For a player that didn’t know he was going to start with 10 minutes until kickoff, quarterback Anthony Boone returned with a bang for Duke in Saturday’s 35-7 victory against Navy.
After Boone fractured his collarbone in week two against Memphis, redshirt junior Brandon Connette adopted the starting role and led Duke to a 2-2 record. Connette was actually slated to start the game as late as 10 minutes before kickoff—the decision to go with Boone even surprised several of his teammates.
“[I found out Boone was starting] right before the game,” wide receiver Jamison Crowder said. “We had a little part in the pregame warmup that we go against the defense, and I saw Boone was starting. So I was surprised but I think when Boone came in, a lot of the guys kind of had a little chip on their shoulder, a little edge and we were able to go out there and play well.”
Connette, it turns out, rolled his ankle while jogging to practice early in the week. After practicing Friday, Connette tested it out again during pregame warmups but deemed himself unfit to play, head coach David Cutcliffe said. But even with the late notice, Boone was ready to go.
“The trainers and our [physical therapy] staff have done a real good job taking care of me,” Boone said. “The [offensive line] did a great job of protecting me and the scheme got me a chance to get the ball out quick and got my confidence building.”
Boone’s poise throughout the game was the most impressive facet of his return, as he was able to evade defenders and follow through on his passes with confidence. But Boone made sure when he scrambled—unlike Boone of old who would take on defenders shoulder first—to get out of bounds or slide to limit his hits.
“I’ve got to play a little bit smarter for a while,” Boone said. “Make sure I’m not taking on too many unnecessary hits.”
This poise allowed Boone to be efficient, which would be the best way to describe his impressive comeback performance. He threw for 295 yards and three scores while managing to complete 82 percent of his passes in a 31-of-38 performance. Boone's yardage and completion numbers were both career highs, but Cutcliffe was quick to praise the quarterback who stepped in during his four-week absence from the lineup.
“I’m proud of Brandon Connette being honest with me,” Cutcliffe said. “And then Anthony just slipped in like he hadn’t missed a beat….I mean 31-of-38, that’s just ridiculous.”
Even in the scoreless first quarter, Boone was efficient. He completed 8-of-10 passing attempts. The only negative was the fact that Boone was sacked twice in the first quarter. This was something that would not happen for the rest of the contest, as the offensive line’s play improved along with Boone’s pocket presence.
“After the first quarter I felt very comfortable,” Boone said. “The first couple downs, the first couple series were kind of like flying bullets and I was kind of getting used to it, things flying around and the speed of the game.”
One of the most telling numbers from the game was how Boone led the team in the red zone. While Navy struggled, going 1-for-3, Duke managed to convert on 4-of-6 trips inside the Midshipmen’s 20-yard line. Boone threw for two of those scores, with one coming to Blakeney and the other to Max McCafferey.
Boone and the offense were also effective in third down situations. Punter Will Monday was held to a season-low two punts throughout the contest, as the offensive unit converted 10-of-16 third-down opportunities.
With 10 connections for 88 yards, the signal-caller’s timing with Crowder could make for a lethal combination. Following the junior’s third game this season with double-digit receptions, the Blue Devils will move deeper into ACC play.
“I think it’s good that he’s back,” Crowder said. “Because I really didn’t know where he stood with the shoulder injury. To see him come back in, get his confidence back and make throws like that, I think it’s good. It’s going to help us build our confidence as we get ready to go into ACC play.”