Jones, Duke offense struggle again in loss at Virginia

Duke's Daniel Jones (17) makes a shuffle pass to Brittain Brown (22) in the first half against Virginia Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, in Charlottesville, Va. (Zack Wajsgras//The Daily Progress via AP)
Duke's Daniel Jones (17) makes a shuffle pass to Brittain Brown (22) in the first half against Virginia Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, in Charlottesville, Va. (Zack Wajsgras//The Daily Progress via AP) AP

One week after Duke hoped Daniel Jones and its offense had hit rock bottom, the unit fell even further on Saturday.

Jones threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and passed for just 124 yards as Virginia beat the Blue Devils 28-21 in ACC football at Scott Stadium.

After completing only 21 of 42 passes for just 166 yards in a 31-6 loss to Miami on Sept. 29, Jones was 14-of-42 in the loss to Virginia (4-1, 1-0 ACC).

While helped by its own defensive touchdown on Saturday, the Duke offense has scored just two touchdowns over the last eight quarters in a pair of losses that dropped the Blue Devils to 4-2 overall and 1-2 in the ACC.

After struggling with just 86 yards of offense in the first half, Virginia put together an impressive 79-yard drive to take the lead on its first possession after halftime.

After quarterback Kurt Benkert completed his first three passes for the drive, Jordan Ellis broke free for a 17-yard run in to Duke territory. Benkert hooked up with Andre Levrone on a 25-yard passing play down the left sideline to the Duke 9.

One play after a Duke pass-interference penalty gave Virginia first-and-goal at the Duke 4, Benkert fired a 5-yard touchdown pass to Doni Dowling, giving the Cavaliers a 21-14 lead.

While Duke’s offense continued to sputter, the Cavaliers put together a gutty 80-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to pull away.

Virginia faced three third-down situations early in the drive. Duke’s defense has thrived in those situations this season but ran out of gas as the Cavaliers converted all three.

Benkert and Dowling connected for a 17-yard touchdown pass with 7:08 to play for a 28-14 Virginia lead.

Duke senior running back Shaun Wilson gave the Blue Devils a chance, though, returning the ensuing kickoff 76 yards to the Virginia 12.

With 6:08 to play, Duke reserve quarterback Quentin Harris scored on a 4-yard run slicing Virginia’s lead to 28-21.

Duke’s defense forced a three-and-out with defensive end Victor Dimukeje making a key third-down tackle to force a Cavaliers punt.

But, from his own 18, Jones fired three more incomplete passes, and Duke had to punt it away again.

The Duke defense forced another punt, and the Blue Devils took over at their own 20 with 3:14 to play.

Duke reached the Virginia 30 before Jones was sacked on third down and threw a fourth-down incomplete pass with 1:08 left.

Defenses dominated in the first half when each quarterback saw one of his passes intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

It started on Duke’s first drive when Jones, on third down, threw a pass to T.J. Rahming even though he was short of the first-down marker. The ball bounced off Rahming’s hands and was intercepted by Quin Blanding, who returned it 58 yards for a touchdown and a 7-0 Virginia lead.

Even though Duke was on its way to averaging just 1.2 yards per play in the first quarter, the Blue Devils tied the score nevertheless. With 1:15 left in the first quarter, safety Jeremy McDuffie picked off a Benkert pass and brought it back 42 yards for a touchdown.

Duke’s lone sustained drive of the first half came from one of its worst starting positions. The Blue Devils took over at their own 12 early in the second quarter. Reserve tackle Christian Harris manned left tackle in place of injured starter Gabe Brandner (left leg). Third-string running back Deon Jackson, a freshman, touched the ball on three of the drive’s first six carries.

But Jones led the Blue Devils down the field on an 88-yard touchdown drive with the running game leading the way.

Jones scrambled 8 yards on a second-and-7 to get a first down. On a third-and-5 play, he tossed a pass which Rahming bobbled and caught for a 9-yard gain to the Duke 37.

Jones completed back-to-back passes for 6 yards each to Quay Chambers before he scrambled 24 yards to the Virginia 25.

Another Jones scramble, this one on third-and-9, gained 11 yards to the Cavaliers’ 13.

Two plays later, Jones zipped a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Davis Koppenhaver. The pass found its way through two receivers to Koppenhaver in the end zone to give Duke a 14-7 lead with 5:21 left in the first half.

Virginia never got its offense going in the first half, but the Cavaliers found a way to tie the score aided by Duke penalties.

After taking over at their own 31, the Cavaliers appeared to dig a deeper hole when Duke cornerback Mark Gilbert intercepted a pass and returned it for a Blue Devils touchdown. But a holding penalty on McDuffie wiped out the score.

Duke’s secondary was flagged for two more penalties – pass interference calls on McDuffie and Bryon Fields – as Virginia advanced to the Duke 16.

With 45 seconds left in the half, Benkert tossed a swing pass to Olamide Zaccheaus, who scampered 11 yards for a touchdown to tie the score at 14.