Weeks after Peyton Manning put Duke in the national spotlight as he worked out for NFL teams on campus, quarterbacks were still the story at Duke’s Spring Game.
Five different Blue Devils lined up under center Saturday afternoon as White beat Blue, 38-24.
“Schematically, we don’t have everything in that we’ll do,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “But we’ve got players who can make plays, and that’s the key.”
Sean Renfree, Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone led the Blue offense against the White defense in a matchup of probable starters and their backups.
Sean Schroder led the White offense to the game’s first score, though, putting the team on the board with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Nick Hill. On Blue’s next possession, Jordon Byas jumped Blair Holliday’s out route and intercepted Renfree’s underthrown pass, returning it 32 yards for a touchdown.
“It was a poor decision,” said Renfree, who completed 10-of-24 passes for 104 yards and two interceptions. “I was trying to throw it away, and I just didn’t throw it high enough.”
Thomas Sirk, who split snaps with Schroeder, extended White’s lead to 21-0 early in the second quarter when he found Hill for a 15-yard score. Runs from redshirt freshman walk-on running back Eric Adams— who gained 107 yards on 31 rushes and caught three passes for 32 yards—set up the touchdown.
“My offensive line was doing great today, and I got a lot of carries because of it,” Adams said. “When the run’s working, you’ve got to keep running to open up the pass.”
Connette led Blue back into the game in the second quarter, scoring on a 30-yard run up the middle and helping set up a 25-yard field goal on the team’s last possession of the half.
After the break, Josh Snead, who missed all last season with a foot injury, nearly put Blue right back in the game. The redshirt sophomore broke off a run down the right side of the field, initially beating the entire defense. About 15 yards from the end zone, though, Brandon Braxton dove and clipped his feet, slowing the running back just enough for Ross Cockrell—the most valuable defensive player—to knock the ball loose.
Snead tried to dive on the ball as it bounced around the end zone, but it rolled out of bounds for a White touchback.
“I looked in the jumbotron and didn’t see him,” Snead said. “Fundamentals and technique got me. It happens.”
The White offense took advantage of the momentum swing, marching down the field in just over three minutes before Sirk found Brandon Watkins over the middle for a 28-yard score to take a 28-10 lead.
Blue countered with a touchdown of its own on the ensuing possession, highlighted by a 36-yard gain on a screen pass from Boone to Connette, who found Jamison Crowder wide open down the field. The team would cut the deficit to just 31-24 when Connette hooked up with Snead on a 28-yard score with 6:45 left in the game.
Blue’s faster-paced offense highlighted the final minutes, which has been a major focus of Cutcliffe and his staff throughout the spring.
“We’re just trying to snap it three to four seconds faster, which you wouldn’t think is that much of a problem for a defense, but three or four seconds can mean a lot,” Renfree said.
But Renfree and the Blue offense produced a fumble, a turnover-on-downs and an interception—which Kyler Brown returned 34 yards for a touchdown—on their final three possessions.
“We just have to focus on our turnovers, because that’s been our Achilles’ heel,” Renfree said. “Otherwise, I thought it was a very good day.”