ACC: Juwan Thompson

ACC's lunchtime links

May, 23, 2014
Enjoy the holiday weekend!
The NFL draft concluded with 42 ACC players selected last weekend, and a slew more ended up signing free-agent deals in the days afterward.

Here’s a quick rundown of where the ACC’s undrafted free agents landed.

QB Chase Rettig, Green Bay Packers
OLB Kasim Edebali, New Orleans Saints
LB Steele Divitto, New York Jets
OT Ian White, San Diego Chargers
OT Matt Patchan, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DB Albert Louis-Jean, Chicago Bears

K Chandler Catanzaro, Arizona Cardinals
G Tyler Shatley, Jacksonville Jaguars
LB Spencer Shuey, Jacksonville Jaguars
CB Darius Robinson, Buffalo Bills

RB Juwan Thompson, Denver Broncos
DE Kenny Anunike, Denver Broncos

LB Christian Jones, Chicago Bears
RB James Wilder Jr., Cincinnati Bengals
WR Kenny Shaw, Cleveland Browns
FB Chad Abram, Detroit Lions
DT Demonte McAllister, Seattle Seahawks
DT Jacobbi McDaniel, Cleveland Browns

DT Euclid Cummings, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
CB Lou Young, Denver Broncos
DE Emmanuel Dieke, New York Giants

DT Roy Philon, Pittsburgh Steelers
S Hakeem Smith, Tennessee Titans
DT Brandon Dunn, Chicago Bears
WR Damian Copeland, Jacksonville Jaguars

WR Allen Hurns, Jacksonville Jaguars
QB Stephen Morris, Jacksonville Jaguars
TE Asante Cleveland, San Francisco 49ers
DT Justin Renfrow, Arizona Cardinals
FB Maurice Hagens, Atlanta Falcons
S A.J. Highsmith, San Francisco 49ers
OG Jared Wheeler, Carolina Panthers
LB Jimmy Gaines, Buffalo Bills

OT James Hurst, Baltimore Ravens
QB Bryn Renner, Denver Broncos

DE Carlos Gray, Green Bay Packers
TE Asa Watson, New England Patriots
DL Deylan Buntyn, New England Patriots

P Matt Yoklic, Atlanta Falcons

CB Keon Lyn, Indianapolis Colts
CB Ri’Shard Anderson, Tennessee Titans
RB Jerome Smith, Atlanta Falcons

DE Jake Snyder, Minnesota Vikings

DT Derrick Hopkins, Baltimore Ravens
LB Tariq Edwards, Miami Dolphins
WR D.J. Coles, Oakland Raiders
G Andrew Miller, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DE James Gayle, Tennessee Titans

DT Nikita Whitlock, Cincinnati Bengals
LB Justin Jackson, Detroit Lions
LB Zach Thompson, New York Jets

ACC Saturday setup: Week 13

November, 23, 2013
Here’s one final look at what’s on tap today in the ACC:

Game: Duke (8-2) at Wake Forest (4-6)

What’s at stake: The Coastal Division title is on the line for Duke, which can win it outright with two more wins, against Wake Forest and North Carolina. A win would guarantee Duke at least a share of the division title, while a loss by the Blue Devils would send them into a tie with Georgia Tech, and also possibly Miami, North Carolina and Virginia Tech. A win would also give Duke a ninth win for the first time since 1971. Wake Forest, meanwhile, has to win out just to become bowl eligible.

Statistically speaking: All four of Duke’s running backs -- Jela Duncan, Shaquille Powell, Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson -- average at least five yards per rushing attempt this season. A total of 43.8 percent of Duke’s offense has come from its ground game this year.

Quotable: “This isn't a flash in the pan. We're going to be good next year if our team has the kind of work ethic that this team has.” -- Duke coach David Cutcliffe

Game: Virginia (2-8) at Miami (7-3)

What’s at stake: Miami still has a slim chance at playing in the ACC title game. It needs to win its final two games and hope Duke loses, for starts, so there is no margin for error against the Hoos. Virginia is looking to snap a seven-game winning streak and finish on a strong note.

Statistically speaking: UVa true freshman Keeon Johnson made his collegiate debut in the Cavaliers’ fifth game of the season after originally being slated to redshirt. He has 17 catches for 226 yards (13.3 yards per catch) and one touchdown. He’s on pace to have the best true freshman receiving season for a UVa wide receiver since Billy McMullen had 28 catches for 483 yards (17.2 yards per catch) and six touchdowns in 1999.

Quotable: “A lot of players on this team have been successful against Miami. It's one of those things you have to create that mindset, that balance of, we got two games left, and we want to play to the best of our ability to send these seniors out.” -- Uva coach Mike London

Game: Old Dominion (8-3) at North Carolina (5-5)

What’s at stake: North Carolina would become bowl eligible with a win, completing one of the best turnarounds in college football this year. The Tar Heels started out 1-5, but enter this game on a four-game winning streak.

Statistically speaking: UNC freshman Ryan Switzer has the single-season school record with three punt return touchdowns. The ACC single-season record is four by Maryland’s Steve Suter in 2002. The ACC career mark is six, also held by Suter. Three of Switzer’s last five punt returns have gone for touchdowns.

Quotable: “The kids kept believing. They kept working extremely hard. They had great attitudes. And that's one thing that I can say about these guys: Their attitude after a game or going into a game has been the same each and every week. That has been very consistent, which is what we're looking for.” -- North Carolina coach Larry Fedora

Game: The Citadel (5-6) at (7, 8, 6) Clemson (9-1)

What’s at stake: A BCS bowl. Pride. Senior Day. There shouldn’t even be a whiff of an upset in Death Valley, and this should be an easy week before ending the regular season against rival South Carolina. Clemson has to keep winning, though, to help ensure a shot at a BCS bowl. If Clemson can defeat The Citadel, it will give the Tigers 31 wins over the last three years, the most in a three-year period in school history.

Statistically speaking: Saturday will be the final home game for Clemson’s 19 seniors. Only 10 of the 19 are scholarship players. The class has a 36-14 record over the last four years, the sixth-most wins for a class in Clemson history. That includes 24 wins over ACC teams, the most in school history in a four-year period.

Quotable: “He has I think been the best receiver in the country. I don't think there's any doubt about it in my mind.” – Dabo Swinney on WR Sammy Watkins

Game: East Carolina (8-2) at NC State (3-7)

What’s at stake: Pride. Recruiting. There’s plenty of history between ECU and NC State, as the Pirates are located in Greenville, N.C. The two teams met every season from 1970-1987, but since then have played just nine times. This one is important because of the state of both programs within the state -- ECU is trending up and NC State? Well, the Pack have lost six straight and are winless in league play. This is a chance for first-year coach Dave Doeren to reassert the program’s place within the state, and to avoid what could be an embarrassing home loss.

Statistically speaking: Freshman wide receiver Jumichael Ramos has 18 catches this season, and eight of them have been to convert a third or fourth down. Only one time when Ramos was targeted on a third or fourth down play did the rookie fail to convert and that was a third and 15 against Syracuse when he gained 11 yards.

Quotable: “I know what they're saying at that school. Those things have been talked about here. We feel like we have a lot to prove, probably more than them to be honest with you. It's a game that means a lot for a lot of reasons.” – NC State coach Dave Doeren

Game: Pitt (5-5) at Syracuse (5-5)

What’s at stake: Bowl eligibility and bragging rights. These former Big East teams will play for the first time as ACC opponents, and one of them will finish bowl eligible. The loser of the game will have one more chance to reach the six-win mark in the regular-season finale. This is also a chance for Pitt to redeem itself from last year’s 14-13 loss to the Orange.

Statistically speaking: S Ray Vinopal has created four turnovers in his last two games, including a forced fumble and recovery to set up a Panthers’ touchdown against North Carolina.

Quotable: “With the push towards the big mega-conferences, to some degree, I'm saddened that some of the rivalries are not played anymore. We don't play West Virginia anymore. That was a great game. So I'm glad that we are able to do two things, first and foremost, this week playing a Pitt team that we've been playing for the last 55 years; I think it's great for the fans in both towns and for the fans in the northeast that have watched these games for so many years,” -- Syracuse coach Scott Shafer

Game: Alabama A&M (4-7) at Georgia Tech (6-4)

What’s at stake: It’s the first meeting between the schools, and the first time Georgia Tech will play a team from the SWAC, and the first time coach Paul Johnson will coach against a team from that conference. As far as the ACC race goes, Georgia Tech has to wait and see how it plays out, as the Jackets have wrapped up their ACC play at 5-3. They’re in sole possession of second place in the division this week. The only thing at stake here for Georgia Tech really is avoiding an embarrassing loss and using an unheralded opponent to tune up for the regular-season finale against Georgia.

Statistically speaking: Georgia Tech’s defense has not allowed a rushing play longer than 34 yards. The Yellow Jackets are one of just 10 FBS teams that have not allowed any rushing plays of 40 yards or longer. In Georgia Tech’s six wins this season, the defense has allowed just 11.5 points per game.

Quotable: “We could have -- had we played better Thursday night and found a way to beat a good Clemson team; we knew going into that game we had a chance. If we won that game, I felt like we had a chance to win the division without the tiebreaker or outright. There's still that chance. I think the Coastal is pretty well balanced and I don't know that there's one team that's head and shoulders better than the rest. You just step back and let the guys play out and see what happens.” -- Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson

Game: Boston College (6-4) at Maryland (6-4)

What’s at stake: Maryland is trying to break a two-game losing streak to the Eagles, and with two more wins, the Terps could finish the ACC season at .500 -- a huge improvement from the past two seasons under Randy Edsall. It would also be a strong finish for Maryland in what will be the program’s final year in the ACC before moving to the Big Ten. Both teams are already bowl eligible, so this game is about continuing the positive momentum, and positioning themselves for one of the better bowls.

Statistically speaking: BC is fifth in the country and second in the ACC in red zone offense, having scored on 21 of 22 chances. BC has scored 13 touchdowns (six rushing and seven passing ) and has kicked eight field goals to account for their 18 scores from inside the red zone.

Quotable: “I think Andre is an outstanding football player. The answer to that is yes. The definition is being a dominant football player, leading rusher in America. High, high character. A great human being. A real student-athlete. Certainly extremely valuable to our football team. I would say he fits all that criteria.” -- BC coach Steve Addazio on whether RB Andre Williams is a Heisman contender

Game: Idaho (1-9) at (2, 2, 2) Florida State (10-0)

What’s at stake: The national championship. It doesn’t change for Florida State, which must win out to maintain its No. 2 spot in the BCS standings.

Statistically speaking: The Seminoles have outscored their opponents 170-21 before halftime during their last five games -- a stretch that featured two top 10 opponents (No. 3 Clemson and No. 7 Miami). During the five-game span, FSU has nearly tripled its opponent’s yardage in the first half -- averaging 301 yards before halftime and allowing just 110 yards to opponents. With Florida State resting most of its starters for the better portion of the second half in these games, opponents have gained nearly 50 percent more yards after halftime (156.8).

Quotable: “We have played good football, but there are still things we need to clean up and we know that. We have not played our best football yet in my opinion.” -- Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher

ACC's lunch links

November, 14, 2013
Always nice to see some Thursday night ACC ball.

Duke season preview

August, 21, 2013
Today we’re looking at the Blue Devils as they try to get back to the postseason for the second straight year under coach David Cutcliffe:

Duke Blue Devils

Coach: David Cutcliffe (65-69 overall; 21-40 at Duke)

2012 record: 6-7

[+] EnlargeAnthony Boone
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsAnthony Boone, who threw for 531 yards and 5 touchdowns last season, will lead the Blue Devils' offense in 2013 as the starting quarterback.
Key losses: QB Sean Renfree, WR Conner Vernon, S Jordan Byas, S Walt Canty

Key returnees: WR Jamison Crowder, RB Juwan Thompson, DE Kenny Anunike, CB Ross Cockrell

Newcomer to watch: S Jeremy Cash. The redshirt sophomore is expected to start this fall after transferring from Ohio State, where he spent two semesters. Cash left, along with former Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel, and he wound up choosing to transfer to Duke over Miami and South Florida.

Biggest games in 2013: Oct. 26 at Virginia Tech, Nov. 23 at Wake Forest, Nov. 30 at North Carolina

Biggest questions mark heading into 2013: The secondary. The group underwent a complete makeover this offseason, as Ross Cockrell was the only returning starter in the group. And even he missed the second half of spring with an injury. Cash, Dwayne Norman and Corbin McCarthy are the new faces that could earn spots in the starting lineup, but don’t be surprised if true freshmen Evrett Edwards and Quay Mann play as well. McCarthy, Cash and Norman were penciled in as the starters in the preseason depth chart.

Forecast: Regardless of how many starters Duke returns, or how many playmakers the team has this year, Duke is better simply because the players understand what it takes to get to a bowl game. Last year was a major milestone for the program, as Duke became bowl eligible for the first time since 1994, and the team continues to reap the intangible rewards of that six-win season. Of course, confidence will only go so far against the likes of Virginia Tech and Miami.

Much of Duke’s success this year hinges on three things: the progress of first-year starting quarterback Anthony Boone, how effectively Duke can run the ball, and how much the defense can improve. Boone has received rave reviews from those within the program, as he has a stronger arm than his predecessor, Sean Renfree, and is more mobile. He’s able to keep plays alive with his feet, and will give defenses a different challenge. With more option principles in the offense, it should be more unpredictable. They’ve got to get more out of their ground game, which ranked No. 98 in the country last year. Duke has its top four rushers back from last season, so the expectation is improvement. Defensively, Duke had one of the statistically worst groups in the country, ranking No. 105 in total defense, No. 107 in scoring defense, and No. 101 in rushing defense. This offseason, the staff went back to the drawing board and tried to simplify the scheme. The goal is to do less thinking and more attacking, and there is confidence within the program they’ll be able to do that -- particularly up front. It also can’t be overlooked that Duke doesn’t have to play FSU and Clemson this fall, two opponents that outscored Duke 104-27 in back-to-back losses. A favorable nonconference schedule should help Duke get back to the postseason again.

Duke Blue Devils spring wrap

May, 7, 2013
Duke Blue Devils

2012 record: 6-7

2012 conference record: 3-5, Coastal

Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

WR Jamison Crowder, RB Juwan Thompson, DE Kenny Anunike, CB Ross Cockrell

Key losses

QB Sean Renfree, WR Conner Vernon, S Jordan Byas, S Walt Canty

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Jela Duncan* (516 yards, 4 TDs)

Passing: Renfree (260-of-392 for 2,755 yards, 18 TDs, 8 INTs)

Receiving: Crowder* (1,025 yards, 8 TDs)

Tackles: Canty (102)

Sacks: Anunike* (5)

Interceptions: Cockrell* (5)

Spring answers

1. Anthony Boone is for real. People will still wonder how the Blue Devils are going to do without Sean Renfree, but Anthony Boone proved this spring he is the real deal. Boone was impressive as he took over the starting quarterback job, and allows the Blue Devils to add more option principles to the offense, which will make them much more unpredictable.

2. Receivers step up. Here is another question that coach David Cutcliffe believes has been answered this spring. The Blue Devils do lose Conner Vernon, but leading receiver Jamison Crowder returns and Cutcliffe had special praise for the way Max McCaffrey came on this spring. “The receiving corps, I thought, had a tremendous spring,” Cutcliffe said.

3. Defensive front. The Blue Devils went back to the drawing board on defense and decided to simplify the scheme, in order to have their players do less thinking and more attacking. The result, Cutcliffe believes, could be a much better group -- particularly up front.

Fall questions

1. Secondary. This unit has to be completely rebuilt, with Ross Cockrell the only returning starter in the group. And even he missed the second half of spring with an injury. Jeremy Cash, Dwayne Norman and Corbin McCarthy are the new faces that are expected to take their spots in the starting lineup, but don’t be surprised if true freshmen Evrett Edwards and Quay Mann play as well.

2. Can the run game improve? The Blue Devils appear to have great depth in their backfield with their top four rushers back. So the hope is they can have a much more consistent running game this season. Last year, Duke ranked No. 98 in the nation in this category. Boone should factor in here as well.

3. Inexperience. Though the Blue Devils do return a good many of their starters, the ones who are gone are at the key positions on the football field -- quarterback, two receivers, center and three players in the secondary. They will have to rely on players without much game experience at all those positions so how quickly they grow up will be a huge key for this team.
Duke running back Josh Snead said he can remember when he first came to Durham, and the offensive linemen blocking for him “barely went over 270” pounds.

“Now we’ve got O-linemen in the 300s who can move, are very athletic,” Snead said. “It’s a blessing.”

“In the past, it’s been a very West Coast, pass-heavy offense,” Snead said. “Now we’re stronger up front. With us being a team that’s not really been on the radar with football, it’s been hard getting great recruits and big linemen and stud athletes up front to protect, so we had to be pass heavy. It’s the quickest way to get the ball out. Now, we’ve got great guys who are strong and powerful up front that can pass protect and run protect, which makes the game much easier.”

[+] EnlargeDuncan
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireJela Duncan led Duke in rushing last season with 553 yards on 109 carries.
With four starters returning on the offensive line, all four running backs returning from 2012, and a new starting quarterback who is much more mobile than his predecessor, expect Duke’s running game to finally be a factor this fall. Those within the program certainly do. In the past, Duke has depended heavily on the arm of former quarterback Sean Renfree and his favorite target, ACC record-setter Conner Vernon, but with new faces came a new philosophy this spring -- run first.

Last year, Duke’s running game was No. 98 in the country at 125.23 yards per game -- and that was its highest ranking in at least six years. Overall, the top six rushers from a year ago return, including quarterbacks Anthony Boone and Brandon Connette. Last fall, Jela Duncan, Snead and Juwan Thompson combined for 1,403 yards on 283 attempts. It should again be a running back-by committee approach.

“Whoever has the hot hand, we’re going to encourage them,” said Duncan, who led the team in rushing last year with 553 yards and four touchdowns on 109 carries. “We’re going to be there rooting him on and pushing him to do his best in the game.”

The difference this year is that they’ll have an added dimension in Boone, who will be in his first season as a starter.

“With Anthony being a dual-threat quarterback, teams have to realize they’ll have to handle 11, not just 10,” Snead said. “We’re going into it this year looking at it as a great running dimension, whereas in the past, we had a quarterback who was very good at throwing the ball, but we knew when it was time to run the ball, we knew we were getting the ball instead of Boone just taking off with it at any given moment.”

Boone has played in 22 games over the past two years and has rushed for 211 yards and six touchdowns. Boone knows to give credit where it’s due -- up front. For the second straight season, Duke’s offensive line will lose just one starter: center Brian Moore.

“They’re very experienced,” Boone said. “We’re going to feature them. I tell them every day, I may not buy you a dinner tonight, but without you guys, nothing in our offense is possible. You guys have to be the heart of our offense. I know the quarterback is supposed to be the heart and voice, but in my mind, the guys up front are the guys who are going to take us places.

“From there, our running back corps is unbelievable. They’ve basically mastered the zone and the footwork and the reads. They’ve built a really good relationship with our offensive line. They joke around, they hang out. There’s a lot of trust and backing each other up. With our running backs, they’re obviously an experienced group. They’re all capable of making explosive plays and being very physical. They don’t back down from any physical challenge at all, which I love about every single one of them. They feed off each other. They talk trash, like, ‘Oh man, how’d you miss that,’ but at the same time, it’s a love, a brotherhood they have that I really can’t say anyone can get in the way of.”

Contender or pretender: Duke

March, 22, 2013
If you’re just joining us, this series is categorizing the unranked teams in the ACC as either contenders or pretenders heading into the 2013 season. We’re leaving out Florida State and Clemson because they are the only two teams from the ACC expected to be ranked this preseason. Those rankings automatically qualify them as contenders.

We move on to Duke.


What do you expect out of Duke in 2013?


Discuss (Total votes: 2,464)

Why they're a contender: Sure, the Blue Devils lose Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon. But this is a team that is going to have a vastly different look on offense in 2013, one that could make it quite powerful on the ground. And any time you can run the ball successfully, you are going to give yourself a shot to win every game. Anthony Boone takes over at quarterback, and the Blue Devils plan on using more option principles with him behind center. They have great depth in the backfield as well, as their top six rushers return. That group includes their top three running backs -- Jela Duncan, Josh Snead and Juwan Thompson -- who combined for 1,401 yards on 283 attempts. The offensive line should be a strength as well, as center Brian Moore is the only starter lost. Duke should also be better up front defensively with the return of seniors Kenny Anunike, Justin Foxx and Sydney Sarmiento. Depth should be improved as well, as 11 defensive linemen who earned varsity letters in 2012 are back. If Duke is able to be strong in the trenches, watch out.

Why they're a pretender: Let's be real. Losing guys like Renfree and Vernon is going to hurt. Boone is a first-year starter who has only played spot duty. This is an offense that has featured a pro-style scheme for years. At this point, Boone is a question mark behind center, considering who he is replacing. At receiver, Vernon was about as clutch a receiver as there was in the entire country. Jamison Crowder returns but there are some serious depth concerns at the position. As for the running game, Duke may have its top rushers returning but this group ranked No. 98 in the country in rushing offense. Can the Blue Devils actively rely on the run this season, when Renfree isn't around to pass them out of trouble? As for the defense, this is a group that showed inconsistency last season and now has to rebuild its secondary, where three starters are gone. Questions linger about whether this group as a whole can take the next step.

Final verdict: Pretender. Duke has a tall task to replace some of the most prolific players in school history while playing a more difficult schedule and trying to continue its upward trajectory. Given how strong the Coastal Division looks as a whole heading into 2013, it is tough to envision the Blue Devils in contention for a division crown with a first-year starter at quarterback.

Week 12 injury reports

November, 16, 2012
Here are the ACC injury reports for Week 12 from the schools that emailed them:


Out for the season

Out for the season

Out for the season

Out for the season

Surgery/Out for the season:

Out for season
Out for game

ACC injury reports: Week 10

November, 2, 2012
Here are the ACC injury reports, from the schools that released them:


Out for season

Out for season

Out for season

Out for season

Out for season

Duke scrimmage highlights

August, 22, 2012
Duke held its final scrimmage of the summer on Tuesday night. Here are the highlights, according to the team's practice report:

Offensive highlights: Quarterback Sean Renfree completed all 10 of his pass attempts for 235 yards and two touchdowns. Renfree completed a 15-yard touchdown pass to tight end Issac Blakeney, and threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to wideout Conner Vernon. Renfree also found Blakeney for a 68-yard completion.

Backup quarterback Anthony Boone was 4-for-4 for 72 yards with a pair of touchdowns. Rookie Thomas Sirk completed 7-of-17 passing for 68 yards while rushing seven times for 41 yards.

Running back Juwan Thompson had 72 yards on six carries, and Josh Snead had 47 yards on six carries including a five-yard touchdown. Quarterback Brandon Connette added two rushing touchdowns.
Duke running back Juwan Thompson is part of a crowded backfield that hopes to improve the Blue Devils’ ground game this year. Thompson was Duke’s leading rusher a year ago and had seven starts in 12 games. He ran 110 times for 457 yards and seven touchdowns. He also caught 22 passes for 182 yrds and a touchdown. He has improved his receiving skills out of the backfield and has only fumbled once in 175 career touches. I spoke with Thompson on Tuesday to get his take on the season. Here are the highlights of our conversation:

What are the expectations for Duke from your perspective heading into this season?

[+] EnlargeJames Vaughters
AP Photo/Gerry BroomeRunning back Juwan Thompson was Duke's leading rusher last season, and scored seven touchdowns.
Juwan Thompson: We have expectations of winning everything in the ACC, trying to go undefeated the first six games and play from there. High intensity, more effort, making more plays, but most of all we want to finish the game, play the full 60 minutes. Last year we had some very close games that came down to two or three points which could’ve changed our record from 3-9 to 9-3 possibly. That’s our main focus, playing the full 60 minutes and limiting the mistakes that keep us from winning those close ballgames.

How do you go about trying to practice to prepare for winning those close games?

JT: Our main thing is more individual drills than a team thing, limiting the amount of contact so we can keep players healthy to play those games. We have to make sure the starters and their backups are ready to go, and not have to worry about putting someone in the game who has never played, so limiting the contact and having more individual drills and focusing on knowing the playbook very well so we can limit those mistakes. Then when it’s time to come together for defense vs. offense in live periods, we can do those things for a limited amount of time, where everyone can still come out healthy at the end of the day.

What’s the running game look like and how much better can you be?

JT: The running game every year has gotten better since I’ve been here, and before I got here. It’s been increasing over time as far as stats we’ve been gaining over the years, and then we had two freshmen come in this year -- Shaquille Powell and Jela Duncan -- two great freshmen to add on to the success we’ve been having. I see a lot more running this year, because we have so many weapons in the backfield, and a lot more speed, actually. Josh (Snead) is back, he’s healthy, I’m doing good, and it’s Patrick’s (Kurunwune) last year. We have a lot of weapons, and we’re not worried about anyone going down. We’re going to keep going with the flow. We have a lot of things we’re going to come out with and show the crowd what we’re made of.

Why do you think this year is going to be different in terms of being able to get to a bowl game? What’s different about Duke football this year?

JT: Everyone is a lot more focused. Everyone understands they have to focus on themselves first instead of relying on others. We have to make sure that individually we get our jobs done instead of looking over at the next person. We learned those little things from the past couple of years where those little things hurt us at the end of the day, and having a losing record every year. We’ve learned numerous times that we just have to finish the ballgame. We did last year, but everything slipped by us. We know we have the talent, we just have to keep working at it. If we keep working at it and play the full 60 minutes, we can win all these ball games.

Duke spring wrap

May, 8, 2012
2011 overall record: 3-9
2011 conference record: 1-7 (6th, Coastal)
Returning starters: Offense: 9; defense: 8; kicker/punter: 0

Top returners
WR Conner Vernon, WR Brandon Braxton, RT Perry Simmons, RG Laken Tomlinson, C Brian Moore, QB Sean Renfree, DE Justin Foxx, DT Sydney Sarmiento, DE Kenny Anunike, LB Kelby Brown, LB Austin Gamble, CB Ross Cockrell, S Jordon Byas, S Walt Canty

Key losses
WR Donovan Varner, LT Kyle Hill, NG Charlie Hatcher, CB Johnny Williams, S Matt Daniels, PK Will Snyderwine, P Alex King

2011 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Juwan Thompson* (457 yards)
Passing: Sean Renfree* (2,891 yards)
Receiving: Conner Vernon* (956 yards)
Tackles: Matt Daniels (126)
Sacks: Kenny Anunike* (4)
Interceptions: Matt Daniels (2)

Spring answers

1. Sean Renfree keeps improving: Coach David Cutcliffe has talked about a pro future for Renfree. Getting to pick the brain of Cutcliffe's pupil, Peyton Manning, probably doesn't hurt. Neither does turning in another strong spring, as Renfree returns for his third year as a starter hoping, once again, to help the program take the next step.

2. Offensive line is cohesive: Much of the production from last season's unit is back, and the group will only grow closer with an offseason volunteer trip to Ethiopia, where 11 of Duke's offensive linemen currently are. The unit could help pave the way for a talented incoming running back class, along with returning starter Juwan Thompson.

3. Conner Vernon ready to make plays: Cutcliffe has said it will take playmakers for Duke to take the next step, and he certainly has one in Vernon, who enters 2012 within striking distance of the ACC receiving record. Having an experienced quarterback such as Renfree throwing to him should help him in the pursuit.

Fall questions

1. Will the defense step up? It is Year 2 under coordinator Jim Knowles and his 4-2-5 scheme, and plenty of talent is back. Still, the unit loses safety Matt Daniels and ranked near the bottom of most defensive categories among ACC schools last season.

2. Can the Blue Devils handle this schedule? FIU and Stanford aren't exactly nonconference cupcakes, especially for a school that has traditionally been an ACC bottom-feeder. Time will only tell if those first two games, regardless of outcome, serve the Blue Devils well before jumping into their conference slate.

3. Is this The Year? Duke holds the longest current bowl-less drought, having not played in the postseason since 1994. Three of Duke's nine losses last season came by a combined seven points, perhaps suggesting that the team was closer to breaking through than many would think. There is plenty of returning talent in key spots, but a tough schedule and recent history suggest that it will still take a huge effort for the Blue Devils to extend their season.
Duke's spring season will end at 1 p.m. this Saturday, when the Blue Devils take the field at Wallace Wade Stadium for their spring game. I caught up with coach David Cutcliffe over the phone earlier this week to talk about injuries, expectations and the next step for the program.

What would count as a successful spring for you guys, and how close do you think you are to that with just a few days left?

David Cutcliffe: We've had an unusual spring. We've had a lot of starters that have missed the entire spring. So it put us in a little different light. Brian Moore, Conner Vernon, Braxton Deaver, Kenny Anunike, Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo, Kelby Brown, August Campbell, all guys that were returning starters. Desmond Scott on offense. So they've miss the entire spring and it's been difficult in that regard. So what was successful was to go out and kind of think players. Not plays, not systems. And see if we could go from kind of Point A to B with a lot of younger players and some of our more experienced players that are out there just being able to go to another level. So kind of really evaluated our team by evaluating individuals. So to this point I would tell you we've had a very successful spring in that regard. I think we've made more improvement with more players than any spring since we've had since we've been here. Hopefully when we get everybody available that computes to a much better football team, because with our schedule, Matt, it's going to take that.

[+] EnlargeDuke's David Cutcliffe
Mark Dolejs/US PRESSWIRE"This is a good team," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said, "now you just got to go win games, and that sounds simple, but that's about how simple it is."
That was going to get to my next point. Injuries aside, you obviously return a lot of starters. How important was it to build depth this spring and how much did you learn about some of those younger guys?

DC: I think it's been good. Right now we've got a good football team. And what we have learned here, at this point, we've been really, pretty good here. The record hasn't indicated anything. We've played a lot of good football. So there's another level we're hunting, and that's the next step for Duke football. Everybody asks you all the time: When is it going to come through? Well it already kind of has come through. This is a good team, now you just got to go win games, and that sounds simple, but that's about how simple it is.

You've said before publicly that good isn't good enough. What will it take for Duke to make the next step?

DC: I think that where you get into making critical plays. We need maybe some great playmakers that can do that to that level on a consistent basis, if you think about the teams winning in our league, there's a number of great playmakers. You just take the two teams that played for the championship. They had guys, both of them, had guys that just made great plays at critical times in critical opportunities, and they did it time and time again. We played Virginia Tech. We know at quarterback and at running back and [Jarrett] Boykin at receiver, and there were defensive players that made those critical plays. And you certainly look at Clemson, and they had the most playmakers in the league. And I think we've made great strides there in the recruiting parts of things and for us to go from being just a good team, we've got to have guys make some great plays for us at critical times that win games, and we haven't had enough of that, quite frankly. I think we have more of those guys and we're more equipped -- I don't think it, I know we're more equipped than we've ever been. I'm really excited and looking forward to seeing this team play.

Sean Renfree, Conner Vernon -- you have a lot of skill players returning. How high offensively do you set the bar?

DC: I would expect us to play very high. All of our backs have played. We have three quarterbacks that have played a lot. Not many people have that — certainly a starter in Sean Renfree that's very, very experienced. But [Anthony] Boone and [Brandon] Connette are as well. With Conner Vernon and Jamison Crowder and Blair Holliday, it allowed us to move Brandon Braxton to safety. But all of our receivers have played, and played well. Deaver at tight end, and we get him back. But we've got some young tight ends that are exciting, that have made plays all spring. I think our weapons are far deeper, and I think the beauty of all that is our line is kind of maturing at the same time those other guys are maturing. So I look for us to be much better offensively in production.

What did you take away from the scrimmage this past weekend?

DC: Again, thinking players, we had on both sides of the ball some huge plays made. Walt Canty in the secondary, [Lee] Butler and [Ross] Cockrell, people that have played again. Jordon Byas is playing the best football. Our secondary made some big plays. Up front Jamal Bruce and Dezmond Johnson and Sydney Sarmiento, and guys made big plays in the game. And then on offense just about everybody got in on the look. All the quarterbacks. Renfree had a big day, but David Reeves and Issac Blakeney, these young tight ends. Then Holliday, Crowder, Tyree Watkins -- just the people we had available to us made huge plays. And then our backs. Having Josh Snead back healthy, and Juwan Thompson, those two really got your attention Saturday. So I just felt good about the number of people that were contributing, and it was pretty well-played on both sides of the ball.

What would a bowl game mean for your players?

DC: There's no question that's part of the goal. What it would mean for me is not just these players but there's some vindication for the amount of work that's gone in to what we've done here with all the players that we've had in recent times. And certainly this staff, who, they're very close to each other. And this is an exceptional staff. All of the staff and the families, and then certainly the people, the fans of Duke football that have endured a long drought. It's a big deal, and it should be a big deal around here. And I don't think an average team with this schedule can be a bowl team. We can't be average; we've go to be well above average. You've got the schedule, you know what I'm saying is accurate. I'm not making an excuse, I'm just stating a fact: We're not going to be good enough if we're average.

How do you tell your players that? How do you get them to buy into that and know that it will take more than a typical performance from them this season?

DC: I've told them that. All I had to do was kind of just put the schedule, and just start writing up on the board and tell them that a lot of lesser people than them would crumble under this. You start looking at, we're playing Clemson, Florida State, not to leave anybody out. Miami and Florida State are two of the more talented teams in the country every year. Stanford. North Carolina's been as talented as anybody I know of in the country the last few years. Virginia Tech, Virginia. I could go on. Opening up with an FIU team that's a bowl team the last two years, all kinds of talent on that team. South Florida talent. We've got a lot of people that have played a lot of football. They know what's in front of them. And you've got to push and strive and do what you got to do to get past it. And I think this team is really looking forward to that challenge. Rather than worrying about it, I think they're looking forward to the opportunity that exists with it.

Week 12: Did you know?

November, 18, 2011
Thanks as always to the sports information directors at each school for this week's notes:

ACC: For the earliest time in its seven-year history, all of the public tickets available for sale to the Dr Pepper ACC championship game have been sold. That happened on Nov. 9. The only tickets remaining are the 10,000-seat team blocks for Clemson and the Coastal Division winner. Clemson has already received ticket requests which exceeds its 10,000-seat allotment, leaving the only block available at this point to be that of the Coastal Division champion, which will either be Virginia or Virginia Tech. In its six previous years, the championship game has drawn two crowds in excess of 72,000 fans and the 2011 game should at least match that if not set a record.

BOSTON COLLEGE: The Eagles ran only 49 plays in Saturday’s 14-10 win over NC State; the total tied a school record for fewest offensive snaps in an ACC game and was the Eagles’ lowest in a victory over an FBS opponent since Oct. 27, 2001, when BC had 47 plays in defeating Notre Dame 21-17. Saturday’s game took only 2 hours, 29 minutes; that’s 44 minutes below the national average.

CLEMSON: Coach Dabo Swinney has a winning percentage of 85.7 against ACC competition at home in Clemson’s Memorial Stadium. In the shadow of Howard’s Rock in Death Valley, the Tigers have posted a 12-2 mark under Swinney against conference opponents, including a 7-0 record this year.

DUKE: Duke has 19 rushing touchdowns through 10 games this season -- matching last year’s total for the most since 1994. Sophomore running back Juwan Thompson has seven rushing scores -- the highest total by a Duke running back since 2005 when Justin Boyle scored nine times on the ground.

FLORIDA STATE: Florida State enters Saturday’s home finale against Virginia looking to extend its winning streak against ACC opponents to six games. Since the Seminoles joined the league for the 1992 season, there have been a total of 15 six-game winning streaks among ACC teams, 10 of which belong to FSU. Florida State last strung together six ACC wins in 2003, when it won its first six league games en route to a 7-1 finish. Only Georgia Tech (2009, 2000) and Virginia Tech (2010, 2004) have posted multiple six-game conference win streaks. The Hokies can notch their third six-game conference winning streak by beating North Carolina Thursday night.

GEORGIA TECH: Senior A-back Roddy Jones will make his 50th career start Saturday at Duke. Assuming Jones starts the final three games (including the bowl game), he will have more career starts than any player in Georgia Tech history. Senior safety Rashaad Reid will play in his 51st career game Saturday at Duke. Assuming Reid plays in Tech’s remaining three games, he will tie the Yellow Jacket record for career games played.

MARYLAND: According to the Washington Times, Maryland has given up 500 yards on 14 occasions since 1997, and three of them have come in the Terrapins' last five games. It's the first time since 1999 that Maryland has surrendered three 500-yard performances.

MIAMI: Receiver Travis Benjamin became the sixth player in school history to surpass the 2,000-yard receiving mark with his 18-yard reception in the first quarter against Florida State. The senior entered the FSU game needing only three yards to reach the milestone. He now has 2,024 career receiving yards.

NORTH CAROLINA: Dwight Jones had six catches for 105 yards in the loss to Virginia Tech, making him only the second receiver at UNC to post 1,000 receiving yards in a season, following Hakeem Nicks in 2008. With tailback Giovani Bernard already over 1,000 yards, it marks the first time in school history that UNC has had a 1,000-yard rusher and a 1,000-yard receiver in the same season.

NC STATE: The Wolfpack are 5-0 this season when forcing three or more turnovers and are 0-5 when causing two or fewer.

VIRGINIA: When senior defensive tackle Matt Conrath blocked a field goal attempt by Duke in the first quarter of the Cavaliers’ 31-21 victory last Saturday, it marked the third time this year he has done that. Conrath now has five blocked PAT or FG attempts in his career. The fact he is 6-foot-7 certainly helps.

VIRGINIA TECH: On senior night, receiver Jarrett Boykin caught a career-high 10 passes for 106 yards in the win over UNC. Boykin became the first Tech player to catch 10 or more passes in a game since 1990 when Nick Cullen had 13 against Southern Miss. He has caught at least one pass in 47 of 51 career games and at least two passes in 41 of 51. Danny Coale had four catches for 37 yards. He has caught at least one pass in 48 of 52 career games and at least two passes in 42 of 52. Boykin, who holds the school record for career receptions (173) and career receiving yardage (2,752), has caught 50 passes this season, while Coale has 48. The school record for receptions in a season is 55 by Ernest Wilford in 2005.

WAKE FOREST: Jim Grobe has led Wake Forest to a number of close encounters during his 11 seasons as head coach but Saturday’s 31-28 loss at Clemson on a “walk-off” field goal was the first time that the Demon Deacons had lost in that manner under Grobe. In 2009, the Deacons scored a touchdown with :02 remaining to defeat Stanford but the final play of the game was a Wake Forest kickoff. The same was true in 2008 when Wake Forest scored a touchdown with :03 remaining to beat Ole Miss. The last true “walk-off” decision for Wake Forest occurred in 2006 when Duke missed a field goal on the final play of the game to preserve the Deacons’ 14-13 win over the Blue Devils.