Quentin Harris has struggled in limited action this season. 

Film room: Has using Quentin Harris worked?

Every week, the Blue Zone takes you inside the video room and breaks down a key piece, player or unit for the Blue Devils’ opponent. In a special edition of Film Room, the Blue Zone dissects Quentin Harris' usage this season. 

In a tie game in the fourth quarter against preseason No. 3 Florida State, Duke had just secured the momentum and the ball on a Jeremy McDuffie interception. 

Soon, the Blue Devils faced a pivotal third-and-4 at the Seminole 47-yard line, with a chance to extend a drive to take the lead. 

But then, head coach David Cutcliffe and his staff opted to put in backup quarterback Quentin Harris. 

Quarterback Daniel Jones, who had been having a fine day, was pulled in favor of the speedy Harris, who had not attempted a pass outside of garbage time all season, only used in clear running situations. He rolled out to his right, looked downfield, and had his pass batted down by a defensive lineman. 

Duke was forced to punt, turning a potential late lead into a three-and-out. On the next drive, Florida State drove 91 yards to take a 17-10 lead that it would never surrender. 

This play was a microcosm of Harris’ head-scratching usage this season. Outside of garbage time usage, early use against Northwestern and a sneak against North Carolina, only two of the eight designed Harris runs have been anything close to successful. Cutcliffe and his staff have used Harris extremely predictably, having him throw just the one pass in crunch time compared the eight runs, five of which have been to the left side. You can see the breakdown of every Harris snap here

Of those eight, seven were following wildly successful plays either by Jones or Brittain Brown, seeming to kill the momentum they had built. After the game Saturday, Jones endorsed Cutcliffe and his staff’s usage of Harris. 

“He’s a really good football player and deserves the ability to get out there and make plays,” Jones said.

But after his unsuccessful trips—his only successes being a two-yard run for a first down and a four-yard touchdown—should he really still be trotted out onto the field in key situations? The tape seems to suggest otherwise. 

Here's the list of Harris designed plays in the specified circumstances—two yards, no gain, one yard, three yards, four yard rush touchdown, one yard, two yards, incompletion. That’s 1.9 yards per carry, for those who are counting. Jones’ yards per carry so far this season, even including sacks: 2.9.

Jones’ runs have been much more successful because teams do not expect them—and he’s a good runner in his own right. When Harris comes in, defenses know they’re going to get a run right behind the guards, or maybe an occasional loop outside the tackles. 

Take this play against the Seminoles. On second-and-6, Jones runs off the field in favor of Harris. Not exactly a shocker that he’ll run the ball, even though he’s coming out of the shotgun. Linebacker Adonis Thomas, No. 22, was spying on Harris and crashed immediately to blow up the play for just a one-yard gain, even though Harris faked a drop-back to pass—very unconvincingly. 

Exhibit B: third-and-1 against Baylor, a classic Harris play-call. 

On an obvious run down, the Bears were able to stack the box and bring all seven to stop Harris on his run off the right guard, essentially the exact same play that was called on third-and-short for Harris early in the game. The play was predictably snuffed, forcing the Blue Devils to take a risk on fourth down in a tight 24-20 game in the fourth. 

In sum, Duke will have to switch up its usage of Harris if it wants to avoid wasted drives. Perhaps allowing him to pass the ball more would work—something Cutcliffe and his staff tried against the Seminoles.

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