Don’t Diss the Devils - 2012 Belk Bowl Blitz : Edition 1
By Helen Sowell
Contrary to preseason pigskin predictions, Virginia Tech is not leading the Coastal Division - it’s the Miami Hurricanes and the surprising Duke Blue Devils. Yes Duke, and they are playing some of their best football. They are off to their best start since 1994, posting a 4-1 overall record, 1-0 in the ACC, deadlocked with the perennial favorite Hokies. Other than Head Coach David Cutcliffe, who would have expected Duke to break a 12-game losing streak last Saturday to Wake Forest, dating back to 1999. On the road they bested an in-state rival and the Devils have done this despite an avalanche of injuries. I’d say it’s time to start paying attention to the boys in blue who are finding ways to win the close ones and are two games from becoming bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994.
For the second week in a row, Duke found an effective running game, executing a three-man rotation with true freshman (Charlotte native - Mallard Creek H.S.) Jela Duncan, Junior Juwan Thompson and redshirt sophomore Josh Snead. Success on the ground leads to productive screen passes and downfield completions to stellar wide receiver Conner Vernon, who recorded his 232nd career reception, tying the ACC career record. In fact, three receivers are among the top ten in the league this season: Vernon at #4 with 3 TD’s, Jamison Crowder at #7 with 2 TD’s and Desmond Scott at #9 with one score. The Blue Devils have scored 185 points through five games, the highest 5-game total to open a season in school history, and rank fifth in the conference in scoring offense and passing offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Devils are tied for 2nd in sacks with 14, 2nd in fumbles recovered with 5, and 1st in punting, averaging 45 yards per kick behind the leg of freshman Will Monday. Senior DB, Jordon Byas, was named ACC Defensive Back “Player of the Week,” recording a team-best and career-high 11 tackles. He also added one pick and 1 ½ QB sacks, both firsts for his career, as the Devil D forced four Wake Forest turnovers. Not bad for a defensive unit with significant set-backs due to injuries. Safety August Campbell left the team for personal reasons, safety Corbin McCarthy is out for the season with a shoulder problem, as is Taylor Sowell with an Achilles tendon. Fellow starter at safety, Brandon Braxton, left the Wake contest with an unspecified injury and did not return. His status this week is unknown.
Of most concern is the status of starting senior quarterback Sean Renfree, who was knocked out of the WF game in the third quarter with an elbow injury. An MRI was inconclusive and Coach Cutcliffe says he’s day-to-day. Renfree has played in every Duke game over the last three seasons, starting all but one, and has not missed a game since 2009 when he suffered a torn ACL. This season, he has completed 71.6% of his passes, 7th in the nation; throwing 9 TD’s against five INT’s, and averaging 256.4 yards per game. He will be sorely missed if he is not on the field going forward. Duke faces a daunting conference schedule, which includes hosting UVA this Saturday. Other home contests include UNC, Clemson and Miami while they travel to VT, GaTech and Florida State.
So yes, let’s applaud the Blue Devils for their gritty tenacity on the gridiron. The whole team has earned respect for coming together despite hardship, filling gaps when called upon and making believers of us all.
Answer for Belk Bowl Blitz Trivia:
#1 A: Florida State, 11, from 1985-1995