DURHAM, N.C. – Duke redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Jones and junior return specialist Shaun Wilson claimed ACC Player of the Week honors following the Blue Devils’ 38-35 win at Notre Dame this past Saturday.
Jones, a 6-5, 210-pound native of Charlotte, N.C., earned ACC Rookie of the Week accolades after completing 24-of-32 (.750) passes for 290 yards with three touchdowns and one interception while rushing for an additional 19 yards on five attempts against the Fighting Irish. He engineered Duke’s game-winning 10-play, 44-yard drive, which culminated in AJ Reed’s 19-yard field goal with 1:24 remaining in the game. Earlier in the fourth quarter, Jones threw a 64-yard touchdown pass to Anthony Nash to tie the game, 35-35, with 6:47 left.
Wilson, a 5-9, 180-pound native of Charlotte, N.C., returned four kickoffs for 163 yards including a 96-yard return for a touchdown to garner ACC Specialist of the Week honors. In place of injured three-time All-America kick returner DeVon Edwards and with Duke trailing, 14-0, in the opening quarter, Wilson returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown to jumpstart a 28-7 spurt as the Blue Devils claimed a 28-21 advantage at halftime. In addition, he added 66 rushing yards on 13 attempts.
Duke will host Virginia on Saturday at Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium. Kickoff is set for 12:30 p.m. and tickets may be purchased online at www.GoDuke.com/FootballTix or by calling the Duke Athletic Ticket Office at919-681-2583.
There were very few people who gave the Duke Blue Devils a shot versus Notre Dame in South Bend. In fact, Duke was a 20 point underdog and coming off two lack luster losses.
But on Saturday, Duke Gang as they are call themselves regrouped to stun Notre Dame 38-35 and even their season record at 2-2. It was a day when pretty much everything went right and that in itself was a far cry from the two losses on the season.
Duke won the battle of turnovers 3-1 and they had 3 sacks to the 1 for the Irish. When they needed a stop on defense there was an interception, quarterback rush or deflected pass. And it was a field goal which actually won the game.
But there was more, including big plays and playmakers both which have been missing. A just tuned 19-year-old quarterback in Daniel Jones tossing the ball for a big Touchdown pass to senior Anthony Nash was like a bolt of lightning. After falling behind 35-28, Duke used three plays and a 64 yard scamper down the sidelines electrified the Blue Devils sideline to tie the game.
This was a day when Duke fell behind 14-0, lost their kickoff specialist DeVon Edwards, possibly for the season. Yet Duke showed off depth as Shaun Wilson set the day in motion for Duke with his 96 yard touchdown return.
Duke would later add a solid drive where Jela Duncan ran for 18 yards and a score. Duncan led all rushers on the day 121 yards and Duke out gained the Irish 208 to 153 yards on the day which reflects on the offensive line.
While we are on the offensive front, they allowed just one sack and protected Daniel Jones. That allowed the first year quarterback to throw for 24 of 42 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns. He did have an interception which was one of the few mistakes the Blue Devils committed on the day. In fact, the team has one single penalty.
And then there was the game winning field goal from AJ Reed who had missed three field goal attempts and an extra point coming into the game. On this day, he was on the mark and can now build on the fact he hit a game winner on the road against Notre Dame.
In fact, the Duke staff can build on this game after a great effort and the team can as well. The seniors will have some bounce in their step, while a lot of young players grew up and more confident.
Just when everybody had written Duke off, they played their way back into the season. In the process, they gave their fans hope and will now come home looking to get on the winning side of things.
You cannot count the ways in which this win helped Duke Football. The team knew they were better than their showing to date and the staff stepped it up too,
Now that they know what they are capable of there is a need for consistency. Today, Duke showed resiliency and won a big road game against a storied opponent. The got better. They played with heart. They played with focus. And the program which has gone to four consecutive bowl games. got their mojo back.
Flash back to the preseason and most felt Duke and Note Dame would come into the game with no less than 2-1 records. In the case for the Irish, some felt they would likely be 3-0 as they were ranked in every top ten prognostication that could be found. What we will have in reality in South Bend this Saturday where the game kicks off at 3;30 on NBC are two 1-2 teams reeling from rocky starts.
The Irish have lost to two good teams while Duke has lost to two average teams at best. A critical conference loss at home to Wake Forest signaled that Duke would experience some serious growing pains for the first time in years. Last weeks loss to Northwestern was another error plagued effort leaving the Blue Devils in desperate need of something positive.
The one thing Duke can do to better it's chances of getting back in the win column is to cut down on turnovers. Most of those have come from freshman playing key roles. That means, it may be hard to expect different results with ''Touchdown Jesus,'' staring over young men not even twenty years of age,
What Duke can hope for is to find some positives and somehow play loose. Duke is in no way considered a good bet to win in this game as they were in previous outings. Perhaps that will allow them to play with less pressure on their backs.
Duke can compete if their defense can force turnovers and the offense has to find the end zone. The Irish has been vulnerable against the pass early on but against solid competition, The real key though, will simply be not to beat yourself. Duke has done that early on as one of the nation's leaders in turnovers.
With a shaky kicking game and a young man barely 19 years old in Daniel Jones at quarterback, asking for a win is a tall order. What Duke can hope for is to iron out some of the kinks to develop much needed momentum.
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, obviously back on the road against an extremely talented team, as I look at their roster. So many guys we're very aware of from the recruiting process, and guys from all over the country. The common thread is incredible ability. Brian Kelly is an incredible offensive mind. They've got an outstanding kicking game, an outstanding defense. They've played a tough, tough schedule. We have our hands full in South Bend.
I'll take questions.
Q. To kind of go off what you were saying about Brian Kelly, giving him credit for the offensive mind he has, just to go a little further with that on what you can say about him as a coach and how he's led Notre Dame.
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, he's a positive energy force, just a great program. Every aspect of what they do, they do extremely well. Recruiting, as I mentioned, all three phases, I think he's very creative. Offensively they use formations well. They use their people well. They remain physical all while using the entire field. I think he does as good a job as anybody in the business offensively.
Q. And then as far as your team offensively, just what you've been able to take away from these last few weeks where obviously you've been able to put some things together offensively that don't always turn into points, just what you're taking away at this point.
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, we're consistently inconsistent. We have some weapons. We've got some people that at times are playing extremely well. There's two things we're hunting, consistency and taking better care of the ball. If we can accomplish those two things, we have a chance of having a really good offensive football team. We've got some ability.
Q. Did you expect the offense to be better than it is, or did you kind of figure, okay, with the quarterback change, it's going to take a while to get everybody in sync?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, there's a lot of change, and offensively we have a new offensive line coach, a new tight end coach, a new coordinator, that brings you to a new quarterback coach. That we knew, and then you lose your starting quarterback in camp, and so we're playing obviously a very young quarterback. But we're young in some other places.
So you knew that you needed to perform at an extremely high level to be successful, and at times we've done that. We're encouraged. We're far from discouraged. We're encouraged. But obviously we're not playing well enough to win games. We believe we can do that.
Now, the opponent we're playing this week is very difficult for a veteran offense to play against, a very multiple defensive team, a very experienced defensive coordinator. So he's going to try to cause a lot of problems for Daniel. We've got to manage him, manage the people around him, and put our players in position to hopefully be successful a larger percentage of the time than what we've been.
It's a great challenge this week and a chance for us to grow. If we go play well, we always have a chance.
Q. I wanted to ask you about DeVon Edwards, not as a kick returner as he's famous for, or even a defensive back, but the fact that as a 5'9", 180 guy as he's listed, he's fifth in the ACC in sacks and he's very close to ranking in the all-time top 10 in sacks in Duke history. Can you talk about the unusual circumstances of a player like that playing safety and how he's that effective as a pass rusher?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, I went and watched DeVon practice basketball when he was in high school, and the thing that impressed me most, he was a 5'9", 180-pound scoring machine, great shooter, but you know what he was, he was their leading rebounder. He had a way to get the ball. He had a fierceness about getting to a ball that went up on the basket. He has the same fierceness when he comes after a quarterback. Jim Knowles uses him in unique ways because of this tenacity, this fierce ability. I think he's one of the best football players in the country, and it doesn't get said near enough.
With all of the things that he does for his team, I don't know if there's a bigger MVP anywhere. You know how big a fan I am of DeVon's. He slices, he ducks, he fakes, he cuts. He's strong, pound for pound, unbelievably strong. So when he does get his hands on the quarterback, they're going down, although this one this week is really big. But he is a fierce competitor.
Q. It seems very odd to look at the ACC stats and see that Duke is leading the league in sacks. It's obviously been a weakness, and it's obviously something you've had to generate with blitzes and other things rather than straight-up pass rush, but can you talk about the pass rush and how you've created that this year?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: Well, it's a combination of Jim Knowles and certainly Ben Albert. I think Coach Albert has made a big difference with our defensive front. I think actually that's going to continue to get better. We've got some young talent there. We're trying like crazy to recruit more young talent. Ben is a great teacher of pass rush. We work very hard at good against good in that regard, and I just have seen it coming. We even did some scrimmages in August where our quarterbacks were live as much as anything just to see what kind of pass rush we could generate.
Between scheme, between a willingness to take risk to some degree, and then the technique and energy that Ben puts into the defensive linemen rushing the passer, I think we've reaped some of the benefits.
Now, the biggest challenge will be this week. Nobody hardly gets near this young man unless you're just a beast because their offensive front at Notre Dame is outstanding, I mean outstanding. They all look like they could be NFL football players to me.
Q. Dave, there's a lot of tough places to play just within the ACC, and you've played some other tough places, too, but do you say anything about one of those kind of legendary atmospheres like Notre Dame, the Golden Dome and so on, et cetera, or do you just let the guys experience it when they walk in there?
DAVID CUTCLIFFE: I'm going to talk with them a little bit about it, just the uniqueness of coming down the tunnel with two teams in one tunnel and the history there. I mean, they know enough about it, but they need to hear from me a little bit more about what to expect.
Once the game is being played, obviously crowd noise is an issue when you go on the road in big stadiums, but once the game is being played, I think once you are over that novelty, you just play in football.
Hopefully we're mature enough to handle that. We're working on it. You know, maturity of a team is one of the important aspects of it, and that's something certainly we're having to work with with this particular team.
At some point, you knew it had to happen. What I'm talking here is growing pains. It's the Blue Devils turn to experience them after going to four consecutive bowl games,
When the final gun sounded, Duke had not left their best effort on the field. There were too many turnovers, including a fumble which gave Wake Forest all the momentum and an early second half touchdown and a 14 to 7 lead.
Duke would answer on a drive of their own where Daniel Jones ran for his second touchdown of the game, but that would be it for scoring. Wake would tack on ten more points to make the final 24-14.
The Blue Devils line play was less than stellar. In fact, Wake's offensive front pushed Duke around as their backs rushed for 239 yards. Duke was solid on defense in the first half, but they seemed to tire as the game went on.
Wake only connected on 6 of 17 third downs, but the Duke coverage broke down when the game was on the line. The Blue Devils failed to get a stop that led to a Wake field goal that put the game out of reach. Had just one mistake been avoided, Duke could have possibly sent the game into overtime.
If you read my article in the pre season on important games, you saw where I mentioned this one was the most important. You do not want to get off to an 0-1 start in the ACC at home and you need to win the games you are favored in to keep bowl hopes a viable option.
In all honesty. Duke placed itself in an early hole by losing to Wake Forest for the schedule ahead is brutal. Most people felt Duke would have to steal a game to make it to another bowl this season. Now, they will have to steal at least two and have perfect success in winnable games.
There is a lot of football left to be played but Duke will more than likely end up playing for the future. In order to prevent that from happening they will need to win at Northwestern next week to rekindle any hope for a bowl game.
Duke blew a lot of chances in the first half to take a solid lead. They allowed Wake to hang around, they turned the ball over and allowed big plays. And then there were some very untimely penalties near the red zone and two deflating missed field goals. Off the field, they struggled to put fannies in the stands and student turnout was paltry as well.
While I am painting a bleak picture, all is not as bad as it may seem to the fanbase. The program has a lot of players who will grow in the system and get better. It is worth watching them develop the skills they will need to help Duke have future success.
Recruiting is going very well and the stadium renovations are top notch. But Duke now has to fill the seats and well, nothing was quite as it should be today, or as it will be one day.
Every aspect of the program needs to get better after today's loss. That may not happen this year, but that time is coming. The reason I say this is that there is a solid foundation being built, it just needs some TLC to get things on the proper track.
Duke has talent, but they are very young in key areas of the team. Much like the renovations to facilities and game day processes, there needs to be some tweaking.
It will take some time and patience, but David Cutliffe has earned that. Nobody is more upset with this loss than is he and hopefully, the team will play with a sense of urgency moving forward.
Duke will try to defeat a Northwestern team next week who is coming off two upset losses. The Wildcats will still be the favorite in this game and likely have their ears pinned back. For Duke, it is still one of the easier games they have left. If for no other reason than that, the Blue Devils desperately need to come out of this game with a win.
A rivalry was established between Duke and Wake Forest several years ago when the ACC made sure they would meet every season. At the time, Wake Forest had seen a resurgence in their program that would in time lead them to an ACC Championship under Jim Grobe.
Since that time, Duke has used their own blueprint to success. While there is no ACC Championship to boast about, there are four consecutive bowl games. That, along with some sweet changes to facilities taking place on Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium have made for a momentum swing of late in the Blue Devils favor.
It tickles me how so many people judge teams off a single game. Take last weeks Wake win over Tulane by a 7-3 score. Many are saying, this means Wake cannot score ignoring the fact that the Green Wave had an all new staff which makes it hard to prepare. Yes, the Demon Deacons struggled on offense but not on defense and that is their bread and butter.
Remember how good Clemson was a year ago? Well, Wake held their offense down, not to mention a heart breaking one point loss to Louisville and the list goes on. Well, folks -- they have the same defense minus one player. In their last three games a season ago, they held good offensive teams in Clemson to 33, Notre Dame to 28 and Louisville to 20.
On the other side of the ball, Duke will see if barely 19-year-old quarterback in actually Daniel Jones is ready for prime time. A week ago in the easy win over NCCU he looked the part, but this time he must play a whole game and not a half.
The Deacs are tough up front and that will test the Duke running game which is a key ingredient to team success. The Blue Devils offensive front faces their first true test against a team that just doesn't allow many opportunities for scores.
Duke may actually fare better with their own defense in this game, and that means special teams could play a role as well. The muffed ball on a kick last week was one too many according to Duke Coach David Cutcliffe. He also bristled when he spoke to the muffed punt return by Ryan Smith. Those kind of turnovers will not float in this game if Duke is to come out on top.
One thing to look for are play makers making the big play in this game. In talking to DeVon Edwards this week, he admitted to Jonesing a bit when he does not break for a nice return or haul in an interception in a game. Duke needs something to happen in their favor and not turn the ball over more than their opponent in a game that could be low scoring.
What we are likely to see is a defensive game where field position plays a big role. Duke will hope to score touchdowns instead of settling for field goals in the red zone with an untested freshman kicker.
It will also be quite important to score early in a game like this and not play from behind. It'll be interesting as well to truly gauge both the Duke offense and defense against and ACC rival.
Duke is favored by 5 points in Vegas and while I in no way advocate gambling, we, like others, use this as a gauge for entertainment purposes. One of the supposed ESPN experts picks Wake Forest to cover and win outright. Some fans, seem to think that number is low.
On Saturday, we;ll know for sure how things play out. Duke still has plenty of questions that need answering. Can the passing game step up when needed or the running game continue to be a large factor comes to mind. We'll also look to see how the Duke defense fares against better competition and a team with vastly more physical talent than the opening week opponent.
I suppose it is time to make my prediction and I do think Duke will win. The question is which way the ball will bounce for a single turnover could alter this game mightily as would missing a key field goal. One thing I am certain of is that four touchdowns would win this game for either side.