DURHAM, N.C. – Duke keeps losing players but winning games.
The Blue Devils (4-1, 1-0 ACC) have their best five-game record since 1994, and they've done it despite a stream of injuries.
"I would be amazed to see what we'd be like if we had all the players that are injured," backup quarterback Anthony Boone said Tuesday.
Four starters — including quarterback Sean Renfree — were hurt last week against Wake Forest but all four are listed as starters on the two-deep chart for Saturday's home game against Virginia (2-3, 0-1).
Coach David Cutcliffe, who previously characterized Renfree as day to day, declined Tuesday to discuss specific injuries until Thursday, when the weekly injury report will be released. At least 10 players each week have appeared on the injury report designated as out for that game or for the entire season.
And those bumps and bruises have come so quickly — especially in the secondary, the key area of the defense's 4-2-5 alignment — that Cutcliffe says he and defensive coordinator Jim Knowles developed a plan they call the "potential rotation of disaster."
"We do a contingency depth chart, and we address it in practice," Cutcliffe said. "We've got corners that can play safety, and safeties that can play corner, and safeties that can play different positions.
"And here's the two-deep — the real two-deep — and then here's another two-deep, and here's another two-deep of what-ifs."
The Blue Devils certainly have had to use contingencies. Neither top linebacker Kelby Brown nor key tight end Braxton Deaver (leg injuries) have played this season. Projected starting receiver Blair Holliday suffered serious head injuries in a July 4 watercraft accident.
Safety Jordon Byas missed the first three games (knee), and starting defensive end Justin Foxx missed the last three (hand).
Renfree was knocked out in the third quarter with a right elbow injury.
He was hit and forced to fumble on a blitz by cornerback Chibuikem Okoro. Boone stepped in and led two fourth-quarter touchdown drives, scoring the go-ahead touchdown on a keeper with 11:35 left.
"It just shows that we have a lot of young guys that are producing and a lot of guys are buying into, 'Hey, we may not be real deep, and you may have been with the third team last year or the second team last year, and now you're a starter,' " Boone said. "So you're going to have to go out there and produce and make plays for us to win games."
Somehow, the Blue Devils have dodged injuries at a few key spots. The same 11 have started on offense every game — including a veteran group of five linemen who have an average of nearly 21 starts. Go-to receiver Conner Vernon has been the model of consistency, tying the ACC's career receptions record last week with his 232nd catch.
Taken together, they're big reasons why Duke is having its best season since 1994, the last time it made a bowl game.
"A lot could be said about what's happening to them and their season, finding ways to win, using different players to get it done," coach Mike London of Virginia said. "It's self-evident right now, the way they're playing."
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