GLIMPSE OF FUTURE
Replacing the highly productive quarterback-receiver duo of Sean Renfree and Conner Vernon is high on Duke’s priority list entering the 2013 football season.
In the Blue Devils’ spring game on Saturday at Wallace Wade Stadium, quarterback Anthony Boone and wide receiver Jamison Crowder went a long way towards easing worried minds.
Boone tossed a pair of touchdown passes to Crowder, including one covering 22 yards, leading the Blue over the White 27-12.
As seniors last fall, Renfree and Vernon capped their careers by helping Duke reach a bowl game for the first time since the 1994 season.
Boone and Crowder played important roles as well. But as both prepare for their junior seasons this fall, their importance to Duke’s offense has increased.
“We lost playmakers in Conner and Desmond (Scott) and Sean,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “But I think we have a large number of people who can make plays for us on offense.”
Crowder caught four passes for a game-high 71 yards, scoring touchdowns on catches of 22 and 4 yards from Boone. Issac Blakeney led the Blue team, comprised mostly of the projected starters on offense, with five catches, good for 66 yards.
Boone completed 18 off 30 passes for 273 yards and two touchdowns. He threw a pair of interceptions and was sacked twice.
“We made a lot of plays but we left a lot of plays in the field,” Boone said. “This is our 15th practice and the defense was all over our plays. But for the most part I felt our offense was efficient and a lot of guys were on the field making plays.”
Crowder, who caught 76 passes for 1,074 yards last season, said the fact that the defenders were so familiar with Duke’s routes made his day even more satisfying.
“This whole spring it’s been tough catching passes and being able to move the ball down the field because they have known all of our routes for the whole course of the spring,” Crowder said. “Today it felt good to put on a little show against a defense that’s been pretty much jumping all our routes. It felt good. It felt real good.”
The White team had a surprising player at quarterback in freshman Parker Boehme, who enrolled at Duke in January. Having not practiced all spring due to toe surgery, Boehme was cleared to play this week.
Still, the coaches didn’t plan to use him in the spring game. But when redshirt freshman quarterback Thomas Sirk suffered a ruptured Achilles’ tendon in practice on Wednesday, the Blue Devils found themselves short at the position.
Boehme completed 11 of 13 passes for 128 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown pass to Jack Wise.
“I can’t say enough about what that guy did,” Cutcliffe said.
Sirk had been No. 2 on the depth chart behind Boone. Redshirt junior Brandon Connette now holds that position. But Cutcliffe said Boehme could find his way into that role this fall since the Blue Devils like using Connette in several different positions (wide receiver, tight end, running back) to take advantage of his athleticism.
Connette, who missed spring practice recovering from offseason surgery, has rushed for 17 touchdowns in his career.
“We’ve got a style of offense we’ve kind of headed toward we feel like we have to play to win,” Cutcliffe said. “I don’t want to play cautious. We can’t play or live like that.”
On defense, Duke was missing nine players Saturday because of injuries.
But one player glad to finally be part of the game plan is safety Jeremy Cash, a transfer from Ohio State who sat out last season under NCAA transfer rules. A redshirt sophomore, Cash recorded five tackles, including one for lost yardage, and also intercepted a Boone pass.
“I feels good to be back out here,” Cash said. “The 4-2-5 scheme, after having a year of practice, I feel I can contribute a lot to it.”
Cash only played the first half on Saturday because he took a hit that the Duke medical staff feared might have caused a concussion. But Cash said afterward that he was feeling fine.
Freshman cornerback Quay Mann of Rocky Mount, another January freshman enrollee, had the other interception against Boone.
“Anthony suffered a couple of turnovers but the defense is creating more,” Cutcliffe said. “I think that’s been the story of the spring.”
Duke went 6-7 last season, its most wins since the 1994 campaign. But the Blue Devils ended the season on a five-game losing streak, including a 48-34 Belk Bowl loss to Cincinnati in Charlotte.
Cutcliffe saw enough this spring — and Saturday — to feel good about another strong season this fall.
“I like where we’re headed,” Cutcliffe said. “We’re building some depth. I think we can be a more energetic defense. The big thing is focusing on why we give up big plays, but trying to play defense, trying to force longer drives. It’s going to be interesting film to study. We got a lot out of this game.”
Blue 27, White 12
Duke White 0 9 3 0—12
Duke Blue 7 10 3 7—27
Blue—Crowder 22 pass from Boone (Martin kick), 5:05
White—FG 31 Willoughby, 11:56
Blue—Crowder 4 pass from Boone (Martin kick), 8:54
Blue—FG 25 Martin, 3:54
White—Wise 24 pass from Boehme (Willoughby kick failed), 1:14
Blue—FG 30 Martin, 7:39
White—FG 25 Willoughby, 2:15
Blue—Sneed 3 run (Martin kick), 8:21.
RUSHING—White, Eric Adams 12-69; Eamonn Vain-Callahan 3-17; Jackson Conway 6-13; Parker Boehme 10-(-17). Blue, Josh Sneed 11-67, TD; Shaquille Powell 5-46; Jela Duncan 3-13; Eric Adams 1-5; Juwan Thompson 2-4; Anthony Boone 9-1.
PASSING—White, Boehme 11-13-0, 128, TD; Rob Collins 2-4-0, 13. Blue, Boone 18-30-2, 273, 2 TD.
RECEIVING—White, Jack Wise 6-68, TD; Johndre Bennett 4-52; Brandon Watkins 2-18; Nick Sink 1-3. Blue, Issac Blakeney 5-66; Jamison Crowder 4-71, 2 TD; Max McCaffrey 4-50; Anthony Nash 1-37; David Reeves 1-23; Braxton Deaver 1-17; Erich Schneider 1-10; Jela Duncan 1-(-1).
WHITE—C.J. France 9 tackles; Kyler Brown 6; Dezmond Johnson 5, sack, tackle for loss; Jeremy Cash 5, TFL, interception; Corbin McCarthy 5; Dwayne Norman 4; Garett Patterson4; Deion Williams 4; Jordan DeWalt-Ondijo 3; Sydeny Sarmiento 2, sack, TFL; Christian Conway 2; Jamal Bruce 2; Evrett Edwards 2; A.J. Wolf 2; Jamal Wallace 1; Quay Mann, interception.
BLUE—Britton Grier 7, 2 sacks, 3 TFL; Michael Westray 5; Will Boeckman 5, 1/2 TFL; Christian Conway 4; Garrett Rider 4; Lucas Fisher 4, sack, 1-1/2 TFL; Jamal Wallace 4, TFL; Nick Hill 4, 1/2 TFL; Sam Marshall 4, sack, 1-1/2 TFL; Chris Hoover 4; Keilin Rayner 2, sack, TFL; Jacques Bristow 2; James Cockey 2; Steven Ingram 1; Shaquille Powell 1; Hud Mellencamp 1; Mario Sanders 1; Quay Mann 1.