Duke Beat: Renfree the Key to Duke’s Success

Sean Renfree

Football is not an individual sport. In fact there are few sports that can really say that the function of each player on each play can potentially have a direct affect on the success or failure of that play.

In football the quarterback is the most glorified position on the field at any given time, even when he isn’t on the field.

But as good as a quarterback may be, he is still at the mercy of his offensive line blocking, his running backs and wide receivers making plays, the defensive unit making stops and the special teams preventing big plays, while at the same time making plays and kicks.

In his final season as the quarterback of the Duke football team, Sean Renfree has got to be feeling the heat, even though the success of the Duke team doesn’t hinge solely on his performance.

Still, the quarterback play is a major part of what the Blue Devils do, especially on offense, and in a pass-driven offense, the buck stops with the quarterback.

Renfree came to Duke after a heralded high school career in Arizona and was seen as a top 20 quarterback by most recruiting services. He chose Duke for David Cutcliffe, a renowned quarterback guru who had tutored both Eli and Peyton Manning–his greatest claim to fame and his calling card.

Renfree, a 6-foot-2, 225 pound senior, has been the Blue Devils starting quarterback for two years after redshirting his first season on campus. He started his career as backup to Thad Lewis, the best quarterback Duke has had since Dave Brown. Lewis’ numbers put him right up there with all-time great Ben Bennett.

Many saw Renfree as having a great opportunity to be right up there among the list of great quarterbacks at Duke and many, including Cutcliffe, have said that Renfree is legitimate a pro prospect.

However, Renfree has had an up and down career.  As a two-year starter he has put up decent numbers in terms of yards and completion percentage, (6,352 yards, 63.4%).  He has thrown for 32 touchdowns but almost as many interceptions with 30.

It is that propensity to throw the ball away that has led to issues with inconsistency and confidence at times. Cutcliffe has called Renfree a very analytical player, who at times can over think. That over thinking has shown in his play and decision making.

Last season many felt that Renfree would have grown from the previous year and start to show signs of progression, however, he played tentative at times and, despite being sacked 18 times, fewer than his previous year, he looked rushed and played that way.

Several times last season he appeared to rush through his progressions, and despite having two solid receivers in Donovan Varner and Conner Vernon, he seemed less likely to want to take shots down field.

At times his confidence appeared shot, and when he was routinely brought off the field in favor of backup quarterbacks in the red zone and short yardage, you had to wonder if that made it worse for him psychologically.

For a kid whose own coaches said thinks too much at times, it is no surprise if his own self confidence and decision making would waiver as a result of what appeared to be a lack of confidence in his ability from the coaches.

Renfree often would throw short routes or dump the ball off to his tight ends or backs for shorter completions.  As a result, he threw fewer picks, but the Duke offense, which was expected to be a strength of the team, appeared watered down from the previous season. Renfree threw as many touchdowns (14) as he had the previous season, but he didn’t appear to have improved all that much.

Renfree cannot afford to play that way this season.

This is it for him; his Duke career will be weighed and measured by how he performs this season. As a result Duke’s success will be determined heavily by how well Renfree plays.

In a sport where every play requires execution from every position, it will be Renfree’s play that ultimately determines how far this Blue Devil team can go.

This is a team that has more talent and skill than in any year under Cutcliffe and in any season since 1994- their last bowl appearance.

Duke is facing a brutal schedule where 10 of their 12 opponents were bowl eligible teams last season, including their season opening game against Florida International.

The Blue Devils defense seems to be losing players to injury on almost a daily basis. So far the Blue Devils have lost five projected starters to injury. It is looking more and more like the offense will once again be called upon to keep Duke in games and help them win those games.

The offense starts with Renfree and as he goes, so goes Duke.

— Mike Kline

Mike Kline is the operator of DukeSportsBlog.com, a site dedicated to coverage and analysis of Duke Football and Basketball from a fan’s perspective. He is also a regular contributor for DukeReport.com. Mike does a monthly podcast with Jim Oliver of Duke Report focusing on Duke Basketball and occasionally football. Mike is a long time Duke football and basketball fan. A former journalist, Mike is now a mild mannered middle school teacher by day and blogger by night. Follow Mike on Twitter at @DukeBlogMKline

Follow Inside the ACC on Twitter at @InsideTheACC.  Get your ACC links at ITA’s NewsLink Twitter feed at @ITA_NewsLink. Talk about ACC sports on the ITA Forums.


Leave a Reply