Conner Vernon is better than pretty much any receiver in Duke football history and soon ACC history, and he proved it on Saturday night. Vernon, the Blue Devils' senior record breaking receiver caught 10 passes for 180 yards and a touchdown in Saturday's win over FIU. He moved past former high school and Duke teammate Donovan Varner for career receptions. Varner set the mark just last season.
Last year as well as the season before that Vernon and Varner's chemistry on the football field helped them become the most prolific receiving tandems in the history of the ACC. The two combined for 384 receptions, and 5,171 yards and 25 touchdowns.
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Varner a year ahead of Vernon set the Duke school record for receptions last season and when Vernon arrived on campus he almost immediately became a compliment to his former teammate. But by last season, as good as Varner was, it was apparent that Vernon was going to break his records.
That happened on Saturday with Vernon moving past his friend and former teammate for first place on the Duke receptions list with 208 catches. It also moved him into fourth place on the all-time ACC list with receptions. He currently sits just 463 yards behind former Duke great and College Football Hall of Fame member Clarkston Hines for that Duke record.
The fact that Vernon is on the verge of breaking records given his career so far, isn't a shock. Everyone saw it coming like the ending of a Disney movie. The one thing that may have not been seen and that did come out of Saturday's game is the fact that it appears the Blue Devils have found a compliment to him.
There were a lot of concerns heading into the season following the departure of Varner, then the catastrophic injury to Blair Holliday, that the Blue Devils wouldn't have anyone to pair with Vernon at the receiver position.
The fear was teams would double team Vernon, and with no other reliable receiver available, the Duke offense would struggle. But those inside the program including Vernon knew there was at least one player that could fill that void.
It ended up being Jamison Crowder.
Crowder finished the game with six catches for 102 yards and a touchdown along with one reception of 60 yards. Coming into the FIU game Crowder had played sparingly as a freshman at receiver and was primarily a return specialist.
Everyone knew he was a talent but could he be that second option for the Blue Devils offense.
He caught only 14 passes for a total of 163 yards and a touchdown all of last season. He was fast and quick but his strength and conditioning kept him from becoming a starter. Many were hoping he could compliment Vernon but until Saturday, no one really knew if he would.
And for a time it appeared that Crowder and Vernon were playing a game of 'anything you can do I can do better.' Crowder would have a big catch, and then not to be out done, Vernon would come up with a few big receptions.
When Crowder caught his touchdown pass, he used his improved strength to almost drag a defender into the endzone. Vernon would come out in the third quarter and put the punctuation on Duke's performance by breaking several tackles on his way to a 28 yard touchdown reception of his own.
After the game I asked Crowder if he and Vernon had developed a rivalry of sorts and he said that he saw himself as more of a compliment to Vernon.
He admitted he worked hard in the off season to improve his strength and condition, something coach David Cutcliffe had alluded to in the preseason with regard to Crowder's ability to break tackles.
Crowder, though, appeared humble and ready to differ to his senior captain, but his performance and its potential windfalls for the Duke offense, wasn't lost on either Vernon or the Blue Devils quarterback, Sean Renfree.
"If we can have that from him every night; he (Crowder) is going to be a highly successful receiver," Vernon said after the game.
"It is huge," Renfree said of Crowder's performance.
"Whenever we have two threats like that it makes things much easier for me and for Conner and everybody else with the play calling."
Having two potentially deep ball targets with speed will make the Blue Devil's offense that much better this year.
And they are certainly going to need Vernon and Crowder to compliment each other and help Renfree and the Duke offense move the chains and get on the scoreboard, something they didn't have trouble doing Saturday night.
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