The first game of any season is always a time for a coach to assess the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Duke showed a little bit of all of that in a 41-27 victory over FCS opponent Elon on Saturday night. The Blue Devils helped David Cutcliffe improve to 2-1 all-time in openers as head coach.
Here are some observations on the first game and what Duke needs to work on to improve before Week 2, when they take on conference foe Wake Forest.
What looked good about the offense
While everyone at the University of Florida was worried about life without Tim (Tebow), Duke fans were worried about life without Thad (Lewis).
Sean Renfree put all of the worries to rest, at least for one night in what was a dissection of the Elon defense, at least when he dropped back to pass. Renfree posted big numbers going 31-of-39 for 350 yards and two touchdowns.
His wide receivers also were sharp in most cases although two of his incompletions were drops in the end zone by none other than his two top targets, Donovan Varner (seven catches for 123 yards and one touchdown) and Conner Vernon (10 catches for 129 yards).
Still, Renfree showed that there is no slowing down the Duke passing attack just because there is a new quarterback under center.
As for the much-maligned running game, they managed to post 192 yards for an average of 4.3 yards per carry, although the numbers were greatly skewed by backup quarterback Brandon Connette's near 50-yard scamper late in the game.
What didn't look good about the offense
While Duke posted impressive numbers in the running game when compared to last season, the rushing attack was anything but perfect.
The offensive line had a hard time opening holes in the middle of the field, and the Blue Devils seemed preoccupied with forcing the ball in between the tackles anyway.
Many of the plays seemed telegraphed, and despite much improved speed as a team, Duke doesn't have a big guy with speed who can bust it up the middle.
What looked good about the defense
The much-anticipated debut of Duke's new multiple-look defense showed some promise. The defensive line was able to get some pressure on Elon quarterback Scott Riddle, sacking him once.
Duke managed to force two interceptions: one by safety Matt Daniels and the other by linebacker Abraham Kromah.
What didn't look good about the defense
One thing is clear, the 3-4 scheme at times failed to do one of the things it is designed to do: keep containment.
Too many times, Riddle or one of the Phoenix running backs were able to turn the corner for positive yards.
Coverage in the flats, too, was suspect as Riddle picked at Duke all night with dump passes into the flats. Combine that with poor tackles and the Blue Devils allowed one too many big plays.
Duke's secondary play was also suspect. To say newly converted corner Johnny Williams looked lost would be an understatement.
It didn't take long for Riddle to pick out the weak link and expose it, although perhaps they didn't try enough.
Williams will have to shore up his play if he is to continue even to share time with freshman Ross Cockrell, who appeared to be markedly better and comfortable in the position.
- Kicker Will Snyderwine might do well by putting all of the preseason Lou Groza Award stuff out of his mind. At times he looked shaky even on PATs. During warm-ups, he missed several chip shots from the hashes too. For the game, he did make all his PATs and was 2 of 3 on field goal attempts, missing from 42 yards.
- Tight end Brandon King looked impressive. Although he didn't put up great numbers, he made some nice sideline catches and punished some Elon defenders, extending plays for first downs and a touchdown.
- Duke fans showed up in force. The reported attendance was 33,900, essentially a capacity crowd. Although much of that was aided by it being Duke employee appreciation night. Still, it was good to see Wallace Wade Stadium packed with Duke fans.
- In a bit of good news, former Duke standout Thaddeus Lewis made the Rams' final cut and will most likely serve as the No. 3 quarterback this season.
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