Duke looks to finally snap bowl drought
The streak has haunted Duke for years. No bowls, no winning
seasons, not much of anything to celebrate in nearly two
For too long, the Blue Devils have played by the book and
received too little results. So to finally snap that string of
futility, they’re getting creative.
Move a top running back to slot receiver? Put multiple
quarterbacks on the field at the same time? Sure, why not?
Duke wants its top playmakers on the field – no matter the
position – and hopes that sort of outside-the-box thinking will
bring a welcome end to the nation’s longest bowl drought.
It certainly can’t hurt.
”You look at who we are. Obviously, we have five offensive
linemen and we have a quarterback,” coach David Cutcliffe said.
”Then, you’ve got five positions surrounding that quarterback that
have to be playmakers, and we think we’ve got competition and
quality in that regard. … That’s encouraging. We couldn’t always
Cutcliffe hopes his fifth year at Duke ends differently than his
previous four – and, for that matter, the 13 before that. Not since
1994 have the Blue Devils won more than they lost, or finished the
season in a bowl game.
This marks a pitvotal year for Cutcliffe. The program is stocked
with players he recruited and immersed in his training regimen.
Sean Renfree is starting at quarterback for the third year. The
media guide lists 16 starters back from a second straight 3-9 team,
but Cutcliffe says because of injuries, a total 29 have made at
least one start.
The Blue Devils may have been a last-place pick in the Atlantic
Coast Conference for the 12th time in 13 years, but Cutcliffe
doesn’t think this is a last-place team.
”This team is the best at a lot of things. Best-looking squad
we’ve had. It’s the strongest squad we’ve had and it’s the fastest
squad we’ve had,” Cutcliffe said. ”So regardless of what people
say or don’t say about our team, we go in with great expectation.
Not anticipation. There’s a difference, and I want our team to
understand what expectation means.
”We’ve been good. We haven’t been a bad football team. We’re
not a stumbling, fumbling, bad football team. I’ve seen those. You
guys that have covered us and have a lot of experience in football
know that. It’s quality ball played out there, but not good enough
After losing four games by a combined 14 points in 2011, the
Blue Devils hope those new wrinkles will make them even tougher to
defend this year.
Short-yardage specialist quarterbacks Brandon Connette and
Anthony Boone could wind up at several spots on the field; during
one spring scrimmage, Connette took handoffs at running back while
Boone caught some passes at receiver.
Desmond Scott, Duke’s second-leading rusher last year with 367
yards and two touchdowns, has been moved to the slot to better take
advantage of his speed and versatility.
”I’m not going to say it’s been easy, because it hasn’t, but
I’m embracing it,” Scott said.
They give a few more weapons to a passing game that ranked
second in the ACC last year, averaging 272 yards.
Renfree threw for 240 yards per game and enters his senior
season with an outside shot at becoming the school’s career passing
leader. He has 6,352 yards through three years and will break the
record if he averages 286 yards and Duke reaches the postseason and
plays a 13th game. Conner Vernon needs 34 catches and 842 yards
receiving to break two ACC career records.
Vernon says his main goal, unsurprisingly, ”is to play in
Charlotte (for the ACC championship) at the end of the year … and
I know if that’s the case, the other records will definitely come
The Blue Devils dealt with a rash of injured players this
offseason – but none more significant or more unifying than
receiver Blair Holliday.
The projected starter suffered head injuries in an accidental
watercraft collision with a teammate July 4 on a central North
Carolina lake and has been transported to an Atlanta center to
continue his rehabilitation.
The team will wear a sticker with Holliday’s No. 8 on their
”As a receivers group, we’ve come closer as a unit and that’s
definitely helped him along the way,” Vernon said. ”We’re letting
him know we’re here for him, we’ve got his back