Having suffered the loss of starting quarterback Sean Renfree late against Wake Forest, Duke football put the onus of leading the team to victory on the shoulders of inexperienced Anthony Boone. Boone’s ability to use his legs to gain yardage as well as throw proved valuable to the Blue Devils against the Cavalier defense. The offense, although consistently strong this season, had to modify its approach with Boone at the helm. What is evident about this revamped offensive style from the statistics is primarily a dependence on long yardage plays for success and a need for increased turnover efficiency on both sides of the ball.
During the game against Memphis, Duke controlled time of possession, holding the ball 13 minutes more than the Tigers. With Renfree at quarterback, the Blue Devils relied on ball possession and sustaining long drives to score points. Because Renfree is skilled in both the long and short passing game, Duke used a mix of screens and the occasional long throw to move down the field, overcoming abysmal performances from the rushing attack. A large number of touchdowns came from short yard rushes in the wildcat package. Because Renfree completes shorter passes efficiently, the Blue Devils had more opportunities in the red zone.
With Boone at quarterback against Virginia, Duke lost the possession battle, yet scored far more points than the Cavaliers. The key against Virginia was in the deep pass plays and larger rushing gains. Boone averaged 37 yards per passing touchdown against the Cavaliers. The two rushing touchdowns were 11 yards and 34 yards. The Blue Devils relied on these large chunks of yardage to score, mostly due to the fact that Boone was less effective in the short passing game. Drives became a couple rushing plays, a short pass or two, and then one shot over the top that the skillful Duke receivers often caught with relative ease.
Though Duke kept control of the ball for two fewer minutes than Virginia, the offense recorded 25 more points than the Cavaliers. Boone provides a multi-threat option at quarterback that Renfree doesn’t. Defenses are forced to guard against the chance he scrambles from the pocket and gains yards on the ground, which opens up the offense for the Blue Devils. With the defense doubly concerned with an improving rushing attack and a nimble quarterback, there is more opportunity to exploit weaknesses in the secondary. Boone, though not as efficient as Renfree in short opportunities, possesses a complexity to his game that gives Duke greater opportunity to score and score quickly against opponents.
When not controlling possession as well, the Blue Devil defense will feel increased pressure to hold opposing offenses to fewer scoring opportunities. The key will be whether the secondary can continue to be potent in causing turnovers. Should they force multiple interceptions, the Boone offensive system will be effective. However, if the Blue Devils are unable to contain high-caliber ACC offenses, then the Renfree offensive system would give Duke the best opportunity to succeed on the field.
When Renfree returns to quarterback, likely within the next couple games, the question will be whether the Blue Devils can combine his offensive style with their increased defensive efficiency and earn victories over teams like this week’s opponent, Virginia Tech.