Brandon Connette is no longer Duke’s jack-of-all-trades. These days, he’s only got one job — to be the Blue Devils’ quarterback.
Connette will make his first start as a full-time QB on Saturday when Duke plays Georgia Tech in the Atlantic Coast Conference’s only matchup of undefeated teams.
Connette has been Duke’s wildcat quarterback in short-yardage situations. Last year, he dabbled at tight end and receiver, and started against Miami in 2010 only because the Blue Devils began that game in the wildcat formation.
But when starter Anthony Boone broke his collarbone in last week’s win at Memphis, Connette was thrust into his first extended playing time with the first string at his primary position.
“It was a lot different for me the past couple of seasons, where I’d go in for a play or two then come back out,” Connette said. Dealing with various in-game situations is “something I haven’t had to orchestrate in a game. So doing that is probably the biggest thing, just thinking through those situations and what kind of mindset I have to go into with it.”
He’s trying to lead Duke to its first 3-0 start since the 1994 team reeled off seven in a row to start the year. The Blue Devils have only beaten Georgia Tech once since then (2003) and will try to avoid their 10th straight loss to their ACC Coastal Division rivals.
After a week off, the Yellow Jackets (1-0) are looking to make an early statement in the division because this game marks the first of four in a row against Coastal opponents.
“Last year we struggled early, lost a couple close division games, and we dug ourselves a hole that was hard to get out of,” coach Paul Johnson said. “Our goal is to try to get back to Charlotte (for the ACC title game). We need to win in Durham if we are going to do that.”
Five things to watch when Georgia Tech takes on Duke Saturday:
WELCOME BACK, TED. Georgia Tech defensive coordinator Ted Roof returns to Wallace Wade Stadium for the first time since he was fired by Duke in 2007 after going 6-45 in 4½ seasons. One of those few victories was that upset of the Yellow Jackets a decade ago. While acknowledging he still has friends at Duke, Roof downplayed his return, the game is “about Georgia Tech versus Duke.”
YOU TOO, VAD. Yellow Jackets QB Vad Lee also knows his way around the Duke campus. The Durham native was the 2010 Associated Press prep player of the year in North Carolina after he threw for more than 3,000 yards and rushed for 1,300 at Durham Hillside High. In his only previous playing time for the Yellow Jackets in the North Carolina Triangle, he accounted for three touchdowns and rushed for 112 yards in Tech’s wild 68-50 win at North Carolina last November. Johnson says he joked with Lee about his sizable ticket requests, saying he “already had 30 and it was probably going to 40 with his family and friends.”
STAT LEADERS. The sample sizes are admittedly small, but both teams figure prominently among the national statistical leaders. Georgia Tech — which shut out Elon 70-0 in its only game — ranks first in scoring offense and is tied for first in scoring defense. Duke is sixth in the nation in total defense (210.5 ypg) and ninth in scoring D, giving up two touchdowns in two games. The Yellow Jackets’ turnover margin of plus-4 also is tied for first in the FBS.
QUICK GAME? This one might as well be played with a running clock. Georgia Tech is known for its run-reliant, triple-option offense that puts a premium on controlling the ball and the tempo. The Blue Devils have emphasized running the ball better out of their new zone-read offense, and Connette has performed well in the past carrying the ball in short-yardage situations. Duke coach David Cutcliffe says “when you’re playing against a ground game like Georgia Tech, that shortens it to maybe a 10-series game” and that makes each possession important.
A BIG CROWDER: Jamison Crowder has been effective for the Blue Devils at catching both punts and passes. He ranks third in the ACC with an average of 165.5 all-purpose yards and is coming off an 11-catch, 140-yard performance against Memphis. Crowder also is the ACC’s top punt returner and brought one back 76 yards for a score against North Carolina Central.