Back in the top 25 for the first time since their 0-2 start, the Virginia Tech Hokies will look to keep the momentum going when the Duke Blue Devils enter Lane Stadium Saturday.
Under the tutelage of head coach David Cutcliffe, first-year starting quarterback Sean Renfree has all the tools at his fingertips to be a big-time player for Duke.
Cutcliffe was the offensive mastermind behind the teams at the University of Tennessee for 17 seasons.
He coached Peyton Manning to Southeastern Conference Player of the Year honors in 1997, and was the Frank Broyles award winner in 1998, an honor
recognizing the top assistant coach in the nation.
From Tennessee, Cutcliffe went to Ole Miss, where he would coach the younger Manning brother, Eli, molding him into a first-team All-American and the first overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft.
When Cutcliffe took the job at Duke in December 2007, he inherited another great passer in quarterback Thaddeus Lewis. In 2009, Lewis became one of just two players in ACC history to throw for 10,000+ yards in a
Known for his ability to develop successful quarterbacks, Cutcliffe was able to recruit the 3-star Renfree away from
schools such as Nebraska, Stanford and Oregon State.
The No. 15 quarterback recruit in the class of 2008, Renfree is already making big strides as the Duke signal-caller.
In six games thus far, Renfree has passed for more than 1,600 yards and added 10 touchdowns.
“You always prepare for the team and what strengths there are, they are very capable, very dangerous throwing the football,” said Frank Beamer, Tech head coach. “So yeah, you prepare during the week to counter what their strength is.”
Against Miami last week, Renfree had his worst start as a college quarterback. After going 18 of 38 for 157 yards with five interceptions, the sophomore was removed from the game in the fourth quarter for freshman Brandon
Renfree’s growing pains have been a big reason for the Blue Devils’ slow start. His 14 interceptions are the most in the country, yet
Cutcliffe still believes Renfree is the man for the job.
“I don’t think there is any question that a quarterback is naturally considered a leader on a team, not just because of their position, but their commitment,” Cutcliffe said. “I think our squad has confidence in (Sean), I can’t make that happen nor can he.
“You earn their confidence by displaying an undaunted belief in who you are, what you do and how you go about your business,” Cutcliffe said. “Then ultimately what it comes down to is performance on game day.”
Even though Duke is standing at 1-5, 0-3 in the ACC, the team has several bright spots on the roster.
At wide receiver, Duke has three standout players in Conner Vernon, Donovan Varner and Austin Kelly. Each averages more than five catches per game, with Vernon at 6.2 per game, good for first in the ACC.
Vernon, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, has quickly become one of Renfree’s favorite targets. While not one of the fastest or biggest guys on the field, Vernon has become a Wes Welker-type of receiver in offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s spread attack.
Varner and Vernon were high school teammates at Gulliver Prep in Miami, Fl. The two have combined for 169 receiving yards per game this year, better than any other duo in the ACC.
While the receivers are carrying the offense, weakside linebacker Abraham Kromah is holding his own trying to stop the opposition. The redshirt senior tallied 58 total tackles through six games, 12 of which came in the Blue Devils’ game against Miami.