Duke, Renfree upbeat

Staff WriterNovember 3, 2010 

— Duke quarterback Sean Renfree received easier questions this week after leading his team 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 with 16 consecutive completions.

During the previous four weeks, the questions had 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 Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium without a passing glitch and now looks to duplicate that poise as Duke (2-6, 0-4 ACC) 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 Blue 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 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 ran for 28 yards and two touchdowns.

Renfree said it has 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.

Cutcliffe 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.

They are still seeking their first ACC victory, and finish out the season with games against Virginia, Boston College, Georgia Tech and North Carolina.

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's news 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."

robinson@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4781

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