be a huge win for them, and they clearly weren’t able to hold onto it there in the second half. I’m impressed I love Coach Cut, I love what he’s trying to do, and it’s exciting to be able to see them get some momentum created in the program.
What do you think about their chances to get win No. 6?
You look at who they still have to play, it’s going to be tough. Whether it’s North Carolina this week, I know they still have to go to Florida State, still have Clemson and Miami and Georgia Tech out there, I think, somewhere in there, there has got to be a sixth win. But it’s going to be a hard thing to do, especially these next three games. I think their best shot might be in Atlanta against Georgia Tech. And also against Miami, can you imagine if, considering where Duke has been, for them to get to 7-5 and have a chance to get to a bowl game, and, who knows, maybe eight wins.
What do you see in the upcoming UNC matchup?
The big thing with Carolina right now, even though they don’t have a chance to get to the postseason, they arguably could be one of the top teams in the ACC.
Bryn Renner is throwing the football for them, new coach Larry Fedora has done of good job of inheriting this talent. Mix in a Giovani Bernard, and they really have a balanced attack. Even though they probably rely a little bit more on throwing, with Bernard back there, they have the ability to do it running and throwing. It will be tough for Duke to be able to slow them down.
Duke’s best chance is to try to put points on the board and try to play a full four quarters. Last week, after putting 20 on the board early, those last three quarters, I mean, the game got completely away from them. If there’s anything Duke hopefully learned, it’s how important it is not to just start fast but continue to play outstanding the whole game.
Are you surprised Duke has had as much success this season as they have?
If you look at their schedule, you could make a pretty good argument for them that if, before the season started, they could have a chance to win the first game against FIU, against North Carolina Central you’d think they’d have a chance, against Memphis you think they’d have a chance, against Wake and Virginia, depending on how the year went for those two teams, they’d have a chance. I guess I’m not overly shocked, it’s just exciting to see.
I was shocked when they were up 20-0 on Virginia Tech. Then I was shocked. But other than that, with the team they had coming back, I haven’t necessarily been shocked. If they beat one of these next three teams, Carolina, Florida State or Clemson, that would surprise me. As I said earlier, I think they have a shot to get to that first bowl game in a long time. I think it will come in the month of November when they go to Atlanta.
What are your thoughts on Conner Vernon? At this point, he is the career receptions leader in the ACC, but a lot of his detractors question whether he would start for one of the better ACC teams.
I don’t think that’s fair. When you look at his entire career, he’s played now for four years, you could even look at schools like Florida State and Clemson, they could use a guy that has that kind of experience and ability to play early in his career.
To me, it comes down to, when you play early like that, I don’t care if it’s Duke or Wake, I don’t care where you are, if you can play for four years and you can find ways to get open, and clearly this guy has been able to do that, to me, that says a lot about the relationship he has with his quarterback but also about the understanding of, whether he’s facing man coverage or zone coverage, how to get open. I don’t buy that argument about if he played at other schools what he would be able to do. To me, he’s at Duke, and he’s had a great career.
Think it’s fair to say he’s one of the better receivers in the ACC?
Yeah, absolutely. You might find people at other schools that run faster or jump higher, but when it comes to his production and what he’s been able to do, how could you argue with it?
Anything else that strikes you as particularly impressive?
I just think people need to remember where this program was before David Cutcliffe came on board. Those of us who have followed him throughout his career, whether it has been as a head coach or coordinator, he done a lot more than just the tutelage of Peyton and Eli Manning.
He’s a great leader. Anytime you’re around him, you love to talk about football. Clearly, he’s done a very good job at places where it’s tough to win in college football, and he’s built this program up. He deserves a lot of credit for what they’re doing right now, and I just hope he’s able to get that last big win to get bowl eligible because I think they’re very deserving.