by Mike Potter
BROOKS FOOTBALL BUILDING/DURHAM Duke definitely got its football season off on, well, the right foot in its season-opening 41-27 win over a very good Football Championship Subdivision team from Elon three days ago.
Duke’s next assignment is at noon Saturday at Wake Forest, which has managed to win the last 10 games in the series. The Deacons, who opened their campaign with a 53-13 over transitioning FCS member Presbyterian on Thursday night, beat Duke 45-34 last season at Wallace Wade Stadium.
The Blue Devils had plenty of positive signs in their entertaining season opener. In his first start Sean Renfree completed 31 of 39 passes for 350 yards and two touchdowns — with most of the yardage to mainstays Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon — and the team rushed for 192 yards including 77 and a touchdown from Desmond Scott.
The defense got a test but passed it, intercepting Phoenix quarterback Scott Riddle twice in the second half to foil any ideas of a miracle comeback by the visitors.
“I feel like we (the defense) played OK,” senior captain and linebacker Abraham Kromah said Tuesday at Cutcliffe’s weekly media luncheon. “We won, so there’s no complaint there. We learned a lot of things, and they exposed a lot of things we need to get better at. We let up a lot of big plays and missed a lot of tackles. Those things can be fixed, so that’s always encouraging. Most of the mistakes were on the mental and not the physical side. We’re capable of being better, so it’s up to us to really get it done.”
Kromah of course has something in common with all his teammates, in that they have never beaten the Deacons.
“I feel like it’s a very big rivalry,” Kromah said. “Some of the guys and I have been here for a long time. The stakes are very high. I feel like they have a very good program, and over the years they’ve won and done a lot of great things.”
Cutcliffe didn’t disagree with the premise that for the Blue Devils to start having good seasons they’re going to have to have better results against their private school counterparts from Winston-Salem.
“It’s obvious stepping right into conference play changes a lot of things,” Cutcliffe said. “This one goes on your record twice, I told the kids. And it explains the importance of what we have — playing a Wake Forest team that looks a lot like a Jim Grobe football team. They run, they’re physical, and they played the heck out of both sides of the ball and the kicking game (against the Blue Hose.) Their return game concerns me a great deal. Their running backs have a lot of ability and they have a lot of them. They have a great offensive line and a young quarterback (Ted Stachitas) who played real well. He can throw, can make throws and can run the football.
“We had good work on the practice field (on Tuesday), but we have to change gears. No offense to Elon, but this is a physical Wake Forest team and we’re going to have to be a much more physical team on both sides of the ball to have any opportunity to go and get a road win this week. … If we’re not physical, we’re in trouble. You can’t get ready for that kind of run game and that kind of defensive pressure not hitting. The physicalness of practice was a positive thing.”
Scott, the Durham Hillside product who seems well established in the running back spot as a sophomore, said he’s just looking forward to playing a conference opponent.
“It’s ACC football — what more can you ask for?” Scott said. “It’s different preparation because it’s a conference game. I think the performance (against Elon) was OK from all the running backs. It was the first game, so you’re going to have your little faults here and there. But all we’re going to do is get better. I think (the first drive when he scored his touchdown) was a great lift. We talk about ‘explosives,’ and we had two explosives on that first drive. I think the team got a high off them.”
The Blue Devils also got a high off the play of Renfree, who was stepping into the shoes of Thaddeus Lewis who is not only the leading passer in school history but also the newest St. Louis Ram.
“I was satisfied to get my first start out of the way and see what being a starter is actually like,” Renfree said. “Statistically I had a pretty good game. But there was a lot to learn from and I could have helped my team even better. But I was pretty satisfied. Elon is a great team and there was a reason they’re ranked. They’re very well-coached. Their offense and defense are sound and they played really, really hard. …
“The running game was phenomenal. There’s a lot of work to be done there, but the young guys did a good job for their first game and the line did a great job as well. Elon ran a bunch of multiple fronts and our line handled that well. Wake does some similar stuff. It was encouraging to see we can run it when we want to.”