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Tuesday, October 11, 2011
Midseason report: Duke

By ESPN.com staff
ESPN.com

DUKE

Record: 3-2, 1-0

Heading into this season, it wasn’t too unreasonable to think Duke could become bowl eligible if it went 3-1 against nonconference opponents, with the lone loss being an expected one to Stanford. It’s still not impossible, but the Blue Devils made it much more difficult on themselves when they lost their season opener to Richmond. Thanks to Duke, it was the third straight season the ACC had lost to an FCS opponent, and it raised the question of whether Duke had taken a much-needed step forward under coach David Cutcliffe. Losing injured running backs Desmond Scott (for three weeks) and Josh Snead didn’t help an already-struggling running game, and defensive end Kenny Anunike was leading the league in sacks when he suffered a season-ending knee injury against Tulane.

After an 0-2 start, though, Duke has rebounded with three straight wins, including an ACC win on the road against Boston College. Duke has improved significantly on both sides of the ball since the loss to Richmond, and the passing game has finally found its groove under quarterback Sean Renfree and receiver Conner Vernon. In the past three games, Vernon has 22 catches 329 yards and four touchdowns. The defense has allowed only one sack during the three-game winning streak, and Duke has found a way to win two one-possession games on the road.

Offensive MVP: Quarterback Sean Renfree: He is second in the ACC in passing average per game and directed game-winning drives in fourth-quarter comebacks against Boston College and FIU. Renfree has completed 71 percent of his passes for 1,361 yards, five touchdowns and two interceptions. He also has three rushing touchdowns.

Defensive MVP: Safety Matt Daniels: He has 48 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and nine pass breakups. He ranks sixth in the ACC in tackles and is tied for first in the conference in passes defended.