Duke downs Tulane
Published 10:28 pm Saturday, September 24, 2011
DURHAM — Conner Vernon did just about everything he could to make sure Duke broke out of its offensive slump.
Vernon made key plays on three early touchdown drives, including recovering his own fumble in the end zone, as Duke took a big early lead and beat Tulane 48-27.
Vernon’s 44-yard catch set up the first of Juwan Thompson’s two first-quarter touchdowns, and he keyed the second touchdown drive with a 19-yard reception.
Then, with Duke leading 14-3, Vernon took a short pass from quarterback Sean Renfree and made a sharp cut toward the end zone, leaving his shoe behind at the 16-yard line. He leaped near the goal line but was hit in midair and fumbled. Vernon landed in the end zone, where he recovered the fumble for a 21-3 lead.
“That was definitely the first touchdown I scored without my shoe,” Vernon said. “I just decided I was going to jump over (Tulane’s Shakiel Smith). I wanted to score really bad and make a play for our team.”
It was just the sort of good fortune — and aggression — that Duke’s offense has lacked much of this season. The Blue Devils won their first home game of the year, got renewed confidence in their kicking game and survived a few tough hits on Renfree to pile up 451 yards through three quarters.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe said he stressed the need for his team to “cut loose” after a tentative start to the season. He backed up that talk by having the Blue Devils go for a fourth-and-1 in their own territory in the second quarter. That play, a 12-yard run by Thompson, was part of an 18-play, 75-yard touchdown march.
“I love 18 plays because it tells you a lot about your team,” Cutcliffe said. “It tells you about your conditioning level; it tells you about your discipline. Without question, you have to be disciplined to not stop yourself on 18-play drives.”
Renfree completed 21 of 30 passes for 278 yards and a touchdown, and Duke’s defense was dominant through three quarters at Wallace Wade Stadium.
The Blue Devils (2-2) surpassed their previous scoring average of 18.3 points per game with 21 in the first quarter. Duke’s first-quarter scoring drives lasted 2:03, 51 seconds and 1:57.
Renfree capped the 18-play drive with a 2-yard score, and his 7-yard scramble late in the third quarter gave Duke a 45-13 lead.
Duke outgained the Green Wave (2-2) 336 yards to 127 in the first half and 451-148 through three quarters. Before halftime, Renfree ran for a score and threw for 179 yards, and Vernon had five catches for 93 yards. The Blue Devils didn’t punt until midway through the fourth quarter.
Vernon finished with six catches for 96 yards and moved up to seventh on Duke’s all-time receiving yards list and third on the receptions list.
The only touchdown until the fourth quarter for Tulane, which scored 49 points last week in a win over UAB, came on Ryan Travis’ 23-yard interception return in the first quarter. That was one of the few mistakes by the Blue Devils.
By then, Duke’s defense, which shut out Boston College in the second half of a 20-19 win last week, had put together a streak of five quarters without allowing a touchdown.
Cutcliffe said Kenny Anunike’s first-half knee injury likely knocked the senior defensive end out for the season. Anunike and cornerback Lee Butler did not return to the game, but Duke’s defense continued to play well in the starters’ absence.
“We knew what to expect in certain personnel, certain formations and alignment,” Duke safety Matt Daniels said. “You win games during the week with film study, and we did a good job preparing. We knew them like the back of our hands.”