Duke's Connette doesn't plan to play it safe
Now that Anthony Boone’s injury has thrust Brandon Connette into Duke’s starting quarterback job, concern abounds that Connette’s physical running style must be curbed to protect him.
Well, Connette’s just not wired that way.
Having happily started his organized football career as an offensive lineman, the 6-2, 225-pounder will be reluctant to avoid contact even as he’s expected to handle the majority of quarterback snaps for the next few weeks for Duke.
“There is a certain mindset I go on the field with, and that’s a physical mindset,” Connette said Monday.
Connette is no stranger to the playing field or ACC defensive coordinators. In an all-purpose role known as “phantom” a year ago, Connette rushed for eight touchdowns while also throwing for three other scores.
Injuries on Duke’s quarterback depth chart this year have altered his role.
When redshirt freshman Thomas Sirk ruptured his Achilles’ tendon in February, Connette became the No. 2 quarterback behind Boone.
On Saturday, Boone fractured his right collarbone in the second quarter at Memphis. Connette entered the game, threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes and the Blue Devils won 28-14.
With Boone out indefinitely, Connette’s job is to keep Duke (2-0) rolling toward the program’s first back-to-back seasons with a bowl trips.
“We’ll miss Anthony — no ifs, ands or buts about it,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “But I have confidence in Brandon, and I think their teammates would echo that sentiment.”
Connette got that message loud and clear in the locker room at halftime in Memphis after Cutcliffe told the team that Boone would not be playing in the second half.
“The offensive line, the receivers, they all have confidence to me,” Connette said. “They said, ‘We’ve got this. There is no need to worry. We are going to put up points.’ I was more vocal at halftime encouraging our team, and they were giving it right back. Actually, I loved the atmosphere at halftime.”
A big reason is that since 2010, Connette has received plenty of playing time for the Blue Devils. Playing behind starting quarterback Sean Renfree, Connette became Duke’s short-yardage, third-down and goal-line option. He has rushed for 18 career touchdowns and has played in 28 games.
“I’ve always had a comfort level out there on the field,” Connette said. “It gave (my teammates) a comfort level with me. I’ve been on the field taking hits and putting the ball in end zone. They have confidence (that) I know what I’m doing on the field. They know I’m not going to be out there screwing things up.”
There is an underlying fear, though, that Connette’s physical style could make him more susceptible to injury. That would force freshman Parker Boehme, who has only been a Duke student since January, into game action.
But Cutcliffe said he doesn’t want Connette playing with fear. While he’s told Connette to perhaps step out of bounds if he already has gained enough yards for a first down, he also wants him to play instinctively.
That’s not a problem for Connette.
“If the ball is in the middle of the field,” Connette said, “I don’t think there’s a way I’m sliding.”
In fact, Connette said he can’t remember ever sliding on a football field.
But after all that playing time, he does know how to run Duke’s offense. With Boone out, that’s what matters most to the Blue Devils.