DURHAM — Normally, seven interceptions in two games from a starting quarterback doesn’t translate into two wins.
But for Duke and Anthony Boone, it did against Virginia Tech and Saturday against N.C. State.
In the aftermath of Saturday’s 38-20 win against the Wolfpack, which went from nail-bitter to blowout late, much of the focus was on DeVon Edwards for his kickoff return score and back-to-back interceptions for touchdowns, and understandably so.
But coach David Cutcliffe didn’t wait for anyone to ask about the Blue Devils’ offensive struggles. He preemptively addressed them during his postgame news conference, including benching Boone for Brandon Connette in the third quarter.
“The quarterback circumstance you’re going to ask about, there’s really no circumstance,” he said. “We’ll look at it (Sunday) and see where we are. You put yourself in a position to try to win the game. That’s it. We’re going to look at why we’re not playing as well as we need to play and can play there. We’re not seeing that in practice, so we’ve got to look into it a little deeper.
“Down the stretch here, I think you will see both of those guys in what we’re doing.”
In the week leading to the N.C. State game, Cutcliffe talked about how Boone had practiced well since going 7-for-25 for 107 yards, one rushing touchdown and four interceptions Oct. 26 at Virginia Tech. The Blue Devils had an open date and then a full week of preparation, but Boone’s struggles looked the same. Against the Wolfpack, he went 13-for-21 for 139 yards, one rushing touchdown and three interceptions. All three were inaccurate throws over the middle. After the last one, Cutcliffe opted to put Connette into the game with just more than seven minutes remaining in the third quarter. The decision didn’t surprise Boone.
“That’s what happens if you don’t produce. You’ve got to put someone in to mix it up and get something rolling,” Boone said. About his struggles, he said “A few mental errors here and there, that’s all you can really say, not being on the same page with some receivers and some up-front stuff.”
Throughout the game, all of Duke’s quarterbacks – Boone, Connette, freshman Parker Boehme, redshirt freshman Thomas Sirk and walk-on Rob Collins – talk amongst themselves, analyzing calls and coverages. That keeps them all mentally engaged, Connette said. And when he was told he was going in, he relied on his experience entering the Memphis game midway through, which also ended well for Duke.
Connette came into the game ranked 11th nationally in passing efficiency (163.9). There was a brief, initial spark when Connette entered after the Edwards kickoff return had given Duke a 17-13 lead. On the first play, Connette kept the ball for an 8-yard gain, and two plays later, he took off again. He advanced the ball 20 yards before Hakim Jones knocked the ball free and recovered the fumble. It was the Blue Devils’ fourth turnover, matching their total from the Virginia Tech win.
N.C. State, though, only turned those gifts into three points. And right after an 80-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Mitchell to Quintin Payton put the Wolfpack back ahead 20-17, Duke’s offense finally found its groove, as Connette led an eight-play, 79-yard drive that ended with him running for a 5-yard score.
“The only thing that changed was that we started executing,” Connette said. “Throughout every single drive of the game, whether Anthony was in or I was in, somebody was just making a mental error, whether it was the quarterback, the offensive linemen missing a block, a receiver dropping a pass. We just need to become more consistent every single play.”