DURHAM — Duke football coach David Cutcliffe came away mostly pleased from the Blue Devils' first scrimmage of their spring camp Saturday morning.
A large reason for that was how impressed Cutcliffe was with his offense, an experienced unit he says has progressed faster at this time of year than any group during his tenure. Quarterback Sean Renfree threw for 129 yards and two touchdowns, and running back Patrick Kurunwune ran for 154 yards on eight carries.
"I thought we ran the football better than anytime we've been here," said Cutcliffe, who enters his fourth season as the Devils' coach. "I thought we blocked extremely well. We're doing so much on offense that it's going to be difficult to defend."
The Blue Devils were able to execute plays on offense that featured one-on-one matchups. Not only did Duke's offense win the majority of those battles, but the offense only had one turnover in the 75 snaps - a promising statistic for a team that had the most turnovers in the ACC last season with 28.
In the scrimmage Renfree, a junior, set the example for backup quarterbacks Brandon Connette and Anthony Boone early by making smart decisions from the pocket. Even when Renfree couldn't find open receivers, he made the mature move by throwing the ball away.
Duke finished the scrimmage without an interception.
"I really pleased with our quarterback play," Cutcliffe said. "It was evident that Sean was extremely comfortable."
Renfree's two touchdowns came on play-action passes. His first was to tight end Cooper Helfet for 18 yards, the second to receiver Brandon Braxton for 55 yards.
"When we have a running game like today that was effective it's much easier to throw deep on play action," said Renfree, who was 7-of-13. "We want that to be a big part of our offense this season."
The biggest concern at this point for Cutcliffe is keeping his players healthy, which has hindered his defense's development. With starting nose guard Charlie Hatcher, linebacker Kelby Brown and safety Matt Daniels all inactive because of injuries, Cutcliffe was able to see his younger players succeed as well as struggle in different game situations.
Safety Jordon Byas made the most impact with two pass breakups from jarring hits along with forcing and recovering a fumble.
"I played a little bit last year, but I'm still trying to learn," said Byas, junior. "I think we're still trying to work as unit."
Cutcliffe says he's excited to see his defense get better before their spring game on March 26 at Wallace Wade Stadium.
"I want them to learn how to play with technique because it's tough to play 40 snaps in major college football," he said. "We have people who don't know what that feels like."
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