Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Duke's Renfree learns from mistakes

DURHAM -- Duke quarterback Sean Renfree received more palatable questions this week after leading the Blue Devils to a 34-31 victory over Navy on Saturday.

This time reporters at Duke's weekly news conference on Tuesday asked about his precision and accuracy as he completed 28 of 30 pass attempts for 314 yards and a touchdown against the Midshipmen, starting the game by tying a school-record 16 consecutive completions and finding his target 93 percent of the time.

During the previous four weeks, the questions have centered on Renfree's troubles in the pocket as he committed turnovers - including 11 of his 15 interceptions this season.

The 6-foot-5, 220-pound redshirt sophomore walked off the field at Nay-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium without a passing glitch and now looks to duplicate that poise as Duke (2-6, 0-4) hosts Virginia (4-4, 1-3) on Saturday.

"Making smarter decisions," he said of what was learned. "When it's not clearly there, throw it away, run or do something else with it instead of force throws and force interceptions."

"His decision making was much better," said Duke coach David Cutcliffe, whose staff simplified the game-plan to relieve some pressure on Renfree, who had struggled.

The Devils scripted passing plays to running backs and tight ends to help Renfree find his rhythm. He made more swing passes when things weren't open downfield.

Renfree impressed his Cutcliffe on several occasions when he looked off seemingly open receivers, explaining later that he wasn't completely comfortable with the choice. That equated to progress.

"You can't throw it when you think something," Cutcliffe said. "You have to know something to let that ball out of your hand. When he didn't have that information, he either went somewhere else with the ball or pulled it down."

Renfree said the passing game was simplified, but explained what helped most was making better decisions.

"Not forcing things," he said. "There were a couple times where I could have hit guys, but I couldn't see them perfectly. And I wasn't going to throw something over the middle that I couldn't see completely well and I ended up just running it."

He also used his his legs - rushing for 28 yards and two touchdowns.

Renfree said it's been a learning process for him. He now understand that throwing an incompletion or rushing for one yard is not a negative.

Duke wide receiver Conner Vernon said Renfree was in full command of his skills on Saturday. The quarterback called an audible late in the third quarter that resulted in them connecting on a 29-yard touchdown pass.

Over the past few days, he's watched Renfree's confidence swell.

"That was exactly what he needed," Vernon said.


Cutliffe walked to the podium on Tuesday and started with remarks that spoke to Duke's relief at snapping a six-game losing streak.

"It feels much better to stand up here after a win," he said.

Others were feeling that way, too.

Despite the start to their season, Duke players are looking at the opportunity of finishing out the season 6-6. They are still seeking their first ACC victory, but hope to run the table during their next four games - Virginia, Boston College, Georgia Tech and North Carolina.

So the Devils still have something to play for this season?

"Most definitely," Duke sophomore running back Desmond Scott. "We're going to take them one game at a time. The outcome of these four games will determine our future."

Throughout the season, despite the disappointment with losses, the Devils have remained in high spirits, something Cutcliffe called one of the most "amazing" things he's seen in his coaching career.

He showed his lighter side during Tuesday press conference when a toilet flush interrupted him at the Brooks Football Building.

"That's kind of appropriate," he said. "That should have been here the last six weeks. ... That was a six-game losing streak being flushed."

-- Edward G. Robinson III