DeCock: Record secure, Vernon and Duke trying not to look too far ahead

ldecock@newsobserver.comOctober 7, 2012 

— The ACC mark for career catches safely secured, Conner Vernon can move on to the glaring hole in his resume. Over the course of his record-setting career, the Duke wide receiver has never been closer to playing in a bowl game.

Now 5-1, with only the late-night loss at Stanford to blemish their season, the Blue Devils need to win only one of their final six games to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 1994.

“This is just another step forward for this program, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” said Vernon, whose seven catches -- two for touchdowns -- gave him 239 for his career.

What a giant step forward Saturday’s 42-17 win over Virginia was, though. With starting quarterback Sean Renfree out with an elbow injury, backup Anthony Boone threw for four touchdowns. The Blue Devils ran for 182 yards and turned a three-point halftime deficit into a 25-point win thanks to some timely defensive adjustments that produced a second-half shutout.

Coming on the heels of North Carolina’s 48-34 win over Virginia Tech in Chapel Hill, Duke’s win over Virginia makes the ACC’s Coastal Division look like a three-team race. Only two of them are eligible to win the division. One of them is Duke.

Miami is 3-0, but the road to the Coastal Division title will still go through the Triangle. The Blue Devils are 2-0. The Tar Heels, already ineligible to play in the championship game but also ruled ineligible to even claim the division championship this week by the ACC, are 1-1. Virginia Tech is 1-1, Virginia 0-2, Georgia Tech 1-3.

They may only be .500, but the Hokies haven’t looked like the Hokies who have pretty much treated the division like their own personal fiefdom since expansion. It’s too early to write off Virginia Tech, which hosts Duke next weekend, but the paddling by the Tar Heels evinces little confidence in the Hokies.

“I mean, people are probably going to say they’re having an off year or whatnot, but for us it doesn’t matter,” North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard said. “We just wanted to show everybody what we can do.”

Alas, what the Tar Heels can’t do is win the Coastal or go to the ACC Championship Game in Charlotte. They may yet have a say in who does, though.

“We’re looking to destroy other teams – mess it up for them,” North Carolina linebacker Kevin Reddick said.

North Carolina goes to Miami next weekend with a chance to do just that, and travels to Duke the weekend after that. And even if Duke loses in Blacksburg, the Blue Devils still have their shots against the Tar Heels and Hurricanes, both at home.

First, though, Duke heads to Virginia Tech. Any thoughts of the Coastal Division will take a back seat to the pursuit of that elusive sixth win, which after Saturday’s performance is closer than ever.

“This is the position that we wanted to be in,” Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell said. “We’re still only halfway through the season. We know we have a lot of work left to do. To keep things in perspective, last year we were 3-2 and we lost seven in a row.”

Duke’s schedule unquestionably gets more difficult from here, and none of the final six games will be easy. But the Blue Devils are not only on the verge of six wins, they’re playing like they could win more than that -- and if they do, it’s possible they could end up in Charlotte before any bowl games are played.

DeCock: 919-829-8947,, Twitter: @LukeDeCock

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