It was like a broken record for Duke football last season. It was like a broken record for Duke football last season. It was like a broken record for Duke football last season. It was a second consecutive 3-9 season, followed by questions as to when or if Duke football will be relevant again. The Blue Devils have won 25 games this century, and 15 of those have come since David Cutcliffe took over the program four years ago. As much as the program has progressed, the question is if Cutcliffe can get the Blue Devils to a bowl game for the first time since 1994.
While a bit mistake prone, Sean Renfree is a very capable quarterback. Renfree completed 65% of his passes last year, and is for his career, has completed 63% of his passes. He was able to cut down on his interceptions last year to 11 from 17 the year before, while equaling his touchdown passes from the year before at 14. Renfree's passing yards were down last year from the year before, but he also did throw fewer passes last year. Duke's success on offense will hinge on Renfree's ability to cut down on the turnovers. The team has had a turnover differential of at least -10 two years in a row.
When you look at the rushing stats, you'll see why it's not a big part of the offense. On five different occasions last year did the running game average less than 2.3 yards per carry in a game. In fairness, Duke's top two backs were a lot better than those numbers showed. Desmond Scott only started four games, but was better in terms of yards per carry (5.1) than Juwan Thompson (4.2). Thompson led with seven rushing touchdowns, and in yards with 457. Both will see some carries this year. Josh Snead could see some time too after missing last season due to injury.
The interesting question at wide receiver will be who replaces the production that is no longer there. Of course, Conner Vernon is still around. He's coming of a 70 catch, 956 yard season. But Donovan Varner and tight end Cooper Helfet are gone. The two combined for over 100 catches and over 1000 yards last year. But there is still talent at the position. Jamison Crowder will see a lot more time this year, and should have a nice season. Nick Hill, a redshirt freshman, should also see time this year. The tight end position will be relatively inexperienced, but should still be a big part of the offense.
As much as Duke likes to throw, the big stat is that the quarterbacks attempted 493 passes, but were sacked only 19 times, and 11 of those were in two games (Stanford and Florida State). The sack numbers have gone down three years in a row, and those numbers could go down more this year with four starters back on the offensive line. The only new starter will be at left tackle, where Takoby Cofield figures to take over. The experience on the line should help in the running game too.
If Duke wants to go to a bowl again, they are going to need to be much better on defense. The Blue Devils defense has given up on average over 30 points per game in five of the last seven years. On the plus side, the points per game dropped four points per game last year from the year before. And nine starters are back. Getting Kenny Anunike back is a huge plus for the defensive line. He had four sacks in the first four games (which led the team for the whole season), but was injured and missed the rest of the season. With another year of experience for Justin Foxx and Sidney Sarmiento, this should be one of the stronger parts of the defense.
Linebacker is going to be a bit of a question mark with an injury to Kelby Brown, who was third on the team in tackles last season, and led the team in tackles for loss. It's not out of the question that his younger brother, Kyler, a redshirt freshman, could end up taking that spot. Senior Austin Gamble does return coming off of a 43 tackle season.
The secondary will have an interesting story coming out of it. Brandon Braxton, who was a wide receiver last year, and caught 40 passes, will transition to the secondary. He certainly knows how to catch the football, and now it's all about if he can stop someone from catching the football. Joining him in the secondary are Ross Cockrell, a junior who has started all but one game in his career, and Lee Butler, a senior who missed the final eight games of the season due to injury. Safety will be a question mark after Matt Daniels graduated. His 126 tackles were nearly 40 more than fellow safety Walt Canty, who does return. Look for senior Jordan Byas, who does have some starting experience, to take Daniels' spot.
I don't know what was wrong with Will Snyderwine, but he was an absolute disaster last year, after being nearly automatic in his previous two years. Snyderwine had hit on 86% of his field goals as a sophomore and junior, but plummeted down to 47% last year. He had more success kicking between 31 and 49 yards (4-7) than inside of 30 yards (4-8). His replacement will be a freshman. Will Monday and Ross Martin will battle for the kicking spot, but Monday will handle the punting duties. Jamison Crowder handled the majority of the returning duties last year, and will do so again this year.
Just how bad have things been for Duke? Duke has not been ranked in the AP poll since 1994. This is a span of 253 weeks of football. That year, they were ranked as high as 13th in the polls.
When you first started reading this, you'll notice how I mention how last season was like a broken record. Every year brings about the same sort of issues that leads to another year of missing a bowl. The Blue Devils don't run the ball well, and they don't stop anyone on defense. They could be better at both this year, but it won't be a drastic change. The kicking game is being handled by freshmen. This is a big question mark. The schedule is absolutely brutal in the second half of the season. In a span of four weeks in October, they play at Virginia Tech, host UNC, go to Florida State, and host Clemson. That's a guaranteed 0-4. This will probably be another four or five win season.