Due to Hurricane Florence, Duke traveled to Texas a day earlier than it normally would have for a road trip.
The Blue Devils must have used that extra time wisely, as they looked well-prepared and right at home.
Duke dominated in the trenches, and new quarterback Quentin Harris passed for three touchdowns in his first career start as the Blue Devils dumped Baylor, 40-27, on Saturday at McLane Stadium.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe expressed pride for how his team responded, especially in light of what was going on back home.
“I told them at the hotel I had admiration for them,” Cutcliffe said. “I told them last night and today that it’s been incredibly smooth. Their focus, their commitment to handle whatever. We told them we’re leaving at 7 o’clock in the morning at the last minute, and not a single person – we loaded up the bus at 5:45 and went to the airport – not a single person was late. What does that tell you about this team?
“I admire these young men that are stressed college students just like everybody at Duke. They have found a way to be committed to each other as teammates and committed to this program.”
When three-year starter quarterback Daniel Jones went down with a broken collar-bone injury last week at Northwestern, there were questions about how the Blue Devil offense would perform with Harris at the helm. But the redshirt junior answered the bell, overcoming a slow start to eventually find a rhythm, sparking Duke (3-0) to a big 23-0 halftime lead. He completed 12 of 30 for 174 yards and three TD tosses for the game.
Not bad for a guy who had thrown just 15 career passes -- and for one touchdown -- in his three years at Duke coming into the game.
“Definitely a little different going out there and starting,” said Harris, when asked about his feelings coming into the day. “But on a week-to-week basis, it didn’t change for me in terms of my preparation.”
With its offense slow to get going, Duke’s ever-active defense helped set up the Blue Devils’ first score of the game. Redshirt freshman cornerback Josh Blackwell ripped away the ball from Baylor sophomore running back John Lovett on the Bears’ second possession of the game, and Duke recovered the fumble at the Baylor 34. Moments later, Duke caught Baylor off-guard with a perfectly-called draw play on third down, as sophomore running back Deon Jackson slipped loose for a 31-yard touchdown run.
As the half progressed, Harris grew more comfortable. He pump-faked and fooled the Baylor defense, then found senior wide receiver T.J. Rahming wide open streaking down the sideline for a 28-yard touchdown early in the second quarter. Later in the half, he lofted another sideline pass that redshirt senior wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd snagged while a pair of Baylor defenders collided, allowing the receiver to streak downfield for a 66-yard score.
“I thought I had a couple of balls I could have been more accurate on,” Harris said. “Definitely want to get the completion percentage up. But at the end of the day, it’s a team game and my individual stats don’t matter. As long as we come out on top, I’m as happy as can be.”
Starting cornerback Michael Carter II left the game in the first quarter after suffering a leg injury. He didn’t return.
After a listless first-half effort that included five dropped passes, the Bears (2-1) rallied to within 23-13 with 6:39 left in the third quarter after junior running back JaMycal Hasty scored on a 33-yard return of a block of a Duke punt. But Duke had an answer. The Blue Devils responded with a 75-yard scoring drive, capped off by a 7-yard TD toss from Harris to Rahming.
Cutcliffe described that drive as “huge” following the game.
“That’s the whole point of what we’re talking about,” the coach said. “What’s your intention when you go on that field? Are you thinking failure or are you thinking success?”
That score made it 30-13, Duke, with 2:47 left in the third. Baylor made one last flurry when former N.C. State QB Jalan McClendon hooked up with freshman wide receiver Tyquan Thornton on a 25-yard scoring strike with 9:44 to go in the game, cutting the Blue Devils’ lead to 30-20.
However, Duke didn’t panic, tacking on a field goal from redshirt senior kicker Collin Wareham before reshirt senior safety Leonard Johnson added an insurance score with a pick-six of McClendon with 3:39 to go, a play that covered 53 yards of wide-open real estate.
Duke’s running game was effective, as the Blue Devils ran for 227 yards, led by Jackson’s 10 carries for 83 yards and a TD. Duke also wasn’t flagged for a single penalty, the first time that’s happened in the Cutcliffe era in Durham.
Baylor coach Matt Rhule said, “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a game where a team had no penalties.”
Following consecutive road wins over Power 5 teams in Northwestern and Baylor, the Blue Devils will return to Durham to face N.C. Central next week.
““We’re not going to celebrate it beyond the plane ride,” Cutcliffe said. “I told them I’d call Delta and get them to crank that plane up and have the air conditioning working really good. And that’ll be the biggest celebration we want to have.”