Duke Football: The Inside Slant

There are a lot of positive feelings and excitement surround the Duke football program heading into the 2009 post-season. Now the Blue Devils are looking to move into a new era with the departure of record-setting quarterback Thaddeus Lewis.


The Blue Devils finished the season with a four-game losing streak after staying in contention for an ACC divisional title into November.

There was a chance of reaching a .500 record, but the Blue Devils lost the finale, 45-34, to visiting Wake Forest. That marked the 10th consecutive loss to the Demon Deacons.

Otherwise, it generally was another season of progress, with Duke racking up three consecutive conference victories. Its 5-7 record reflects its most victories in 15 years.

A three-game winning streak hadn't been accomplished since that 1984 season. And the three road victories marked the same number achieved in the previous eight years combined.

With that, two seasons into the David Cutcliffe era have provided a renewed spark in the program. A level of toughness has been instilled into the program.

But the goal of reaching a bowl game wasn't met and that's something that will stick with the Blue Devils. They don't want to settle for anything less.

There will be more challenges moving forward, particularly with the need to replace quarterback Thaddeus Lewis, a four-year starter who passed for more than 10,000 yards in his career. That's a lot of experience going out the door.

Duke had three players with at least 50 catches, marking the first time in school history that has happened. Those players will return and should supply a good foundation for the 2010 offense.


GAME OF THE YEAR: Duke 49, North Carolina State 28 -- This was a breakthrough victory against a neighboring rival and it came on the road. QB Thaddeus Lewis passed for 459 yards and five touchdowns. The Blue Devils benefited from a couple of turnovers on punt coverage to end an 11-game losing streak in the series. The score was tied, 21-21, at halftime, and then the Blue Devils made countless big plays the rest of the way.

QB Thaddeus Lewis -- The four-year starter became the 69th player in NCAA history to reach the 10,000-yard mark for career passing and that was only one of the milestones that he reached. He passed for 3,330 yards as a senior, ranking second on Duke's all-time list. His final career numbers show 877 completions on 1,510 attempts, with 67 touchdown tosses and 40 interceptions.

LB Vincent Rey -- This senior was a tackling machine, picking up the slack for departed players from a year ago. He had four games of double-digit tackles in his final season. His 330 career tackles rank 11th all-time at Duke.

FAST FORWARD: The Blue Devils will have some holes to fill in some key positions across the depth chart, mostly notably at quarterback. Sean Renfree received limited snaps at quarterback during his redshirt freshman season before suffering a season-ending knee injury, but he should receive the first shot for the 2010 starting position. Building depth on defense will be another priority because some of the established playmakers from that unit will be gone. The Blue Devils open the 2010 against Elon, which is an FCS team that qualified for the 2009 NCAA playoffs.

RECRUITING TRAIL: Duke is putting together a solid class and coach David Cutcliffe is constantly pointing out the importance of the recruiting details. The Blue Devils received more early commitments than in the past and there tends to be a new emphasis on checking local talent, something that the Blue Devils often overlooked in the past.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Duke football is much better after two years than where we were. A lot of that has to do with our seniors. I can't thank those 14 young men enough for their contributions." -- Coach David Cutcliffe, whose teams have combined for nine victories in two seasons. That's the team's best two-year stretch since 1994-95.


--WR Conner Vernon had one of the most dynamic freshman seasons in school history and he'll look to build on that. He was battered around at times, but he showed a degree of toughness that could bode well. He'll be tested as he'll have to help break in a new quarterback next season.

--RB Desmond Scott showed flashes of becoming a dependable ball carrier and with a new quarterback the Blue Devils will want to establish a rushing game. Scott is the most likely candidate to be the centerpiece of those plans. He became the seventh freshman in Duke history to lead the team in rushing for a season when he finished with 262 yards on 70 carries.

--S Matt Daniels' name was called a lot more on defense as the season progressed and he's the type of hitter who could make a difference as the Blue Devils address finding better coverage in the secondary. He had 60 tackles as a sophomore in 2009, and he has already played in 22 college games.

--DT Vince Oghobaase is a force to be reckoned with in the middle of the line. He bypassed entering the draft after his junior season and for the most part in lived up to the billing as a senior until a leg injury cut down on his effectiveness. He dealt with double-teams along the line so that might help prepare him for the pros.

--DE Ayanga Okpokowuruk recorded six sacks in his last season to finish with 11 in his career. He was often overshadowed by DT Vince Oghobaase, but pro scouts might have seen enough to take some closer looks.

--LB Vincent Rey compiled enough tackles and showed the knack for big plays, so he might at least warrant a look in training camp at the next level.

--QB Thaddeus Lewis, on his college numbers, should get some interest, although his speed isn't anything to be excited about. He was hampered by late-season injuries, so some of the shine he developed earlier in his last season had been wiped away. The pro teams might like the fact that he fell into the good graces of coach David Cutcliffe, who groomed the Manning brothers into future NFL standouts.

--WR Donovan Varner caught his seventh touchdown pass of the season, moving to a tie for 10th on Duke's single-season list. He racked up 174 receiving yards in the finale against Wake Forest.

--K Will Snyderwine, a walk-on who wasn't the starter at the beginning of the season, kicked a 51-yard field goal in the second quarter against Wake Forest. He'll be back for a senior season in 2010 after his 17 field goals this year set a single-season school record. His percentage of 85.0% on 17-of-20 also set a school mark.

--WR Austin Kelly showed a spark in the last game of the season. His 62-yard touchdown reception against Wake Forest was his fourth scoring catch of the season, but it was his only one in the last six games. Consistency has been a concern with Kelly, but he caught at least two passes in every game this season.

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