Duke’s Offense Stood on the Sidelines for Most of Saturday Night’s Game Against Stanford — Both Literally and Figuratively
Sitting just five rows back from the Duke bench, there was a buzz about the team and a sense of hope on the sidelines. After last week’s big victory over Florida International, it appeared that David Cutcliffe’s program had finally turned the corner. But just one minute and seven seconds after kickoff, it was blatantly obvious nothing had changed for the Blue Devils.
Saying Stanford dominated this game would be an understatement. The early punt-return touchdown was a deflating blow for Duke, one that would set the tone for the rout. Quarterback Sean Renfree, who had an average game according to the box score (28/40, 200 yards), was the focal point of a listless offensive attack based solely on swing passes, and was also responsible for two of the team’s four turnovers. The running game was virtually non-existent, notching just 27 yards on the night — mostly attributable to playing from behind for 59 of the game’s 60 minutes. Most of all, the defense was simply out-manned. Just one week removed from a frustrating debut against San Jose State, Cardinal QB Josh Nunes completed long bombs at will, and finished up with 275 yards passing and three TDs. Duke failed to ever get significant pressure on the Stanford passer, and their receivers were regularly three or four steps ahead of the Blue Devil defenders. The only saving grace for Duke was its red zone defense, which managed to force four field goals in the first half and keep the deficit to “just” 20 points in the first half.
Another year of “we’re almost there” from Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, and yet another year without a bowl game. Lack of postseason games aside, however, it’s hard to argue Cutcliffe hasn’t at least improved the Blue Devils back to a respectable program. They no longer go 0-12 and 1-11, Duke now manages to win conference games. Beyond a blowout here and there, the team actually found itself with a chance to win the large majority of games in 2011, and could have easily lucked into a 5-7 record instead of the 3-9 they finished with instead. So how much rope does Cutcliffe get? His job appears safe, but when does the standard for success at Duke begin to change? As his recruiting classes begin to creep up into the top 60 or so, we at least start to find the answer for this year and beyond.
Returning eight starters from last year’s group, Duke’s offense promises to once again be effective. But it needs some sort of running game in order to truly take that next step. While the team was 28th in passing yardage in all of FBS, they were 115th in yards on the ground. They were also woeful in the redzone, converting just 72 percent of the time, from inside in the 20-yard line. This is where QB Sean Renfree can begin to provide more leadership most of all — punching the ball into the endzone. Despite a promised rotation with fellow QBs Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone, Renfree ultimately controls how much his counterparts are used and needed. Should be settle into a groove and show he’s effective at delivering the ball to Conner Vernon in the endzone, Perhaps he ends up giving both Boone and Connette a little more time on the bench this season. Continue reading →
Just taking a look at Duke’s scoring from 2011, they were bad. At just 22.5 points per game, they were ranked 93rd in all of FBS. But then you dive in a bit further, and there’s actually some pretty revealing information on a very capable offense. The Blue Devils were 28th in overall passing yards, and behind QB Sean Renfree, had the second-best passing offense in the ACC at 272.2 yards per game. For a team that went just 3-9, they scored at least 10 points in every game, even when faced with one of the country’s top 50 defenses on seven different occasions. Their biggest weakness, however, was running the ball; something that must be addressed in a big way if they hope to be competitive in 2012. Last season, Duke was 115th nationally in rushing yards per game, and leading back Juwan Thompson had just 457 yards on the year. If Thompson and the run game don’t show quick improvement this March, head coach David Cutcliffe could be employing a committee backfield, at least for season’s early goings. Backup Desmond Scott was effective when he played last season (5.1 yards per carry on 72 touches), and incoming freshmen Jela Duncan and Shaquille Powell may also challenge for playing time. If I’m Cutcliffe, the ball’s going to whoever can find the enxzone, regardless of seniority. Continue reading →