>In just two years, Head Coach David Cutcliffe has turned Duke into a school that just looked forward to basketball season to one that can challenge for a bowl berth every year. The Blue Devils came one game short of a 6-6 season which would have qualified them for a bowl. And fans have a lot to look forward to this year, as the team returns 18 starters from last year’s squad.
Offense - The offense returns nine of 11 starters from last years’ squad, which combined for nearly 370 yards per game. Unfortunately, one of those starters who aren’t coming back are Thaddeus Lewis, who threw for 3,330 of the team’s 3,660 yards and 20 of 24 passing touchdowns last season.
The only quarterback returning with any type of game experience is redshirt sophomore Sean Renfree, who threw for the other 330 yards and four touchdowns. Sean Schroeder is coming off of a freshman season where he redshirted, while Brandon Connette comes straight from high school but enrolled early and participated in spring ball.
Luckily for the Blue Devils, they return the majority of their top rushers. Although their rushing stats may not have been the most impressive, the experience of all the players, including Desmond Scott, who led the team in rushing, will help the ease of the new quarterback. Scott led the team with 262 yards and scored one of the teams’ six rushing touchdowns. Jay Hollingsworth and Patrick Kurunwune also return after seeing a lot of game action last year.
By far the strongest part of the offense will be the wide receivers. The team’s top receiver, junior Donovan Varner returns after catching 65 balls for 1.047 yards and eight touchdowns. The other two starters, Connor Vernon and Austin Kelly, also return. Vernon had quite a breakout freshman year after grabbing 55 passes for 746 yards and three touchdowns. Kelly had 54 catches for 625 yards and four touchdowns.
Defense - The defense returns six starters from last year’s team, including two starters from each the defensive backfield, linebacker and defensive line units.
The defensive backfield’s two returning starters, Matt Daniels and Chris Rwabukamba, both finished in the top six of tacklers from last year. Daniels finished third on the team in tackles with 83 and had three tackles for loss, six passes broken up and three forced fumbles. Rwabukamba, on the other hand, was sixth on the team with 46 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and seven passes broken up. After starting eight games at cornerback, Lee Butler moves over to one safety spot opposite of Daniels. Butler had 39 tackles and an interception last season. Butler’s interception makes him the only one coming back after intercepting a pass last year, as all of the others are no longer members of the team.
The linebackers bring back some nice pieces as well in starters Damian Thornton and Abraham Kromah. Thornton finished fourth on the team with 60 tackles and fifth on the team with six tackles for loss. This year, however, the senior slides over from the Will Linebacker position, where he started 11 games last season. Despite playing in only seven games, Kromah finished seventh on the team in tackles with 40 and also had two and a half tackles for loss. Adam Banks (no not the player from the Mighty Ducks movies) looks to take the other linebacker spot after coming up with 33 stops in 2009.
Defensive end Patrick Egboh and nose guard Charlie Hatcher return to their starting spots again this year. Hatcher had 39 tackles last season and seven tackles for loss, which was fourth on the team. Egboh pitched in with 34 tackles and three tackles for loss, as well as a sack and two passes broken up.
Recruiting - This year’s class consists of 19 student-athletes, including many who look to fill in holes on the roster. The Blue Devils brought in two quarterbacks, although Brandon Connette starts with more experience after enrolling early and playing in the spring. As a senior Connette threw for 1,961 yards and 18 touchdowns, while rushing for 462 yards and 12 more touchdowns. As a senior, Josh Snead rushed for 1,932 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Linebacker recruit Kelby Brown comes to Durham after a very impressive senior year. In his last year as a high schooler, he logged 105 tackles, five sacks, three fumble recoveries and two interceptions. Dezmond Johnson, a defensive line prospect, is coming off of a season where he posted 71 tackles, 18 sacks and three fumble recoveries.
Schedule - The development of the young players will be tested early as thus year’s schedule us a bit stronger than last years. After starting the season with a home game against Elon and a road game at Wake Forest, defending champion Alabama comes to Durham to pay the Blue Devils a visit. The team ends the month with a home game against Army. October brings a visit from Miami, while trips to Maryland, Virginia Tech and Navy are also on the docket. The Miami and VA Tech games are back to back. Duke ends the season with three of its last four games at home. Virginia, Boston College visit Durham, while the Devils go to Georgia Tech. The rivalry game with North Carolina ends the season, with the Tar Heels coming to Duke.