Its depth and concentration severely tested, Duke’s football team turned in another winning performance on Saturday.
Due to Hurricane Florence, the Blue Devils left on Thursday for Waco, Texas, a day earlier than usual, for their game against Baylor. They held practices Thursday and Friday on a high school field.
They entered the game against Baylor without injured experienced starters Daniel Jones (quarterback), Mark Gilbert (cornerback), Zach Harmon (center), Jeremy McDuffie (safety) and Aaron Young (wide receiver). During the game, starters Michael Carter II (cornerback) and defensive tackle (Edgar Cerenord) left the game with injuries.
Despite all that, Duke scored the game’s first 23 points and rolled to a 40-27 win.
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“I do admire these young men,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said, “that are stressed college students, like everybody that’s at Duke, yet they have found a way to be committed to each other as teammates and committed to this program. So this is something that we have a chance to build off of.”
Even with all that went on surrounding the game, Duke (3-0) played a penalty-free game. The Blue Devils have been penalized just eight times in three games, fewest of any ACC team.
Duke also played turnover free for the second game in a row. The Blue Devils have just one turnover this season.
Now Duke starts preparing for Saturday’s game with N.C. Central at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Here are the takeaways from the win at Baylor:
Quentin Harris can run the offense
With Jones sidelined by a broken left collarbone, Harris got his first start and performed admirably.
The redshirt junior rushed 14 times for 83 yards while completing 12 of 30 passes for 174 yards with three touchdown throws.
The big question entering the game centered on Harris’ ability to throw deep passes. He’d never been asked to do that in his limited play (15 passes) over the last two seasons. But Harris threw touchdown passes covering 28 yards to senior wide receiver T.J. Rahming and 66 yards to redshirt senior wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd.
Harris misfired on plenty of passes. There were times when incomplete passes landed on the turf with no Duke receiver in sight.
Overall, Harris’ performance was solid.
“Definitely I thought I had a couple balls I probably 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 happy as can be. It says a lot about the team effort we put together to be able to come back after we fought adversity in this game.”
Cutcliffe commended offensive coordinator Zac Roper for his play calling.
“Zac Roper called a great game,” Cutcliffe said. “He gave Quentin plenty of opportunities to use his abilities well. That’s a big part of coaching. It’s not just the same series of plays called, it’s trying to utilize the best abilities that players have, put them in those situations. Zac did a great job.”
Rebuilt secondary still has playmakers
Three starting players are unavailable yet Duke’s defensive backs stayed tough to key another win.
Gilbert (hip) is done for the season while McDuffie (knee) missed his second consecutive game. Carter sprained a knee ligament in the first quarter against Baylor.
Yet Carter’s replacement, redshirt sophomore cornerback Myles Hudzick, entered the game and recorded a team-high nine tackles.
Redshirt freshman safety Leonard Johnson intercepted a pass and returned it 53 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown that held off the Baylor comeback.
Junior safety Dylan Singleton had seven tackles while forcing one fumble and recovering another. He also broke up a pass.
Sophomore safety Marquis Waters blocked a Baylor field goal attempt and was also credited with a quarterback hurry.
Impactful plays abound from that group even as Duke goes deeper on the depth chart.
“You go to the defensive secondary,” Cutcliffe said, “and oh, my gosh, I’m counting out there how many second or third teamers we had out there, and they’re playing their hearts out, and fought, and scratched and clawed.”
Offensive line shows sturdiness
Starting center Zach Harmon suffered a lower body injury late in the 21-7 win at Northwestern on Sept. 8 and, though in uniform, didn’t play at Baylor.
Redshirt sophomore center Jack Wohlabaugh, the transfer from Ohio State who was granted a waiver by the NCAA to play at Duke this season, stepped in and played well.
Redshirt sophomore Robert Kraeling started at right tackle but split time with redshirt sophomore Jaylen Miller. Redshirt junior Zach Baker received playing time as a reserve guard behind starters junior Julian Santos and sophomore Rakavius Chambers.
Chambers missed some snaps with a sprained ankle.
Redshirt senior Christian Harris continued to man left tackle, guarding Quentin Harris’ blind side when he wasn’t out nursing a sprained ankle. Quentin Harris wasn’t sacked and Duke gained 225 rushing yards, averaging 5.1 yards per carry.