ACC: Austin Kelly
2010 conference record: 1-7
Offense: 8, defense: 6, punter/kicker: 2
WR Conner Vernon, WR Donovan Varner, QB Sean Renfree, TE Cooper Helfet, PK Will Snyderwine, S Matt Daniels, NG Charlie Hatcher, LT Kyle Hill, C Brian Moore.
LB Abraham Kromah, DE Patrick Egboh, WR Austin Kelly, C Bryan Morgan
2010 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Desmond Scott* (530 yards)
Passing: Renfree* (3,131 yds)
Receiving: Vernon* (973 yds)
Tackles: Kromah (129)
Sacks: Egboh (4.5)
Interceptions: Ross Cockrell* (3)
1. Sean Renfree has a chance to be a special quarterback. Coach David Cutcliffe said repeatedly this spring that his quarterback had a great spring, not a good one. Renfree has a chance to flourish in his second season as a full-time starter, especially in a division filled with rookies at the position and one of the top receiving corps in the ACC.
2 New talent emerging. Brandon Braxton showed this spring that he has the potential to be an excellent fit with Varner and Vernon as Blue Devils’ top three wideouts. Duke will also have a new face at center, where Moore takes over for graduated three-year starter Morgan. His move from guard paid off this spring.
3. Duke will be more athletic on defense. It remains to be seen if the Blue Devils will stop anyone this fall, but they’ll at least look better trying to. Duke was more athletic and faster this spring, and part of that has to do with the commitment to a 4-2-5 defensive scheme to get a third safety on the field. Duke dabbled in it a bit last season but will use it exclusively this year under first-year coordinator Jim Knowles.
1. How much better will the defensive line be? Hatcher is the only member of the entire line entering his final season of eligibility. He’ll have to carry the load from a playmaking and leadership standpoint. Redshirt freshman Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo has good speed off the edge, but the entire group will need to take another step forward in the first season under assistant Rick Petri.
2. Will the running game finally be a factor? Duke made strides on the ground last season, but still ranked 104th in the country in rushing offense. All of the running backs return, and offensive line coach Matt Luke has his group looking like an ACC offensive line, but he only has one starter in his final season of eligibility in Hill at left tackle. It’s still a young group, but they’ve got more size and athleticism than in the past. Josh Snead is the fastest of the backs, Scott is the most well-rounded, and Juwan Thompson has the most upside.
3. Can Duke get to the quarterback? Duke ranked 113th in the country and last in the league in sacks last season with one per game. Knowles likes to blitz, but his players have to have confidence to make it work.
Have you or anybody else on the team said anything to Sean (Renfree) to help him get through this? It seems like a hitter’s slump.
Conner Vernon: Absolutely. We’ve definitely done that from a receivers’ standpoint as a receiving corps. We’ve just tried to pick him up, let him know, ‘Look, take it a play at a time. You’re going to throw picks. Everyone in America has thrown an interception. It just happens at the quarterback position.’ It may look like he’s thrown a lot of picks, but a lot of people don’t see that half of them have come from the receivers’ standpoint. We’ve dropped passes that come into our hands and land in the DB’s hands. We have to pick it up to limit the drops and that would get his confidence up. No quarterback likes to see his receivers dropping passes.
CV: It’s definitely frustrating because at the end of the day, the only stat I really worry about is the record that’s next to Duke’s name. It’s definitely frustrating because we have been giving games away. We’ve been in tight games the whole time, we just can’t finish them. We’ve been in every game, even with the amount of turnovers, offensively, that we’ve had. It’s frustrating from that point because if we could limit those turnovers, the outcome would definitely change. It’s definitely a lot frustrating from that point, because we know we’re a lot better than how we’re playing.
How do you guys keep the confidence to turn things around down the stretch here?
CV: Our mentality right now is take it one game at a time, one play at a time. Right now it’s a one-game schedule, and that’s Virginia Tech. We know exactly what they’re capable of doing. They’re on a five-game win streak. They’re real hot right now. We know it’s going to be a hostile crowd and a tough game. We’ll take it one play at a time and execute how we know how to execute and we’ll be alright.
I think it was only two years ago you guys were in Blacksburg and almost beat Virginia Tech with your backup quarterback. Do you guys take any confidence from that, that they’re not invincible? Nobody is.
CV: We know when both sides of the ball and special teams comes out and executes 100 percent that we can play with anybody in this league. We proved that last year. We had three ACC wins in a row. I believe the score last year against Virginia Tech was only eight points. We know that if we come out and execute like we know how to play we can play with anybody in this league. It’s going to be a fight. Virginia Tech is a great team.
Have you noticed defenses keying in on you a lot more this year?
CV: No. I feel like it’s hard for a defense to key in on just one of our receivers. We all can make plays. I believe all of us -- me, Austin Kelly and Donovan Varner -- are all in the top 10 in the ACC in receiving. It’s a big help to all of us because I feel like defenses can’t just key on one guy because that will leave another guy open for a big play. We all have the capability of making a big play.
How do you feel like all of you as a group match up against Virginia Tech’s secondary?
CV: Really well. We can match up with anybody and play with anybody in this league from a receivers’ standpoint. They are a great secondary. We’ll see some new faces in that secondary from last year but we’re ready for it. We’ll come up with a plan to try and beat them.
Big-picture question for you. How far away do you feel Duke is from being a contender in the Coastal Division?
CV: Not far at all. We have a very young team this year. Next year we’ll have a great class coming in. That’s the goal every year, to come in and compete for the ACC championship and go on to a national championship. I feel like we’re not too far at all. The pieces of the puzzle are here, we just have to put them together.
Bowl eligibility: Both Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech can become bowl eligible this weekend if they win. So far, Florida State is the only ACC team to have reached the six-win mark. NC State is also one win away, but the Pack have a bye week.
Turnovers in Miami. They’ve been the Hurricanes’ downfall in three straight losses to UNC, as Miami has 10 turnovers to UNC’s one during that span. But UNC isn’t the only team that can force mistakes. If UNC quarterback T.J. Yates is finally going to slip up again, there’s a good chance it happens on Saturday against a defensive line that helped Miami lead the nation in tackles for loss and rank fourth in the country in sacks.
The red zone in Miami. North Carolina leads the ACC in red zone offense having converted on 22 of 24 trips inside the 20-yard line. The Tar Heels have scored 16 touchdowns and made 6-of-7 field goal attempts. UNC is the only team in the ACC that hasn’t turned it over in the red zone this season. Miami hasn’t been as fortunate. The Canes have lost possession six times inside the 20, including three turnovers. Miami has scored 15 touchdowns in 26 trips in the red zone, but UNC and Miami have the No. 2 and No. 3 red zone defenses in the ACC, respectively.
BC running back Montel Harris. He needs just 65 more yards to reach 3,000 in his career and only three BC players before him have ever reached that number. Derrick Knight, BC’s all-time leading rusher, was the last to do it in 2003. Harris will be the first player in school history to reach it as a junior. The milestone could be an early birthday gift, as he turns 21 on Oct. 30, the day the Eagles host Clemson at Alumni Stadium. He ran for 142 yards in last year’s 19-17 win over the Terps, and he ran for 191 yards in the loss at Florida State last weekend while averaging 7.3 yards per carry. FSU was able to keep him out of the end zone, though, and the Terps will be challenged to do the same.
Georgia Tech quarterback Joshua Nesbitt. He needs 44 more rushing yards to break the ACC career record of rushing yards by a quarterback. After rushing for 106 yards against Middle Tennessee, Nesbitt has 2,718 yards. The record is held by former Clemson standout Woodrow Dantzler (2,761, 1998-2001). How long can the Tigers’ D protect their record books?
Clemson defensive end Da’Quan Bowers. Georgia Tech’s offensive line will have its hands full with this guy. He’s leading the nation in sacks and tackles for loss.
Quarterbacks in the Commonwealth. Duke quarterback Sean Renfree can’t afford five interceptions against Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, and Virginia quarterback Marc Verica is looking to shake off the three picks he threw last week against UNC and rebound against Eastern Michigan. And Tyrod Taylor? Well, he can move into fourth place in career passing yards at Virginia Tech with 144 more yards.
Virginia Tech’s secondary against Duke’s receivers. The Hokies’ pass defense hasn’t exactly been stellar this year, and it’s no secret that Duke is going to throw the ball. The Blue Devils have three of the ACC’s top receivers in Conner Vernon, Donovan Varner and Austin Kelly. The Hokies’ Jayron Hosley leads the ACC with four interceptions.
Virginia’s running game. The Cavaliers’ rushing defense hasn’t been very good, but Eastern Michigan’s is worse. Expect Keith Payne and Perry Jones to boost their stats. Eastern Michigan is allowing 228 rushing yards per game.
The Tigers had their first scrimmage on Tuesday and got in about 100 snaps in a little over two hours.
Offensive highlights: Kyle Parker completed 9 of 18 passes for 114 yards. He did not throw and interception and ran for a score on a 14-yard run. Tajh Boyd completed 7 of 18 passes for 71 yards. He had a 13-yard run for a score that culminated a 75-yard drive early in the scrimmage.
Rod McDowell was the top rusher with 76 yards on 12 carries. He had a 22-yard run and a 34-yard run on the same drive. Andre Ellington gained 45 yards in 11 carries, while Jamie Harper had seven carries for 35 yards. Ellington had the only rushing touchdown among the running backs with a 15-yard score.
Five different receivers had two catches apiece. Dwayne Allen had 2-49, including a 36-yard completion from Parker. Drew Traylor had 2-29, Terrance Ashe had 2-28 and Marquan Jones had 2-11. Jaron Brown had 2-14 and also had an 18-yard run.
Defensive highlights: Andre Branch intercepted a tipped pass and raced 25 yards for a score. Tig Willard was the top tackler with seven, while Brandon Maye, Coty Sensabaugh and Scotty Cooper all had five apiece. Jonathan Meeks had two tackles for loss. Freshman Tra Thomas had the only fumble recovery.
Special teams: Richard Jackson was 4-4 on field goals attempts, including a pair from 42 yards. Spencer Benton was 3-4 and Chandler Catanzaro made 2-3 with his only miss from 56 yards.
Dabo Swinney said: “It was a better scrimmage than I expected for the first scrimmage. We had a lot of new guys in action in Death Valley for the first time and we did a lot of mix and matching during the scrimmage. We need to perform better in the red-zone on both sides of the ball.
“Defensively, Andre Branch had the big play of the day with an interception return for a touchdown I thought he was a consistent player last year. But, he has become a physical player who is a team leader. Opposing teams will talk about 93 [Da’Quan Bowers], but they better pay attention to number 40 [Branch].
Injured: All-American safety DeAndre McDaniel, who suffered an injury near his tailbone. He was able to walk off the field on his own. I'll try and get an update for you on this today. Freshman running backs D.J. Howard and Demont Buice both missed the scrimmage as they recover from a concussion suffered this past Saturday. Da’Quan Bowers missed the scrimmage as he is home with his family after the sudden death of his father last Sunday.
The Blue Devils held their second practice on Tuesday night.
Defensive highlights: Johnny Williams, who moved from receiver this past spring, showed that he is grasping the cornerback position well as he intercepted a deep pass down the sideline during 7-on-7 drills and also made two nice plays to force incompletions during the 1-on-1 period against the receivers.
The defense has emphasized forcing turnovers early in the preseason and came up with three on Tuesday. Along with Williams' interception, junior safety Lee Butler returned an interception for a score off a tipped ball and redshirt junior Charlie Hatcher recovered a fumble. The defense had several other pass breakups on the day, including a couple by sophomore safety Walt Canty.
Offensive highlights: Redshirt freshman wide receiver Tyree Watkins made several big plays, and senior wide receiver Austin Kelly ran two good routes during team drills to provide redshirt sophomore quarterback Sean Renfree with some wide open looks. The offensive line did a good job in both pass and run blocking during the first session of team drills.
The Terps opened camp on Tuesday in temperatures in the upper-90s, and spent much of the practice working on individual drills to help acclimate 21 newcomers and refresh veterans. Maryland has 24 preseason workouts scheduled.
Ralph Friedgen says: “The kids showed they worked hard over the summer. We’re a little further along in some areas than I thought. I think it got hot out there at the end and they got a little tired, but overall I thought it was a good first day.”
Jamarr Robinson, who proved to be a dangerous dual-threat quarterback while filling in for an injured Chris Turner last year, enters camp atop the depth chart. The Terps also have a pair of talented redshirt freshmen in Danny O’Brien and C.J. Brown, who spent a year learning offensive coordinator James Franklin’s system and look ready to contribute.
“I saw more of a leadership role by Jamarr [today],” said Friedgen. “I thought his fundamentals were better. I thought his reads were better. The guy that kind of showed some improvement was C.J. Brown. I thought he did some things better than he did in the spring. I sat in a meeting with him and to me he was a lot sharper than he has been, so maybe he’s starting to mature a little bit.”
Notable: Avery Murray, who was the listed as the backup at Mike linebacker behind Alex Wujciak, has left the team for personal reasons. Sophomore Ryan Donohue moves up a spot on the depth chart. Redshirt freshman De’Onte Arnett, a reserve defensive tackle, will also miss preseason camp. He was diagnosed with a cyst on his ankle and will be out of action about six weeks. Taylor Watson is the only other member of the two-deep who will not be a part of the 105-man preseason roster. Watson had knee surgery in the spring and is not expected back until next month.
The Canes had a walk-through practice Tuesday morning on the Greentree Practice Fields. They spent just under an hour on the practice fields sharpening up for the first fall scrimmage Wednesday night. After working through positional drills, the team came together and spent the rest of the session in 11-on-11, two-minute drill work.
Defensive highlights: In the two-minute drill, the first-team defense forced a quick three-and-out, and only allowed one score the rest of the session. Among the highlights were a DeMarcus Van Dyke pass breakup, a Marcus Forston quarterback hurry and a Luther Robinson sack.
Offensive highlights: Tight end Chase Ford may have turned in his best showing of camp on Tuesday. Ford caught a first down pass over the middle on a third a long before later scoring the session’s only touchdown on a 40-yard catch-and-run down the right sideline.
Up next: Wednesday’s scrimmage is closed to the public. Following the scrimmage, the team will take its first day off from camp on Thursday before returning to the practice fields for its first two-a-day on Friday.
The Deacs practiced in pads for the first time.
Jim Grobe says: “We didn’t have the greatest practice mentally but it was a good night effort wise. The guys are working real hard, flying around and bumping into each other. We have a lot in right now offensively and defensively and the young guys are a little flustered but at least when they're making mistakes, they’re making them in a hurry.”
On the competition: “We have nine seniors and quite a bit of juniors but some of our most talented guys at spots are freshmen and sophomores. So there is quite a bit of competition right now and there are number of spots were you can feel comfortable at the top of the depth chart one day and be at the bottom of the chart the next. It’s a good position for us because we don’t just have guys that are talented at the top and there’s no one pushing them. We have talent at every position and guys know they have to come out to practice each day and get after it.”
On the quarterbacks: “We have a great group of guys right now at quarterback. I think you get a little concerned if you don’t have any talent back there but we have three or four guys that have enough talent to win. What we’re looking for right now is a guy who makes very few mental mistakes and does not turn the football over. That’s going to be the key. The flashiest guys, the fastest guy, the guy with the best arm may not end up being our quarterback. It’s going to be the guy that doesn’t get us beat. The guy that takes care of the ball the best and makes the fewest mental mistakes is probably going to be the guy.”
Up next: The Deacons continue to practice this week as they prepare for their first intra-squad scrimmage on Saturday at 2 p.m. at BB&T Field. The team will practice again Wednesday evening from 8-10 p.m. at the Doc Martin Practice Complex on campus.
Donovan Varner helped change that.
His 1,047 yards last year were the most since Clarkston Hines recorded a school-record 1,149 yards in 1989.
Sean Renfree, who is expected to be the starting quarterback this fall, missed spring drills to recover from a torn ACL. He has since resumed throwing during seven-on-seven drills.
“I don’t think it’s really going to be an issue,” Varner said. “We’re going to miss Thad, but Sean Renfree is a great quarterback and he’s going to be able to carry the team. We’re not really worried about it at all.”
Varner conceded this year will be more difficult because opposing defenses now know who he is.
“They know we’re capable of making plays now,” he said. “I think it’s going to be a lot tougher.”
Especially since Varner isn’t the only wideout on the roster with big-play capabilities.
Varner, Conner Vernon and Austin Kelly combined for 174 pass receptions last fall -- more than any other trio in the ACC. The next closest was Wake Forest’s Devon Brown, Marshall Williams and Chris Givens, along with Florida State’s Rod Owens, Bert Reed and Jarmon Fortson. Both of those groups combined for 166 catches.
“I think we’re definitely capable of making a bowl game," Varner said. "Our mentality is different. Our work ethic has risen a lot. I’m pretty confident in making a bowl this year. I see the younger guys stepping up, making big plays. The older guys, we have a lot more leaders this year. I just see a lot of confidence, more trash talking and more plays being made. I think that gives our team a lot of confidence.”
So does Varner and his surrounding cast of receivers.
2009 overall record: 5-7
2009 conference record: 3-5
Offense: 9, defense: 6, punter/kicker: 2
WR Donovan Varner, WR Conner Vernon, WR Austin Kelly,T Kyle Hill, RB Desmond Scott, C Bryan Morgan, DE Patrick Egboh, P Kevin Jones, PK Will Snyderwine
QB Thaddeus Lewis, DE Ayanga Okpokowuruk, DT Vince Oghobaase, LB Vincent Rey, CB Leon Wright, SS Catron Gainey
2009 statistical leaders (* returners)
Rushing: Scott* (262 yards)
Passing: Lewis (3,330 yards)
Receiving: Varner* (1,047 yards)
Tackles: Rey (98)
Sacks: Okpokowuruk (6)
Interceptions: Wright (5)
1. Depth at receiver. The Blue Devils found enough helping hands that they were able to move Johnny Williams, who caught 31 passes last year, to defensive back. Tyree Watkins, who didn’t lose last year’s eligibility despite an injury, had an impressive spring, as did Cory Gattis, who redshirted last year.
2. More multiple on defense. The defense will be a little different under Marion Hobby, who will take over the play-calling for Mike MacIntyre, now the head coach at San Jose State.
3. The need for Snead. The running game got a much needed boost from rookie Josh Snead, who graduated early and enrolled in January. He’s a compact, explosive player who came physically prepared to play. He had a handful of runs of 50 or more yards in scrimmages throughout the spring that showed he can be a contributor.
1. Renfree’s health. All indications are that quarterback Sean Renfree is healing from a torn ACL on schedule and will be the starter this fall, despite missing the contact portion of spring drills. He’s the only player who has taken a snap in a game, and the staff is encouraged by him, but he’s still a rookie who hasn’t been tested since his injury.
2. Defensive line concerns. Can the defensive line be productive and deep enough to have a positive impact? Overall it’s thin and inexperienced. Patrick Egboh and Wesley Oglesby, two fifth-year seniors, need to lead the way. It will be Charlie Hatcher’s first year seeing significant playing time after helping out on the interior last year. True freshmen could help immediately because of the low numbers.
3. Bowling, anyone? Coach David Cutcliffe made noticeable strides in the win column his first two seasons, but Duke is still searching for that bowl bid. How Duke will fare in its toss-up games against conference opponents will answer that. If the Blue Devils can get wins against Wake Forest, Maryland and Virginia, the postseason will be within reach.
Sean Schroeder will start at quarterback for the White team. He'll have Austin Kelly and Conner Vernon to throw to at receiver and Brett Huffman at tight end. Tackle Kyle Hill and center Bryan Morgan will also suit up for the White team.
Freshman quarterback Brandon Connette will lead the Blue team with running backs Patrick Kurunwune and Desmond Scott. He'll have Danny Parker as a target at receiver.
Five returning starters on defense will be in Blue during Saturday's game, which kicks off at 1 p.m. and is free of charge.
Those will include defensive end Wesley Oglesby, safety Matt Daniels, tackle Charlie Hatcher, linebacker Abraham Kromah and cornerback Chris Rwabukamba.
The day will begin with the Blue Devil team walk at 11 a.m., starting at the Duke Chapel.
The defense led the way as safety Jordon Byas and defensive end Justin Foxx scored defensive touchdowns and the defense forced five turnovers in a 75-play scrimmage at the Brooks Practice Field. Byas intercepted Brandon Connette for a 41-yard touchdown return. Foxx later scooped up a fumble and ran 35 yards for a score. Duke will take a spring break before resuming practice on March 17.
- Defensive end Kenny Anunike had one fumble recovery while defensive tackle Sydney Sarmiento and cornerback Ross Cockrell carded one interception each.
- Linebacker Abraham Kromah had four tackles for loss, including one quarterback sack. Anunike, Foxx, linebacker Austin Gamble and linebacker Tyree Glover also made sacks while noseguard Curtis Hazelton was credited with two tackles for loss.
- Running back Patrick Kurunwune rushed 13 times for a game-high 82 yards with one touchdown while Josh Snead added 56 yards and two touchdowns on 10 attempts.
- Quarterback Sean Schroeder completed 10 of 20 passes for 116 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown pass to wideout Conner Vernon. He was intercepted once and added a 7-yard touchdown run.
- Austin Kelly caught a scrimmage-best four passes for 36 yards while Tyree Watkins had three grabs for 33 yards.
“We had good work today; a lot of things happened. We made it very game-like; played field position; played the game. The best thing that happened was our defense taking the ball away. Jordon Byas intercepted a pass early, took it back for a score, and kind of set the tempo of the game.” -- Coach David Cutcliffe
The Canes went two hours in full pads and will practice again on Friday before having a closed scrimmage on Saturday. Miami finished practice working in 9-on-9 situations with some special teams work sprinkled in between the two periods. UM also worked on field goal protection before ending practice working in 11-on-11, blitz and third-down team situations.
- Senior defensive back DeMarcus Van Dyke had an interception during the blitz period.
- Junior quarterback Spencer Whipple found Kendal Thompkins for a nice gain of more than 20 yards over the middle.
- Junior wide receiver LaRon Byrd ended the blitz period with a grab as he snatched a ball thrown by Stephen Morris out of the air over three defenders.
"We have more depth. I’m not worried about five offensive linemen making practice or seven offensive linemen or five defensive linemen. We have depth now. You feel good about your team. You feel good about the progress you’ve made. You also just feel good, because you have numbers to work with. You see guys that have grown and gotten bigger. You look at LaRon Byrd and how big he is. You look at offensive line with big physical guys. The defensive line is big and physical. When I first took over, we were very small. Right now, we can do the things we need to get done." -- Coach Randy Shannon
Strongest position: Wide receiver
Key returnees: Conner Vernon, Donovan Varner, Austin Kelly
Key departures: No starters lost.
The skinny: The staff moved Johnny Williams to corner, which says a lot about how much confidence they’ve got in this group, considering Williams was a player who caught 31 passes last year. They should be confident, as Vernon and Varner were both among the ACC’s top six receivers last year. The group should only get better with the progress of Tyree Watkins, a freshman last year who saw some playing time but was injured and earned a medical redshirt.
Weakest position: Defensive line
Key returnees: NG Charlie Hatcher, DE Patrick Egboh
Key departures: DT Vince Oghobaase, DE Ayanga Okpokowuruk
The skinny: Redshirt senior Wesley Oglesby has starting experience at defensive end, but the line’s depth took a hit with the dismissal of DT John Drew, who played in all 12 games in 2009, including one start. He was expected to be a contributor this year. Egboh had 34 tackles with a team-high six quarterback pressures while Hatcher contributed 39 tackles with seven tackles for loss and a fumble return for a touchdown in Duke's win at Virginia.
Did you know that UNC backup quarterback Bryn Renner’s father, Bill, was a punter at Virginia Tech (1979-82) before playing in the NFL with the Green Bay Packers? Yep. He led the Hokies in punting average in 1981 and 1982.
There’s nothing like kicking off the weekend with a Thursday night game in Lane Stadium, so let’s start there …
1. UNC’s rushing receivers. The Tar Heels have been looking for yards from everyone, and against Florida State last week, receivers accounted for 109 rushing yards. Greg Little had 48, Johnny White added 40 and Jheranie Boyd chipped in 21. The Tar Heels also got a spark in their running game last week from tailback Shaun Draughn, who ran for a season-high 126 yards, and the Hokies’ rushing defense has struggled this year compared to seasons past and is ranked 76th in the country.
2. UNC’s front seven vs. Tyrod Taylor and Ryan Williams. The Tar Heels had 22 sacks all of last year, and they already have 17 sacks this year. They’re also piling up the tackles for loss, and while FSU quarterback Christian Ponder had his way with what was the No. 1 ranked pass defense in the country, UNC held FSU to just 43 yards rushing last week. They’ve held five of their seven opponents to under 100 rushing yards, and the Hokies have the No. 17 ranked rushing offense in the country.
3. Miami’s linebackers without Sean Spence. The Canes will have a different look at Wake Forest this week without Spence, who will miss the game with a knee injury. Taking his place will be Ramon Buchanan, who filled in for Spence when he was hurt during the Clemson game. Most of Buchanan’s experience has been on special teams this year. Meanwhile, running back Kevin Harris is expected to return for the Deacs after missing the past five games with a groin injury.
4. Shootout in Tally. This game could look like a 2008 Big 12 matchup -- all offense. NC State quarterback Russell Wilson and FSU quarterback Christian Ponder have both done enough to win this season, but haven’t gotten the support from their defenses. If that’s the case again on Saturday, it could be a very high-scoring game, as both teams are averaging about 30 points per game.
5. Field position in Vanderbilt Stadium. Vanderbilt running back Warren Norman leads the SEC and ranks 13th nationally in all-purpose yards per game (157.5 ypg) and 16th nationally in kickoff returns (29.04 ypa). Georgia Tech sophomore Jerrard Tarrant leads the ACC in punt return average (19.9 ypa). Both teams have a plus-five turnover margin, and statistically, Vandy has fared well stopping the run. The Jackets will obviously present a different challenge, but Norman can help compensate by giving the offense a good starting point.
6. C.J. Spiller’s backups. One week after the biggest performance of his life, Spiller is likely to have a limited role Saturday against Coastal Carolina. There’s no need to risk getting him hurt against an FCS team the Tigers should be able to beat without him. It’s a great opportunity to rest Spiller for the FSU game and give Andre Ellington and Jamie Harper some more experience.
7. Duke’s receivers. Quarterback Thaddeus Lewis has been getting all the pub, and deservedly so, but he couldn’t do it without somebody on the receiving end. For the first time in school history, Duke has four wide receivers with 25 or more pass receptions in a single season. Austin Kelly, Conner Vernon, Johnny Williams and Donovan Varner have made it a much deeper group.
8. Virginia’s defensive adjustments. In a week’s span, the Cavaliers have had to study two completely different offensive schemes in Georgia Tech’s run based triple option and Duke’s high-flying passing attack that leads the ACC in passing offense with 322.57 yards per game. This is what UVA excels at, though, as the Cavs have the ACC’s top passing defense. Virginia ranks fifth nationally, allowing just 151.29 yards per game. They haven’t allowed more than 190 passing yards in a game this season.
9. A new interception streak. At the beginning of the season, it was NC State’s Russell Wilson. Now it’s Virginia quarterback Jameel Sewell who is on a roll without an interception. Sewell has not been intercepted in his last 141 pass attempts, dating to the Southern Miss game. The school record for consecutive passes without an interception is 231.
10. Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly. If you haven’t seen him play yet, it’s time, as he’s already drawn comparisons to Mark Herzlich and is currently the leading freshman tackler in the nation with 10.38 tackles per game. Kuechly leads BC with 51 solo tackles, 58 assisted. He had a game-high and career-tying 14 tackles against the Irish and had one pass breakup, and he’ll face another top quarterback this week in Central Michigan's Dan LeFevour.
It was the kind of performance that will resonate for many years to come -- one that caught the attention of coaches throughout the ACC and couldn’t be ignored nationwide.
|AP Photo/Gerry Broome|
|Thaddeus Lewis has completed 64.1 percent of his passes for 1,972 yards and 14 touchdowns.|
“And we dropped some,” said wide receiver Austin Kelly. “He could’ve easily been 45 for 50 or 46 for 50. It’s one game I’ll remember for the rest of my life, that performance he had at NC State.”
While other talented quarterbacks and their fans throughout the country are clamoring for attention and awards, Lewis is quietly trying to achieve the one reward he desperately wants above all others -- a bowl invitation -- and he’s getting them closer. In the past three games, Lewis has thrown for 1,189 yards and nine touchdowns. The win over Maryland last weekend marked the first time since 1994 Duke has defeated back-to-back ACC opponents. This week, they head to Virginia in search of the next step toward reaching their postseason goal, which requires three more W’s.
“It would be huge, just because of all the adversity we faced being here at Duke, going 1-11, or 1-12 the last two years, but obviously battling back to turn this program around,” Lewis said. “It would be huge. With this being my last season, this is the start of building a program. I want to help contribute to getting these guys to a bowl game, to where they can get that experience and want to get there every year.”
This team wouldn’t even be close to bowl eligibility without Lewis. He has accounted for 17 of Duke’s 23 touchdowns this year. He has completed 64.1 percent of his passes (164 of 256) for 1,972 yards and 14 touchdowns with three interceptions. He’s also rushed for three touchdowns. He’s the reason Duke leads the ACC in passing offense and ranks third in total offense. His career numbers rank him among the ACC’s best.
“He’s a special young man,” said Duke coach David Cutcliffe. “It goes beyond what he does on the field for us. He’s a tremendous leader. Quarterbacks sometimes try to be leaders. Thad Lewis doesn’t have to try. People respond to him. He’s very spirited, even going back to camp, when he was so sick with the swine flu and had a significant ankle injury, he never lost his spirit. You wouldn’t believe how many times he tried to practice or tried to go through it and I had to just pull him out. I think his team saw that and his play right now is so consistent and so good. He’s a very talented young man. Guys on both sides of the ball feel like if we play well, Thad’s going to give us a chance to win games because he can make so many plays.”
A win over Virginia isn’t out of the question on Saturday, especially considering Duke started the 2008 ACC season with a 31-3 win at home against the Cavaliers. The Blue Devils’ defense forced six turnovers in the game and outscored the Cavaliers 28-0 after halftime.
If they’re going to do it again, though, they’ll have to continue to depend on Lewis.
“I feel like he’s the MVP of this team,” Kelly said. “I say that with confidence. I feel like the things he’s doing this year, it’s been amazing. It’s an honor to be a part of the same team as him.”
If Lewis keeps it up, they might be teammates for one extra game this year.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Let's get to it ...
- Virginia's win over North Carolina was only half the story for Virginia safety Brandon Woods, who was married during the bye week. And the last line is priceless.
- Bobby Bowden isn't the only one at Florida State whose status is uncertain. Defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews might retire at the end of the season, too. Of course, if Bowden wants Andrews to come back, doesn't that mean he wants to come back, too?
- Georgia Tech safety Morgan Burnett expects the Noles to come prepared to play, despite all of the distractions this week.
- Maryland doesn't know whether or not it will have Bruce Campbell back at left tackle in time for Wake Forest, but Paul Pinegar has been getting the reps there this week.
- Wake Forest will be looking for more from its running game on Saturday against the Terps.
- With a full-grown beard and a bald head, Duke receiver Austin Kelly looks like the old man of the group, but now he's starting to play like it.
- Miami offensive coordinator Mark Whipple's standards are higher than yours, believe it or not, and right now, he says the offense isn't very good.
- Virginia Tech split end Jarrett Boykin has hands so big they rip through his XXXL gloves, the largest size Nike makes. If you're a receiver, that's a good thing.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Duke coach David Cutcliffe made a difference in his first season, winning four games in 2008. While that might sound like a disastrous season for many, the Blue Devils won as many games last season as they had in the four previous seasons combined. Still, it wasn't good enough for Cutcliffe, who thought they were capable of winning more. He discusses that and more in our interview this week:
|Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images|
|While his program showed signs of improvement in 2008, David Cutcliffe knows there is still work to be done.|
Ok, let's go ahead and get this one out of the way. Can Greg Paulus really throw the football well enough to be a college quarterback?
David Cutcliffe: Greg can throw the ball. I haven't seen him throw it in person, but I saw him on high school tape, and he threw the ball a lot and effectively. My dealings with him, I kind of started that. I actually called Mike Krzyzewski first, just to say, 'Hey, I'm going to call Greg.' I wouldn't do it without telling Mike first. We had six practices left, and he could play a little receiver. It would be very difficult for him to start for us at quarterback. He just decided if it wasn't pure quarterback he wasn't interested in it, so we'll see what happens, but you don't bet against a competitor. Ever. He is definitely a fierce competitor.
Do you have a pretty good relationship over there with Coach K? Or do you guys not really see each other much?
DC: Absolutely, great. I'm one of his biggest fans. I have watched him practice, I love to hear him teach, I love conversations with him because he is the epitome of a coach. He's always teaching. I just think he's a master, I really do. I enjoy everything he does with his program.
About your program, what is the biggest change you've seen since you took over?
DC: People starting to believe we can win at Duke, most importantly our players, but not unimportantly our fans. Our fans, we're creating a little expectation. People say you're crazy, well I don't think so. I don't know if you'd call it revitalizing, because it basically had gone dead. Part of beginning a program is to make people believe we can win at Duke.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
With Miami kicking off spring practice on Feb. 24, it's never too early to start thinking about spring football in the ACC. There are plenty of story lines heading into the 2009 season -- like backup quarterbacks and new coordinators.
Here are a few things to watch for each team in the ACC this spring:
Spring practice starts: March 17
Spring game: April 25
What to watch
- Replacing 325-pound defensive tackles B.J. Raji and Ron Brace will be a large challenge -- literally. Damik Scafe could be a starter, but beyond him it's anybody's guess.
- Quarterback Dominique Davis only has three games of experience over everyone else, so it's definitely not a given that it's his job to lose. Davis was thrown into the fire at the end of 2008, but former coach Jeff Jagodzinski and former offensive coordinator Steve Logan liked freshman Justin Tuggle, who redshirted this past season. Whether the new staff is as high on Tuggle remains to be seen.
- Including former defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani, who was promoted to head coach, the Eagles will have six coaches in new positions this spring. With two new coordinators, a new offensive line coach, tight ends coach and a linebackers coach, this spring will be a chance for a few introductions.