Duke football defeated Florida International 46-26 Saturday evening at Wallace Wade Stadium in the team’s season opener. Supported by a sizeable crowd of fans and students, the Blue Devils fought through sloppy play to capture their first win. Here is a breakdown and report card of the different parts of Duke’s game.
Pass: The Blue Devils’ aerial attack looks to be their biggest asset. Though quarterback Sean Renfree lacked crispness in his passes early and gave up an interception on a poorly thrown ball intended for Jamison Crowder, he was efficient, completing 21-of-30 attempts for 290 yards. The offense will have to rely on Renfree delivering the ball consistently to standout receiver Conner Vernon, who amassed 180 yards on 10 catches with a touchdown, in order to see success throughout the season.
Rush: Running back Josh Snead led the Duke rushing game by recording a touchdown and averaging 6.7 yards per carry on seven touches. Juwan Thompson and backup quarterback Brandon Connette made significant contributions to the rushing attack as well. The rush game was not spectacular, but it helped to provide some balance to the offense. Connette, who is transitioning to a wildcat-type role, debuted in the backfield behind Renfree. Look for him to make an impact as the Blue Devils’ own Tim Tebow.
X’s and O’s: There were a slew of penalties, including an unsportsmanlike conduct call on a touchdown, which bogged down the offense. Duke relied heavily on big plays, holding possession for three fewer minutes than FIU. They also found difficulty sustaining drives, converting only 3-of-13 third down plays. The Blue Devils will need to control the ball and the flow of the game more in the future against much stronger competition.
Pass: FIU’s pass attack revealed some weaknesses in the Duke secondary which more talented team can easily expose. On the second play from scrimmage, the Devils gave up a 67-yard touchdown due to botched coverage. FIU was able to rely on its passing game to fuel its drives, accruing 348 yards through the air. The secondary needs to improve its coverage, specifically against shorter throws.
Rush: The Blue Devils’ defensive line was strong after the first quarter, holding FIU’s rush attack to only 3.7 yards per attempt on the game. Duke relied on key turnovers, including two fumbles, to keep FIU from scoring at a higher rate. They will need to improve their interior defense in order to keep up with stronger opponents who will be able to sustain long drives and maintain possession.
X’s and O’s: The defense seemed a bit sluggish at the onset. The Devils will need to maintain energy from the first snap throughout the game to succeed in the future. Penalties will become a problem unless Duke shows more discipline in the coverage game and at the line of scrimmage. The Blue Devils simply cannot give up 500 yards against teams like Stanford and Clemson and hope to have a chance to compete.
Special Teams: A-
Special teams proved to be the strongest aspect of Duke’s game. Despite some early jitters, highly touted freshman kicker Ross Martin displayed his talent with several touchbacks and solid offensive kicking. Holder and punter Will Monday flubbed a hold on one extra point attempt, but put in a solid performance punting, averaging 45.2 yards per punt. Special teams was responsible for many of the Blue Devils’ defensive stops, blocking two field goals, including an attempt at the end of the first half that was returned for a touchdown by cornerback Ross Cockrell. More practice will undoubtedly prove beneficial.