Once heralded as a breakout star and potential future first-round NFL draft pick, quarterback Daniel Jones has had a much harder time finding his way this season. 

Following an outstanding 300-plus yard performance against Northwestern, Jones has taken a significant step back in his last three contests. Last season, the Charlotte, N.C., native failed to complete more than 58 percent of his attempts just once, but Jones has missed that mark each of his last three starts.

Although the Blue Devils' ground attack has been outstanding in that span, averaging better than 200 yards per game, the inability to throw the ball downfield has stagnated the offense and caused plenty of promising drives to turn into missed opportunities. By comparison, the offense has passed for an average of just 184 yards the last three weeks.

Friday, the Blue Devils were shut down offensively. Jones completed just 21 of his 41 attempts for 166 yards with Duke unable to punch the ball into the end zone. 

And it was poor pass protection that kept Jones from being able to drop back in the pocket and wait for big plays to develop.

“That’s got to be on me. I’ve got to help our players, find out what the circumstances are and we’re going to take a long, hard look at that and we will be better,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “We’ve got some ability and we’ve got to take that ability and put it in a position to be successful.”  

Despite defeating North Carolina 27-17 last week, Duke was also unable to capitalize in the red zone then, gaining just three points in two first-half trips. It took three consecutive stops by the Blue Devil defense and a pick-six by Bryon Fields Jr. to secure the victory for Duke.

After failing to score a touchdown in three red-zone chances Friday, the Blue Devils have scored just one touchdown on their last seven possessions within their opponent’s 20-yard line. 

“It’s disappointing to come off the field without points,” Jones said. “You know there are a lot of things to work on for us. Third downs and red zone offense are certainly things we need to work on.” 

Much of the Blue Devils’ inability to convert on third downs and drive the ball has been due to a lack of passing downfield. When a team is unable to stretch the field, opposing defenses can press up and guard the receivers tighter. This forces Jones to dish the ball off laterally, forcing the receivers to make moves in order to gain yardage. 

Although converting on more deep balls was a point of emphasis for Duke this offseason, the results have yet to come into fruition. After Friday’s loss, the Blue Devils now average a meager 10.0 yards per reception, which ranks them tied for 122nd in the nation in that category—out of 130 FBS teams.

“We’ve been better at that [throwing the ball downfield], but today we missed some opportunities,” Jones said. “I missed T.J. deep one time and you can’t afford to miss opportunities like that against good teams like Miami. So we’ll continue to work on that and we’re confident we can get these things corrected.”

In order for the Blue Devils to continue to build on their 4-0 start, they will need to cash in on their opportunities and make big plays down the stretch. Duke had a few opportunities to cash in and develop long drives against the Hurricanes, but inexcusable penalties and numerous blown coverages on the offensive line restricted the Blue Devils' chances. 

Duke has shown it can move the ball, but it hasn’t been able to capitalize nearly as well as the Blue Devils should. 

Duke outgained North Carolina by 30 yards in the first half last week and went into the locker room tied. Friday, the Blue Devils outgained the Hurricanes by 10 yards in the first 30 minutes Friday yet ended the half down by 11 points. 

If Duke wants to continue its early-season success and remain in contention for a berth to the ACC championship game, Jones and the Blue Devils will need to be more crisp in the coming weeks.