DURHAM, N.C. —
Virginia is probably going to break in a new starting quarterback. Duke might be, too.
All eyes will be on who’s under center for both teams Saturday when the Cavaliers visit the surprising Blue Devils in an unexpectedly critical Atlantic Coast Conference game for both teams.
Virginia is likely to start Alabama transfer Phillip Sims at quarterback. For Duke, coach David Cutcliffe says the availability of Sean Renfree won’t be decided until closer to kickoff. Renfree was hurt last week at Wake Forest when he was hit on his throwing elbow, and backup Anthony Boone got most of the work this week.
“When I say game-time, I mean, literally, game-time decision,” Cutcliffe said.
It’s an important game for the Blue Devils (4-1, 1-0), off to their best start since the 1994 team opened with seven straight wins.
London says he “more than likely” will start Sims in place of veteran Michael Rocco, who has made 18 consecutive starts.
The Cavaliers (2-3, 0-1) have lost three straight — including both road games by an average margin of 28 points — and are coming off a 44-38 home loss to Louisiana Tech. Rocco was intercepted three times before he was relieved by Sims, who led two scoring drives.
“You can just tell through his play he’s a leader,” running back Kevin Parks said. “When he came in, it was like he’d been in there before. He had great poise calling the plays in the huddle, and a great thing, calling the right play. Like he told me, whenever his name is called, he’s going to be ready.”
Boone said, “I basically prepare like I’m going to start every game every week.”
led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives and scoring the go-ahead TD with 11:35 left in the 34-27 victory — Duke’s first against the Demon Deacons since 1999.
“I basically prepare like I’m going to start every game every week, because you never know what could happen that week in practice,” Boone said. “I just have to keep myself prepared and keep myself sharp for any time, any play.”
A few storylines have dominated Duke’s season so far: Receiver Conner Vernon will have the ACC’s career receptions record all to himself with his next catch. The Blue Devils’ pursuit of their first bowl berth in nearly two decades has been one of the league’s top surprise stories.
And they’ve done it despite a seemingly endless stream of injuries, especially in the secondary, where three defensive backs — including safety Brandon Braxton (upper body) — are among the seven players listed on the injury report as being out.
“This team is a story worth being told,” Cutcliffe said. “But it’s up to them to write the story. They have to continue to work like they’ve worked. ... They care about each other, and nobody will play as hard as they’ve played.”