Heading Into The Bye With Momentum

The Blue Devils have won three straight games heading into the off week. From here, however, it's all in-conference opponents.

The Blue Devils decided to just let loose and it appears to be paying off.

"Going and playing the game we know how to play and not trying to do too much," receiver Conner Vernon said of the keys to a three-game winning streak.

The consecutive victories are something of note for a program that has struggled for almost two decades. With a 3-2 record, it's only the second time since 1994 that the Blue Devils have won three of their first five games.

It all came to a head with a fourth-quarter rally to defeat Florida International.

"We had a lot of really good things happen to us as a team, as a program," coach David Cutcliffe said. "But there are so many things for us to get better in. A lot of things that are fixable."

And that's the most encouraging part for Cutcliffe, who realizes that winning is important and knowing how to cope with a little success is also important for the Blue Devils.

By winning three games, Duke has matched its win total from the 2010 season, when it finished with a 3-9 mark.

The Blue Devils have a week off before an Oct. 15 home date with Florida State. The layoff could short-circuit a team that's on a roll.

"It's not so much a fear," Vernon said. "Football is a game of momentum. We've got this three-game winning streak. You'd like to carry that momentum. ... Three straight wins like this is only going to motivate us for conference play."

--The Blue Devils hope the week off provides the extra healing time to bring back several players from the injury list for the Oct. 15 game against Florida State.

"I don't know about all of them," coach David Cutcliffe said, "but I think we're going to be real close."

The good news was that coming out of the Oct. 1 victory at Florida International there were no new significant injuries. "Nothing serious enough to even take an X-ray at this point," Cutcliffe said.

--WR Conner Vernon had a big game at Florida International with a game-high 117 receiving yards on eight catches in his hometown. The game at Florida International's stadium was played at a venue where Vernon played a game as a high school senior. He had up to 100 friends and family members there against FIU and they could be enticed to show up in another part of south Florida when the Blue Devils make their next road trip. That comes in an ACC game Nov. 5 at Miami.

BYE WEEK MISSION: There shouldn't be a lack of enthusiasm as the Blue Devils enjoy a three-game winning streak and have time to heal some wounds. They were set for a couple of days off at the end of the open week before reconvening to concentrate on dealing with visiting Florida State. With the defensive line young and missing DE Kenny Anunike to a season-ending injury, this is time for a fuller assessment of how that position might unfold for the rest of the season.

LOOKING AHEAD: The Blue Devils have only ACC games remaining, and this starts with a three-game stretch at home. So there are some elements in place that could help Duke build on its three-game winning streak. The opponents for the homestand, though, appear to be a tough group, with Florida State, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech on the docket. Duke hasn't defeated any of those teams in more than a decade, since a 1999 victory against Wake Forest.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've got a lot of players who have been in that situation and failed. And it wasn't a time to fail." -- coach David Cutcliffe on the Blue Devils overcoming a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to win at Florida International, giving the often-struggling program a three-game winning streak for the second time in three years.


SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Blue Devils have looked more comfortable the past couple of games after coach David Cutcliffe encouraged QB Sean Renfree to relax. He knows the offense well, but his tendency to press too much created too much tension on the offense. His more relaxed approach has rubbed off on others on the unit. The receiving combination of WR Conner Vernon and WR Donovan Varner continue to excel. There's still the ongoing issue of trying to get more out of the rushing attack, and that aspect has been further hindered by running backs nursing injuries.

SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: The core of the defense has come from the secondary, with S Matt Daniels emerging as the leader of the unit. The secondary's depth also has been tested because CB Ross Cockrill, CB Johnny Williams and S Lee Butler have missed time with injuries. Stellar play also has come from LB Kelby Brown, who as a sophomore has shown few hiccups after surgery near the end of last season. Concerns remain in place about keeping the defensive line healthy because that's an inexperienced group. The Blue Devils are continuing to adjust to the 4-2-5 alignment, but Daniels has provided the kind of leadership that's required for this setup.

--OG Laken Tomlinson received recognition for helping the Blue Devils stay sack-free in the game against Florida International. Tomlinson, a redshirt freshman, was named Offensive Lineman of the Week in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

--S Anthony Young-Wiseman might not have been in the game against Florida International in order to scoop up the key fourth-quarter fumble and return it to the 9-yard line if not for an injury that sidelined S Lee Butler.

--CB Zach Greene, a junior, played valuable minutes in place of injured CB Johnny Williams in the victory at Florida International.

--QB Anthony Boone moved into a role for certain goal-line situations that used to be held by QB Brandon Connette, who wasn't available for the Boston College and Florida International games because of an upper-body injury. With Boone gaining more playing time, it could complicate matters when Connette is ready to return. The package of plays designed for short-yardage and red-zone situations already has meant that starting QB Sean Renfree is on the sidelines in several instances. But Boone didn't receive a chance in the Florida International game as the Blue Devils stuck with Renfree.

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