Duke Now

Duke could be down two key starters heading into game at Wake

Duke’s Jeremy McDuffie, left, goes after Georgia Tech’s Qua Searcy on Saturday.
Duke’s Jeremy McDuffie, left, goes after Georgia Tech’s Qua Searcy on Saturday. bthomas@heraldsun.com

Duke starting safety Jeremy McDuffie’s season is over after he suffered torn knee ligaments during last Saturday’s 43-20 win over Georgia Tech.

McDuffie, a junior, will have surgery to repair his right knee on Monday and faces a recovery schedule that could put his 2018 season in jeopardy. Since he played as a true freshman in 2015, McDuffie has a redshirt year available if he’s not healed in time for next season.

McDuffie has started all 11 games for Duke (5-6, 2-5 in ACC) this season. He’s fourth on the team in tackles (58). He’s intercepted three passes, returning one for a touchdown.

“It’s a great, great season he has had,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “I hope it doesn’t diminish what people think about his season. Very unfortunate.”

This is the second major knee injury McDuffie has suffered in his football career. In 2014, eight games into his senior season at Shiloh High School in Snellville, Georgia, McDuffie tore the ACL in his left knee while returning a kickoff.

Ten months later, although still wearing a brace and admittedly not 100 percent healthy, he went through preseason practices at Duke as a freshman. He played in 13 games that year, including in Duke’s Pinstripe Bowl win over Indiana.

“He’s been through this rehab before that he is facing,” Cutcliffe said. “I’ve talked to he and his dad. His spirits are inspirational. He will battle back.”

A state champion in multiple events as a track and field athlete in high school, McDuffie excelled in track at Duke last spring, earning second-team, all-ACC honors in the triple jump and 110 hurdles. He was also part of a 400 relay team that recorded the fourth-best time in school history (41.41 seconds) and placed seventh at the ACC championship meet.

His injury will likely prevent him from running track and participating in Duke’s spring football practices in 2018.

The Blue Devils play Wake Forest in Saturday’s regular-season finale at Winston-Salem. A win would give Duke bowl eligibility for the fifth time in six seasons.

But Duke will play not only without McDuffie, but with starting linebacker Ben Humphreys limited, at best. Cutcliffe said Humphreys, who injured his left leg against Army and missed the Georgia Tech game, did not practice on Tuesday. Koby Quansah, who started in Humphreys’ place against Georgia Tech, is the starter there unless Humphreys’ leg improves dramatically by Saturday.

As for McDuffie’s safety position, Cutcliffe said freshman Michael Carter II is working there. Senior Alonzo Saxton, a starter all season, is at another safety slot with sophomore Dylan Singleton manning the other. Cutcliffe believes that trio fit best in Duke’s 4-2-5 alignment for Wake Forest.

“We think they may be are best three combination guys with other people able to step in,” Cutcliffe said.

Freshman Marquis Waters, a safety, started against Georgia Tech in more of a linebacker role as Duke used 4-3 defensive alignments against the triple-option offense. Waters is more likely to be a reserve against Wake Forest but Cutcliffe remains confident the freshman is capable of helping the defense.

“I thought he had a good day (Tuesday),” Cutcliffe said. “He showed up like he did against Georgia Tech. I thought he was evident. We had some one-on-one pass coverage work and he showed up in that team work. He’s big. He’s fast and I think he gained a lot of confidence.”

Steve Wiseman: 919-419-6671, @stevewisemanNC