When head coach Mike Elko named his starting quarterback last weekend, I encouraged Blue Devil fans to get excited about him. Friday night against Temple, Riley Leonard showed Duke football faithful why they should. In his debut as a starter, all the sophomore from Alabama did was complete his first fifteen passes on the way to a night where he went 24-30 for 328 yards and a touchdown. In his postgame press conference, posted to goduke.com, Elko was pleased,
"“We started really fast – credit to Riley Leonard. He had an amazing start for a first-time starter completing his first 15 passes. A lot of guys got open and made plays, our offensive line did a great job keeping him open.”"
After starting with a very safe bubble screen, Leonard’s next throw is what made me sit up and take note. He showed an ability to throw on the run and used beautiful touch in dropping the ball over a Temple defender and into the waiting arms of Jordan Moore along the right sideline, who then turned the catch into a 52-yard gain to set up the team’s first touchdown. Leonard wasn’t finished. He showed the ability to make every throw with accuracy. Time and again he put the ball where his receivers could make the catch and gain yards after. Leonard was able to step into some throws and fire the ball or use touch when needed. When the situation dictated, he displayed the capability to change his arm angle-even throwing sidearm he was still very accurate. His team-leading sixty-four rushing yards shows he’s a capable runner. Defenses will not only have to deal with his arm, but his legs as well. I thought the young quarterback showed great poise and confidence, made good decisions, and handled the faster tempo well in his first start. He looked comfortable and sure of himself in the offense, Leonard credits the coaches,
"“Hats off to the coaches though because we really prepared very well for this game, so I knew what I was doing every single play and we had every scheme drawn up every single play.”"
I don’t think enough credit can be given to offensive coordinator Kevin Johns for not just how well he prepared Leonard, but for the way he handled him during the game. Johns used formations and motion to set up the Temple defense and put his quarterback in the best position to be successful. Leonard did the rest by making the correct reads and delivering the ball accurately. It is a very encouraging sign to see how well these two worked together in what was only the first game.
He’ll play against much better defenses that will provide him with much bigger challenges, but in his first game as a starter Riley Leonard showed Duke fans why they should be excited about him.