DURHAM – Duke almost ran out of quarterbacks this month, but the Blue Devils were saved from disaster when junior Anthony Boone, the preseason starter, returned from his injury (a broken collarbone) just in time to take over from junior backup Brandon Connette, who was forced to miss the Navy game with a freak ankle injury.
The erosion of the quarterback depth should not be a long-term problem. Both Boone and Connette return next season, along with redshirt freshman Thomas Sirk, a prized prospect despite missing the entire season so far with an Achilles injury that he suffered last spring.
Joining the mix next season will be Parker Boehme, a freshman who is redshirting this season, but who has taken a ton of second-team snapswith Boone, Sirk and Connette sidelined at different times. There is also freshman Quay Chambers, a multi-positional QB prospect who is being prepped to take over the “Phantom” role that was originally designed for Connette.
And Duke coach David Cutcliffe continues to recruit quarterbacks at a frantic pace. One of the gems of his 2014 recruiting class is four-star Miami quarterback Nicodem Pierre, rated the nation’s No. 7 dual-threat quarterback prospect by ESPN. And he’s joined in the class by an even more intriguing quarterback prospect – Johnathan Lloyd of Southern Alamance High School in Graham, N.C.
The interesting thing about Lloyd is that he’s more prized as an athlete than as a quarterback.
“If I’m playing receiver, I’m four-star, but if I want to play quarterback, I’m three-star,” Lloyd told the Burlington Times-News.
Indeed. ESPN rates the 6-0, 175-pound Duke commit as an “athlete,” not a quarterback, and notes that he’s “quicker than fast.” He has scholarship offers from Notre Dame, Ohio State, Miami, Florida, South Carolina and Clemson – but they want him as a cornerback or running back … maybe a slot back.
Duke has reportedly vowed to give him a shot at quarterback.
Lloyd has certainly performed at a high level for Southern Alamance, a 4-A school that has enjoyed little recent success. But with Lloyd at the QB spot this season, the team is off to a 5-1 start. In his first six games, Lloyd threw for 1,628 yards and 13 touchdowns, while adding 644 yards and eight more touchdowns on the ground.
“People doubting me as a quarterback adds fuel to the fire,” Lloyd told the Burlington newspaper. “They say, ‘You’re 6-foot, you can’t play quarterback.’ Or, ‘You can only play in the spread.’ I’m going to try to challenge them and prove them wrong. I believe I’m just as good as anybody else.”
Cutcliffe recently talked about his desire to sign plenty of quarterbacks – even if some end up at other positions.
“When I was at Ole Miss, (retired coach) Johnny Vaught used to tell me that he recruited 18 to 20 quarterbacks ever year – of course, he signed 50 or 60 guys a year, too,” Cutcliffe said. “But it makes sense (to recruit quarterbacks). That’s the guy who touches the ball on every play. Quarterbacks are often the leading rushers on their teams. They’re usually confident, savvy and have good leadership skills.”
Cutcliffe currently has three protégés starting at quarterback in the NFL (Peyton and Eli Manning and Thad Lewis), plus a fourth on injured reserve (Sean Renfree). He may send more quarterbacks to the NFL in the future, but that may not be the position all of them are playing when they reach that point.
Duke’s Odd Mastery Of Virginia
Here’s an interesting note – Cutcliffe has 10 ACC victories in his first 5½ seasons at Duke, and half of them have come against Virginia.
Cutcliffe is 5-1 against the Cavs … and 5-32 against everybody else. The other five ACC wins have come against five different teams – the Cavs are the only conference team he’s beaten more than once.
Duke’s recent mastery of Virginia is even stranger than that. A year ago, the Cavaliers led Duke 21-14 at the half but were outscored 28-0 in the second half to lose 42-21. On Oct. 19 at Scott Stadium, Virginia opened up a 22-0 first half lead, led 22-7 at the break … and once again was outscored 28-0 in the second half.
Duke ended up scoring the game’s last 35 points for a 35-22 victory which left the 5-2 Blue Devils on the brink of bowl eligibility for the second straight year.
“A 28-0 run in the second half on the road – that’s incredible,” Cutcliffe said after the game.
The comeback was keyed by Boone, who recovered from a terrible start to totally dominate down the stretch. Here’s another interesting stat – Boone is 5-0 as a starter at Duke, with two of his wins coming against the Cavaliers.
Boone, who missed 17 of 26 pass attempts in the first half, connected on 12 of 17 in the second half. It’s the second game in a row that he started slowly – as he bounced back from a poor first quarter against Navy to lead a 35-7 rout of the Middies.
The Virginia game was the first time since the opener against North Carolina Central in which Cutcliffe was able to use his two quarterback package as he intended going into the season. The combination of Boone’s broken collarbone at Memphis in Game Two and Connette’s freak ankle injury just before the Navy game has limited Duke to just one available quarterback in 4½ games.
But the Virginia game showed how the two-quarterback rotation is supposed to work.
Boone is the starter and gets most of the snaps – and he delivered 245 yards passing, 25 more rushing and two touchdown passes.
Connette is the short-yardage specialist, and he converted two short fourth-down situations on the ground and ran for a touchdown out of the wildcat. He also crossed up the Cavs on a fourth-and-short play, faking the run and throwing a pass that turned into a 47-yard touchdown for tight end Braxton Deaver – the play that put Duke ahead for the first time in the game.
That combination makes Duke a formidable offensive machine.
Of course, how well that machine functions as October turns into November – a nightmare month for Duke football – remains to be seen. The Devils don’t have Virginia on the schedule in the final five games, but they do play three programs that Duke beat the last time they faced them – UNC and Wake Forest (last year) and N.C. State (back in 2009).
Duke also plays two ranked opponents – Virginia Tech and Miami. A win in either of those two games would be significant since the Devils haven’t beaten a ranked opponent since 1994. One guess who that was … No. 13 Virginia.