Josh Snead rushes for a touchdown in the thrid quarter of Duke's 54-17 win. Credit: BERNARD THOMAS - AP/Herald-Sun
5:30 p.m. update
Welcome to this edition of Sunday morning quarterback. In case you missed it, here’s the story from the largest win of the David Cutcliffe era, a 54-17 rout of NC Central.
Also, here is the story of Blair Holliday’s return to Duke. Just about two months ago, on July 4, Holliday was pulled unconscious from the water, bleeding out of his mouth, after his jet ski collided with one driven by teammate Jamison Crowder. In the interim, Holliday has waken from his coma and relearned to walk and talk.
The initial plan was for Holliday to watch the game from the Yoh football building that overlooks Wallace Wade Stadium. But he wanted to stay on the sideline, so teammates, including fellow WR Conner Vernon, took turns standing guard to make sure he stayed out of harm’s way.
“From where he’s come as quickly as he’s come defies a lot of logic and defies a lot of medicine,” Cutcliffe said after the game. “A large person of that is the person that Blair Holliday is. He ‘s much tougher than anyone might imagine.”
No truer words were spoken Saturday night.
With that, a look back at Duke’s victory:
“I’ve never taken a win and not been pleased with it. I just know that we can continue to execute better…. Certainly we’re very happy we won, and I think our guys are playing hard.” —Duke head coach David Cutcliffe
What we learned
The offense’s success will be predicated on the downfield passing game
“That’s who we are, to some degree,” Cutcliffe said when asked is throwing the ball downfield was a priority. “I felt like our matchups were good. In every game, that changes. You don’t know what you’re going to see from week to week in a matchup.”
What the Blue Devils saw was an overmatched FCS opponent. Sean Renfree took advantage, finishing 24-of-34 for 274 and three touchdowns. Ten of those passes were for 10 or more yards, with four going for 20 or more yards. A few of those passes hit the double-digit mark because of yards added after the catch—for example, on the 18-yard touchdown pass to Josh Snead, Renfree hit him on a quick slant, and Snead was able to work his way through the defense and into the end zone.
“We made a lot of explosive plays, and that was good to see,” Renfree said. “It got us the win.”
Now, the flip side to the offense living and dying on the downfield pass: the running game has yet to show up this year. Duke gained just 28 rushing yards in the first half against an inferior opponent. That is concerning, especially for a team that has an experienced offensive line and veteran set of running backs.
“We’ve still got some run to improve from a running back position and a front six position,” Josh Snead said. “We’re try to improve this week and come out next week and try to establish the run in the first half.”
The number of injuries continuing to set alarming new highs, will force Duke to get creative
If you’ve ever read this blog, chances are you’ve seen talk of Duke’s injury woes. To recap: 14 scholarship players are out indefinitely with injuries. Add in Jeremy Cash, a safety who transferred from Ohio State that the Blue Devils were expecting to use this year (before his waiver was denied), and it’s 15.
The defense has been hit harder than the offense, and no group has been more adversely affected than the safeties. Cash, August Campbell, Jordon Byas, Taylor Sowell and Corbin McCarthy are all out. Further exasperating the situation is the fact that Duke’s 4-2-5 defense starts three safeties.
To make matters worse: starter Walt Canty, a three-year starter, left the game with a shoulder injury. Luckily for the Blue Devils, the injury doesn't appear to be serious, Cutcliffe said Sunday night.
One potential solution to the dearth of depth at safety is to move Brandon Connette over from his do-everything offensive role. No, it wasn’t my idea to add S to his QB/RB/WR/TE position description—he took a few snaps at free safety last night.
“He is one of the better natural football players I have been around,” Cutcliffe said. “I want him on the field, so we are going to grow the calls, we have a few calls that he’s comfortable with. The problem is the amount of practice time he has to do some of this. He’s a special young man that loves to play football.”
By the numbers
2011 Last time a Duke defender snagged two interceptions in one game before Ross Cockrell picked off two passes Saturday (Matt Daniels in a 14-10 loss to Virginia Tech)
2004 Last time the Blue Devils scored on offense, defense and special teams before Saturday (55-21 loss to Maryland)
1999 Last time a Duke player collected both a rushing and receiving touchdown before Josh Snead did Saturday (Scottie Montgomery 48-35 win against Wake Forest)
1989 Last time Duke won by a larger margin of victory (41-0 at North Carolina, under Steve Spurrier)
Thumbs up: 3.5 sacks and a GB hurry for the the defensive line of Kenny Anunike, Jamal Wallace, Sydney Saramiento and Dezmond Johnson
Thumbs down: 1-for-10 on third down for the offense
QB Sean Renfree
His numbers again: 24-of-34 for 274 and three touchdowns. And zero interceptions.
“Sean is a guy that sees the field, he is a guy that can go down the field with the ball,” Cutcliffe said. “That’s one of the things we have to continue to do with him. He can also manage a run game. You’ve got to look at little things like that to get him in a rhythm.”
“There’s always room to get better. Starting tomorrow at noon, we’re going to be on film, we’re going to be on Memphis and looking at all the little things we can do better.” —WR Desmond Scott