Durham, N.C. Thad Lewis probably knew he’d hear the term “quarterback controversy” this week after the way backup Sean Renfree played in Duke’s weekend win at Army. He just won’t let himself think of it that way.
“I knew going into the season that Sean was going to play,” Lewis said Tuesday. “So there’s not a controversy at all, but it is a competition. We compete, but we make each other better and we want to make this team better.”
That’s what coach David Cutcliffe is aiming for heading into this weekend’s trip to No. 22 Kansas. He has repeatedly heaped praise on Renfree, a redshirt freshman, even as he’s gone out of his way to point out that Lewis is still No. 1 on the depth chart.
He’s also made it clear that Renfree has earned the right to play each week.
“We’ve got a starting quarterback,” Cutcliffe said. “The circumstances can be just like a pitcher in baseball. If a pitcher needs relief help, he’s going to get relief help. If he can pitch a complete game, he’s usually left in there.
“But you can see now why I’ve been saying all along that, regardless of play, I wanted Sean Renfree to play. I should’ve played him in the first game (against Richmond) and didn’t. I had plans to play him without a doubt at Army. I have plans to play him again this week. He will play.”
Still, while Lewis is saying all the right things about supporting Renfree, the difference between their play at Army couldn’t have escaped him.
Lewis, a four-year starter, went just 5-for-16 for 60 yards before Renfree got his shot. Renfree went 7-for-8 for 106 yards and two touchdowns, with one of those coming on his first collegiate throw. That — and back-to-back interception returns for touchdowns from Leon Wright late in the game — helped the Blue Devils (1-1) turn a 14-13 lead into a 35-19 victory.
“We’ve seen (Renfree) in practice and know what he can do in practice,” running back Re’quan Boyette said. “But to see him out there against live bullets and everything moving faster than it does in practice was very positive. It just showed us that he can do it throughout the game.”
While Renfree’s play will push Lewis, Cutcliffe said it wasn’t like the senior wasn’t already working hard to get better.
“It’s not been a matter of not being focused or energized or motivated,” Cutcliffe said. “I think it’s probably human nature that when you see your backup playing pretty well, the adrenaline flows. That’s just kind of normal and that’s OK. That’s good for anybody.”
Lewis figures the competition can’t hurt. After all, it’s still his job to lose.
“When you’ve got two quarterbacks who are on point,” Lewis said, “that just drives the offense to be better than they are right now.”