Saturday Lookback: Duke v Navy

Reviewing Saturday's game against Navy and Duke's second victory of the year

Questions began to surface about whether the Blue Devils really had made progress during the past couple of seasons under coach David Cutcliffe. So the victory at Navy should stem some of that negative thinking.

Duke had gone nearly two months between victories, and the slide had been punctuated by a few lopsided losses. So winning at Navy, which has a solid reputation in recent seasons, is a good omen for the Blue Devils, who play three of their four remaining games at home.

"It feels good to get a win," quarterback Sean Renfree said. "We've had a rough couple weeks, but it feels great to get in a groove offensively and score some points again."

Duke's 24 first-half points at Navy topped the team's point total from each of the previous five games. The Blue Devils had scored only a total of 20 points the past two weeks in losses to Miami and Virginia Tech.

More important than the statistics are the mind-set and the mood. Cutcliffe has regularly talked about what he deems as positive developments in the program, but the Blue Devils needed a positive result to back up that thinking.

This should go a long way for morale.

"When you are 1-6 and things start going away from you, it is very difficult to grasp hold of the momentum again," Cutcliffe said. "We had people step up, and it was huge."

NOTES, QUOTES
--QB Sean Renfree is often removed from games in short-yardage or goal-line situations, with QB Brandon Connette replacing him. So it was a surprise when Renfree ended up with two rushing touchdowns in the victory against Navy. One came on a quarterback sneak and the other on a 12-yard run for the redshirt sophomore's first two rushing touchdowns of his career. Connette also scored on a rushing touchdown.

--Duke's defense posted its first shutout during a half this season when Navy was scoreless through two quarters. The last time the Blue Devils held an opponent without a point in a half came in the second half of last season's victory at North Carolina State. Keeping Navy's rushing game in check could be a good omen for the Blue Devils, whose lone remaining road game comes at run-oriented Georgia Tech.

GAME BALL GOES TO: QB Sean Renfree -- Renfree threw for 314 yards by completing 28 of 30 passes. He rushed for two touchdowns and threw for another. This was a big confidence boost for a player who had struggled in the past month, and part of the problem involved slow starts in games.

KEEP AN EYE ON: TE Cooper Helfet -- Helfet made seven catches for 69 yards, both highs for the junior college transfer in his first season with the Blue Devils. With the tight end position hurt by injuries, Helfet's continued emergence has been a plus for the offense and he also plays roles on special teams.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're thinking about this team, these seniors. ... We're not looking beyond that right now." -- Coach David Cutcliffe, understanding the Blue Devils (with a 2-6 record after defeating Navy) must win their remaining games to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

LOOKING GOOD: WR Connor Vernon reached the 100-catch mark for his career when he made two receptions on the first series against Navy. He became the 14th player in school history to make 100 or more catches in a career. Vernon caught his fourth touchdown pass of the season, ending a three-game stretch without a scoring play.

STILL NEEDS WORK: The Blue Devils didn't protect their lead well, with Navy scoring three fourth-quarter touchdowns (and three two-point conversions). It was a rare situation for Duke to be holding a lead at that stage of the game, but it's something the Blue Devils will want to handle better if they're in that situation again.

ROSTER REPORT:
--QB Sean Renfree had been in a slump the past month, but he snapped out of it against Navy by tying a school record when he completed 16 consecutive passes. Those happened to be his first 16 pass attempts of the game. He ended up with a school-record 93.3-percent completion rate by connecting on 28 of 30 passes.

--K Will Snyderwine has connected on 11 consecutive field-goal attempts by hitting from 20 and 40 yards at Navy, making him 13 of 14 this season. Duke is pushing the former walk-on for postseason honors heading into the final month of the season.

--LB Kelby Brown tends to flourish against the military academies. The true freshman made 12 tackles against Navy, eclipsing his previous top mark of 10 tackles against Army.


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