DURHAM, N.C. - Duke coach David Cutcliffe believes his offense will keep moving no matter who’s in at quarterback.
Heading into Saturday’s game against No. 10 Clemson, the Blue Devils have thrived behind fifth-year senior starter Sean Renfree. But the Blue Devils have also proven they can move the ball with sophomore backup Anthony Boone, a sign of the program’s improved depth that has helped Duke stay in contention for an Atlantic Coast Conference division title.
“I think that position is indicative of a lot of where we are,” Cutcliffe said. “It goes back to we’ve recruited well. Good football players run through every class in our program.”
The Blue Devils (6-3, 3-2 ACC) are tied atop the Coastal Division standings and are bowl eligible for the first time since 1994. Renfree has thrown for nearly 1,900 yards and 11 touchdowns to lead an offense averaging 32 points per game. But Boone and fellow backup Brandon Connette have filled in capably when Renfree has been banged up this year.
Renfree suffered an elbow injury that knocked him out at Wake Forest. But Boone scored the go-ahead touchdown with 11:35 left, while Connette ran for a pair of short TDs to help Duke win 34-27 for their first win in the series since 1999.
Then, when Renfree sat out the following week against Virginia, Boone threw for 212 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-17 home win.
“I think any good team should have depth, not only at quarterback but any position,” Renfree said. “An injury here or there shouldn’t limit what you can do offensively. I think our coaches have done a great job across the board and making sure that doesn’t happen.”
That hasn’t always been the case, though. At least part of Duke’s long-running struggles could be attributed to a lack of quality depth, meaning the loss of one key player could hinder the Blue Devils more than most teams.
One notable example came in Cutcliffe’s first year in 2008. Duke averaged about 21 points and 304 yards per game that year, but managed 136 yards and six first downs while playing without starting quarterback Thad Lewis in a 14-3 loss at Virginia Tech.
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables doesn’t see any similar drop-off from Renfree to Boone.
“They’ve got the running quarterback schemes that are built in to take advantage of certain things,” Venables said. “They’ve got two quarterbacks on the field at once to try to get you to pick your poison about what you want to do schematically. So they’ve got a lot of depth to what they do offensively and it all goes through the quarterback’s ability to execute and manage the offense. They’ve caused a whole lot of people a lot of issues, a lot of problems.”
Renfree is listed as probable for Clemson after leaving last week’s Florida State loss with an unspecified head injury following a jarring second-quarter hit. Boone has played every game regardless of Renfree’s health with his run-pass ability, while Connette has been a short-yardage specialist.
“That’s been a huge bonus for our squad,” Cutcliffe said. “Because it’s not that I have confidence - what I see is regardless of who’s at quarterback, our team feels like it’s going to function and play well.”