In terms of wins and losses, Duke could not have started the season better.
Wins in the first two games, though, have come with a price and the Blue Devils find themselves forced to rely on reserve players to continue what could be a special season.
Cornerback Mark Gilbert, a first-team all-ACC player, is done for the season after suffering a left hip injury during Saturday’s 21-7 win at Northwestern. The junior had surgery Sunday after the team returned to Durham and faces months of recovery and rehabilitation.
Quarterback Daniel Jones injured his left collarbone while being sacked late in the third quarter at Northwestern. He also had surgery on Sunday at Duke. While the redshirt junior’s prognosis is far better than Gilbert’s, no timetable has been established for his return. At the minimum, though, he’s expected to miss Duke’s final three September games.
Duke played the Northwestern game without junior wide receiver Aaron Young, who suffered a hamstring injury in practice last week. The Blue Devils are also without senior safety Jeremy McDuffie, whose knee has not responded as well as hoped following surgery to repair a torn ACL last November.
So the Blue Devils are in a tough spot as they head to Waco, Texas, to play Baylor (2-0) this Saturday.
Here’s a look at how the Blue Devils plan to deal with their injury situation:
Who’s sidelined: Jones is going to miss, at the minimum, Duke’s games at Baylor and at home with N.C. Central (Sept. 22) and Virginia Tech (Sept. 29). The Blue Devils don’t play the first weekend of October before going to Georgia Tech on Oct. 13.
The replacements: Junior Quentin Harris finished the Northwestern game, playing the entire fourth quarter. He ran five times for 14 yards and completed his only two pass attempts, both short routes that gained 12 yards total. He’ll be Duke’s starter while Jones is out. The offense won’t be as dynamic as with Jones under center. But the coaching staff will run a package of plays that takes advantage of Harris’ running ability while protecting from turnovers.
Redshirt freshman Chris Katrenick and true freshman Gunnar Holmberg will be behind Harris on the depth chart.
Who’s sidelined: Young was Duke’s top receiver in the season-opening 34-14 win over Army when he caught four passes for 114 yards with a touchdown. The junior is a big target at 6-2 and 205 pounds. Hamstring strains can be tricky, so Duke can’t afford to rush him back.
The replacements: Duke started its three senior receivers at Northwestern as Chris Taylor started in Young’s position. He caught one pass for nine yards. Johnathan Lloyd and T.J. Rahming both caught touchdown passes from Jones. Rahming (nine) and Lloyd (seven) are Duke’s leaders in catches this season.
Freshman Jake Bobo, a big target at 6-4 and 220 pounds, has played sparingly in the first two games. A prolonged Young absence could earn him more chances.
Who’s sidelined: Gilbert is one of the ACC’s top corners and among the nation’s best at his position. His loss to injury is a major blow to Duke’s defense.
The replacements: Duke has two second-year players who’ll be called upon to fill the cornerback slots. Redshirt freshman Josh Blackwell started opposite Gilbert against Northwestern. Michael Carter II, who has played both safety and cornerback this season, took over at corner after Gilbert’s injury. He intercepted a pass at Northwestern, a sign of his talent. Junior Myles Hudzick played against Northwestern when Duke needed a third cornerback in certain pass defense situations.
Who’s sidelined: McDuffie was a third-team all-ACC player last season prior to his knee injury in November. He was cleared for the start of practice on Aug. 2 and expressed optimism about being ready for the season. But he lacks the explosiveness he had prior to the injury. He played sparingly against Army and didn’t travel to Northwestern.
The replacements: Again, like at cornerback,Duke has to rely on inexperienced talent rather than a proven veteran. The Blue Devils had Carter there to start the game at Northwestern but Gilbert’s injury caused his return to cornerback. So redshirt freshman Leonard Johnson played and recorded six tackles (three solo) against the Wildcats. He’s in for even more playing time now.
Duke will use sophomore Marquis Waters and junior Dylan Singleton at its other safety slots in the 4-2-5 defensive alignment. Waters injured his ankle in practice last week but played through the injury at Northwestern, intercepting a pass and recording five tackles. Singleton is Duke’s leading tackler so far with 21, including 10 at Northwestern.