NOTEBOOK: Week 2 v. Stanford

Duke opens the road portion of the 2012 season on Saturday evening against the Stanford Cardinal at 10:30 PM. The team will be looking to break a long streak against road teams, while building off a great opening week performance.

Game 2 v. Stanford University
Where: Palo Alto, Calif. - Stanford Stadium
When: Sept. 8, 2012 10:30 PM EST
TV: ESPN3, Pac-12 Network

The victory over Florida International was easily the best opening day performance of the Cutcliffe era. Duke started slowly, but soon took control of the game with a 30 point second quarter. The Blue Devils were never challenged the rest of the way after halftime and led 44-14 before playing the second and third stringers late. Now it's a step up in opponent as they travel to Stanford.

Before his team departed, the Duke head coach made sure his Blue Devil squad knew they had the chance to accomplish something special.

The Cardinal took a 2-1 edge in the all-time series with last year's victory. Duke's 9-3 victory at Stanford in 1971 remains its last road win against a ranked opponent, and Cutcliffe is hoping that will help motivate his team.

"Stanford could care less about that and we know it has nothing to do with this game, but again, I like people that have a sense of history," Cutcliffe said.

It's not going to be easy to for the Blue Devils, however.

"Stanford is as physical a team on both sides of the ball, and in the kicking game, as we will play," Cutcliffe told the media this week. "They cause you a lot of problems; tremendous size in both offensive and defensive fronts. The big tight ends, you saw them last year. They have a physical presence about them. They are like us, we both have a game under our belt to see what we have to work on, and things we need to address, but again, they are minimally the number 18 team in the country. That is a big challenge playing that quality of a team."

"Big challenge this week for Duke, but we are excited to go out there and see what we are really made of on the road."

And when your program is looking for its first road win over a ranked opponent since the 70s, it's hard to imagine any player, coach, or fan being complacent.

"If anybody gets complacent, they are going to fail in life. That is all I can tell you. I don't know anybody who is complacent. The thing I like the most about our team Saturday is that there really wasn't a lull. I have felt often in ballgames since I've been here that we have had lulls that have just critically hurt us. Even though we weren't perfect, there was never a failure to have an edge. Our team played 60 minutes of intense football, and that is hard to do."

A season ago the Blue Devils faced a Stanford team with a sure-fire top NFL Draft pick under center when Andrew Luck confidently led the Cardinal offense to a romp over Duke in Wallace Wade. Just a year later, Luck is in the NFL and it's Duke who has the experience under center.

Red shirt senior Sean Renfree opened the season with an efficient performance against FIU, completing 21-of-30 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns. Not only was it enough to overwhelm his opponents' defense, Renfree is also moving towards a number of program records.

Renfree already owns the top pass completion percentage in school history with a mark of 63.6 (622-of-978) and also has a chance to break several other school records in his final season. He ranks among the school's top five in passing yards (6,642), pass efficiency (125.8), completions (622), attempts (978) and TD-to-INT ratio (1.10:1).

Entering week two, Renfree would need to complete 255 passes for 3,423 yards to tie both of those records. Also ranked sixth at Duke with 34 career touchdown passes, Renfree would need to throw 33 TDs as a senior to tie that school record.

Meanwhile the Cardinal enter Week 2 with a virtual unknown under center in the form of Josh Nunes.

Before taking the field against San Jose State, Nunes had recorded exactly one completion (on two attempts) for seven yards. Following up those career stats was the performance in the Spring Game, where Nunes completed just 38 percent of his passes for 167 yards. Fast forward to week one and the reviews aren't much better.

He did complete 16-of-26 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, but had two critical passes batted down at the line of scrimmage. Additionally he had trouble looking down field with the Cardinal's longest pass play going for just 14 yards while converting just two of 13 attempts on third down.

Still, Cutcliffe believes Nunes has enough ability and talent to make life very tough on his defense.

"Nunes, the quarterback, is a guy we all wanted. He has a tremendous release, and an arm. He has got all the talent you would want a guy to have, he is really athletic."

There's definitely a youth movement going on in Durham. Whether by choice or necessity due to injury, head coach David Cutcliffe and his staff are playing a lot of young players very early this season. Against Florida International, Duke played a combined 21 true and redshirt freshmen.

Redshirt freshman TE David Reeves, true freshman placekicker Ross Martin and redshirt freshman punter Will Monday all started the game. Reeves caught his first career touchdown reception in the victory, while Martin made a 34-yard field goal and five extra points, and Monday averaged 45.2 yards per punt on five kicks.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Kyler Brown amassed six tackles and also intercepted an FIU two-point conversion pass and returned it 98 yards in the fourth quarter. Redshirt freshman cornerback Tim Burton totaled two pass breakups and took two kickoff returns back 50 yards total.

The number of young players playing syncs up with the low number of seniors on the roster. Just 12 teams in College Football's FBS Division have fewer than the 13 seniors playing for the Blue Devils in 2012.

Not even listed on the depth chart, and maybe Duke's most dynamic offensive threat. That's an apt description of Brandon Connette. The redshirt sophomore ran for one touchdown and passed for another in Duke's season-opening 46-26 win over FIU. Connette, who missed the final 10 games of 2011 following a shoulder injury suffered in week two against Stanford, punched in a rushing touchdown from two yards out and later completed an eight-yard scoring toss pass to TE David Reeves.

Connette has taken on an expanded role in Duke's offense this year and line sup at WR, RB and TE in addition to his role under center. Connette has 10 rushing scores in his 15- game career and already ranks fourth on Duke's all-time list for rushing TDs by a quarterbabck.

The Cardinal defense was solid in the opener against San Jose State, and only gets better with the return of linebacker Shayne Skov. A year ago Skov torched the Blue Devils to the tune of 11 tackles, including 1.5 sacks. Before a knee injury in Week 3 stole the rest of his season. He seemed ready to return to form before an off-season DWI resulted in a suspension for the opener. Now, he's back and ready to play, but Stanford head coach David Shaw says he'll bring his star along slowly.

"I hope we can do more things with Shayne in the lineup," Shaw said. "Don't expect Shayne to play 70 plays. It's his first game back. He's healthy, but we can't expect to play him a full game. We'll have rotation at the linebacker position with all four guys playing."

No matter how good a quarterback may be, and Luck was as good as anyone in the last few years, you don't produce that kind of career without a terrific offensive line. In the opener the Cardinal had a new signal caller under center and there were questions about the effectiveness of the guys in the trenches.

Against San Jose State, junior David Yankey was bumped into the starting lineup over a true freshman at left tackle. Yankey played on the inside a season ago, and did an admirable job, but his interior replacements struggled at times with protection and run blocking.

Much has been made of Duke's lack of upperclassmen on the depth chart. One group where there's a lot of experience is the defensive backfield where the starting five players are made up of three seniors and two juniors. The starting CB duo of redshirt senior Lee Butler and redshirt junior Ross Cockrell have combined to play 63 games, including 43 starts. That is the second most games played by a starting CB duo in the ACC.

Senior safety Walt Canty, who has played in every game of his Duke career with 19 starts, anchors the unit from the safety position. Redshirt senior Jordon Byas (8 starts), redshirt junior August Campbell (8 starts) and junior Brandon Braxton (15 starts at WR) will play alongside Canty in the defensive backfield, although Byas is out indefinitely with a knee injury.

The inclusion of Braxton may be a red herring as the junior made the off-season transition to safety from receiver. Still, in his 2012 debut, Braxton showed out well with 10 tackles. It's certainly something to go from one position to another and be expected to start, but Cutcliffe and defensive coordinator Jim Knowles had some easy advice for Braxton on how to best deal with the change:

"They just told me don't ever get lazy," Braxton said. "Always fly around. Always smack somebody in the mouth. Defense is way more reactive. I think it fits more my personality. I definitely like reacting to something."

Before his season ending knee injury a year ago, Kenny Anunike was leading the ACC in sacks through four weeks of action. After battling back from injury, the redshirt senior defensive end returned to action during the season opener against FIU and totaled three total tackles including one-half of a quarterback sack.

Similarly, redshirt junior DE Justin Foxx was a terror to the FIU offensive line, tallying six total tackles in- cluding 1.5 tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks and two QB pressure.

This will be Duke's 100th season of football. The program began in the fall of 1888 and the Blue Devils hold an all-time record of 460-483-31 in 99 seasons plus. Under head coach David Cutcliffe, Duke is 16-33 in four plus seasons.

The Blue Devils and Cardinal met last year in Durham, with Stanford posting a 44-14 win behind QB Andrew Luck's 290-yard, four-TD passing performance. Duke's lone win over the Cardinal against two losses was a 9-3 decision in 1971 in Palo Alto. The win stands as Duke's last road triumph over a nationally-ranked opponent.

All-time Duke is just 23-128-6 against nationally ranked opponents. The last win over a ranked opponent came in 1994 when the Blue Devils defeated Virginia by a score of 28-25.

Senior WR Conner Vernon became Duke's career leader in pass receptions last week with 208, eclipsing the school mark of 207 held by Vernon's former high school and collegiate teammate, Donovan Varner. Additionally, Vernon has cracked the ACC's top five in career receptions and top 15 for receiving yards. With 208 career receptions for 2,855 yards, Vernon needs just 25 receptions for 662 yards to become the ACC's all-time leader in those categories.

Duke is the only team in the ACC to open the 2012 season with two FCS opponents that both appeared in bowl games last year. Duke's first two foes — FIU (8) & Stanford (11) — combined for 19 wins last season to mark the highest combined total of any opening tandem in the league.

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