Duke Football: Inside Slant

The Sports Xchange reviews the year to date and looks forward to the upcoming tests for Duke

Duke had little time for experimentation with a couple of significant games coming on the schedule in September. So the opening 41-27 victory over Elon wasn't entirely smooth, but at least it might have set an encouraging tone for the Blue Devils.

The Blue Devils unveiled a new starting quarterback, and Sean Renfree was up to the task, throwing for 350 yards.

It's only the third time in the last 12 years that Duke has started a season with a victory. The task becomes more daunting right away with an ACC opener at Wake Forest on Sept. 11 followed by a visit from defending national champion Alabama.

So that ought to fully express the urgency of the situation. Not everything was solved against Elon, but Renfree's steady performance should be a positive sign. Coach David Cutcliffe specializes in nurturing quarterbacks, so having Renfree ready was one of the expectations.

The Blue Devils didn't exactly answer the questions about producing a reasonable ground attack on offense. But they finished with 192 yards on the ground, though more than half of those (97) came in the fourth quarter.

Duke looked vulnerable at times defensively, but two second-half interceptions of Elon's record-setting quarterback, Scott Riddle, showed that there are plays to be made on that side of the ball.

"I feel like we have a lot of corrections to make, but the good thing about it is that if you're willing to work on those, you can become better," linebacker Abraham Kromah said.

--Three running backs (Desmond Scott, Josh Snead, Jay Hollingsworth) scored rushing touchdowns against Elon. In all of 2009, Duke's running backs accounted for only two rushing touchdowns. "We worked very hard, and it showed we worked very hard," Scott said of improving the rushing offense.

--The crowd of 33,941 for the opener against Elon marked a full stadium, and it was the largest home turnout for a Duke game since a November 2001 encounter with North Carolina State. But in two weeks, several thousand more fans are expected to witness Alabama's visit to Wallace Wade Stadium, which will be expanded with temporary end zone bleachers.

QB Sean Renfree was solid and spectacular in his first collegiate start. The redshirt sophomore completed 31-of-39 passes for 350. He received kudos from his teammates for his leadership, particularly after Elon pulled to 27-20 early in the fourth quarter. The Blue Devils responded with an 11-play touchdown drive, with Renfree completing four of five passes during that stretch.

RB Josh Snead rushed for 29 yards on seven carries in his first game. The true freshman was a standout in the spring game (playing in that because he was a spring-semester enrollee) and he appears to have a role on this team. He scored on a 3-yard, fourth-quarter run that pushed Duke's lead on Elon back to double figures. Snead is joined by RB Juwan Thompson, another true freshman, in the backfield.

"Sean is an unusual young man. Coming in on the heels of (four-year starter Thaddeus Lewis) is difficult. He quickly won his receivers over with his work ethic. Let's hope we can build on that." -- coach David Cutcliffe after QB Sean Renfree's first career start resulted in 350 passing yards, which are the second-most for a Duke quarterback in a starting debut behind Dave Brown's 444 against Wake Forest in 1989.

LOOKING GOOD: The Blue Devils' strongest position on the team might their receivers, and they showed why in the opener. Duke has good depth at that position. The duo of Conner Vernon and Donovan Varner combined for 17 of the team's 31 catches in the opener against Elon -- Vernon had 10 catches for 129 yards and Varner had seven for 123. It marked the first time a pair of Duke receivers have reached the 100-yard mark in an opener in school history.

STILL NEEDS WORK: Duke's secondary was under attack in most of the opener by Elon's pass-oriented offense. The Blue Devils surrendered 281 yards, so that represented a decent job. But coach David Cutcliffe too often saw Elon receivers catch passes in which they gained the edge on cornerbacks. So the cornerbacks will come under scrutiny during upcoming practices.

--K Will Snyderwine kept his role after suggestions leading to the first game that K Nick Maggio might regain the first-string spot he held in 2008. Snyderwine made two of three field-goal attempts, missing wide left on a 47-yard attempt. Snyderwine also handled kickoffs.

--WR Austin Kelly was held out of the starting lineup, but he played extensively in the second half, when he made three receptions for 27 yards.

--QB Brandon Connette played in a couple of series in the Elon game. He had a 48-yard run in the final minute. Connette is a true freshman, but he enrolled for the 2010 spring semester and went through spring drills with the team. He might be an ideal running option if the Blue Devils want to mix things up.

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