DURHAM, N.C. – Sean Renfree threw for 350 yards and two touchdowns in his first college start, and Duke opened its season by beating Elon 41-27 on Saturday night.
Renfree completed 13 of his first 14 passes, including 10 in a row, with touchdown throws of 8 and 7 yards on consecutive drives for the Blue Devils. He finished 31 of 39 while his favorite target, Conner Vernon, caught 10 passes for a career-high 129 yards.
Desmond Scott rushed 34 yards for a touchdown and freshman Josh Snead added a short scoring run late for Duke, which rolled up 542 total yards.
Scott Riddle was 22 of 42 for 281 yards and a touchdown and an 11-yard TD run. Brandon Newsome had a 5-yard scoring run for Elon, which is 0-3 all-time against Bowl Subdivision teams.
The pass-happy Phoenix threatened to be a vexing opponent for a Duke team that had lost twice to Championship Subdivision teams since 2006 and entered with questions about its defense. But the Blue Devils scored on five of their first six possessions, then made enough plays down the stretch to win their first opener since 2008.
Riddle's scrambling touchdown run through the left side pulled Elon to 27-20 with 12:35 to play. Renfree countered that by leading an 11-play drive, ending with Snead powering in from 3 yards out to make it a two-score game again with just under 8 minutes left. Jay Hollingsworth added a 1-yard touchdown run with 2:10 remaining, making it 41-20.
For much of the night, Renfree certainly didn't look much like a first-time starter.
All eyes were on the redshirt sophomore for two reasons — he's the successor to record-setter Thaddeus Lewis, and he played for the first time since injuring his right knee during last year's loss to Georgia Tech.
He wore a brace on the knee, but it didn't seem to otherwise affect him. Rather, for a while, he looked like he was in midseason form.
Renfree had back-to-back completions of at least 20 yards early in a drive that ended with his 8-yard scoring pass to Donovan Varner. He cut across the middle and Renfree hit him in stride to make it 14-3.
Then on the next possession, he threw a 47-yard pass to Vernon two plays before his 7-yard flip to Brandon King.
And after Newsome's touchdown with 1:07 left in the half, Renfree ran the two-minute drill to near perfection. He threw four quick completions and took advantage of a pass interference penalty on Elon to set up Will Snyderwine's 20-yard field goal at the buzzer that made it 27-13.
Snyderwine also converted from 22 yards out for the Blue Devils, Varner finished with 123 yards receiving and Scott put Duke up 7-3 with the longest rush of his brief career. During the opening drive, the Blue Devils had 52 yards rushing — or, more than they had in seven games last season as the nation's worst rushing team.
Adam Schreiner kicked field goals of 28 and a career-best 47 yards for Elon.