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Daniel Jones accounted for nearly 400 total yards in Duke's win.

Extra point: Duke's defense is the real deal, plus other takeaways from Quick Lane Bowl win

After a six-game midseason losing streak, it seemed the Blue Devils had almost no chance of playing in the postseason, much less winning a game the rest of the way. But they won their final two games and earned a chance to play in the Quick Lane Bowl Tuesday—and blew Northern Illinois out of the water. 

The Blue Zone gives three key takeaways, plays and stats and looks forward for the Blue Devils:

Three key takeaways: 

1. When Jones has time and run support, he can work it

Daniel Jones entered the season with lofty expectations, but looked nothing like the hyped quarterback many observers expected during Duke’s six-game losing skid. With poor offensive line play and a lack of a running game to support him those games, he completed just 49.5 percent of his passes and averaged a paltry 5.0 yards per attempt. 

But with the running game churning—mostly on his own legs—Jones was able to air it out consistently, even with the occasional misfire. Against statistically one of the best pass rushing front sevens in the nation, Jones completed 27-of-40 attempts for 252 yards and two scores—good for a QBR of 84.8, while rushing for nearly 100 yards. As a team, Duke outrushed Northern Illinois 213-65. 

If the Blue Devils can develop a more consistent offensive line and stronger running game next year, their offense could take the next step with Jones at the helm in his third year. 

2. Duke’s defense is the real deal

As they’ve shown all season long, the Blue Devils can bring it on defense. It wasn’t the defense that caused the midseason skid—it was largely an offensive implosion. They silenced the Huskies when it counted, holding them to a combined 1-of-18 on third and fourth down. Northern Illinois’ 0-for-6 mark on fourth down was the worst by an FBS team in 10 years, according to ESPN. 

They squashed the Huskies on the ground, holding them to just 2.2 yards per carry and needing to stay on the field for less than 22 minutes. And the Blue Devils were stingy through the air all year long—they were No. 11 in the nation in passing yards allowed per game, behind only Clemson in the ACC. They were largely stout against Northern Illinois, holding quarterback Marcus Childers to a QBR of just 27.5, but did yield some big plays. 

3. Explosive plays: still an issue 

Although Duke was among the best teams in the nation in overall passing defense, it struggled with lapses at times and was in the middle of the pack nationally in terms of explosive plays allowed. That showed again Tuesday, as Childers racked up 227 of his 234 yards on seven passes. 

Two of those came in a two-minute span, long strikes that set up two touchdowns, including a 67-yard touchdown bomb to Jauan Wesley to knot the game at 14 in the second quarter. 

Three key stats: 

1. Blue Devils hold the ball for 38:21

Duke was able to own the time of possession, in part because of Northern Illinois’ big plays on offense, but also because of the Blue Devils' steady ground game. Shaun Wilson and Brittain Brown combined for 29 carries and 116 yards, while Jones added 86 on the ground, helping the Blue Devils average 4.1 yards per carry. 

With an established run game, Jones found time to throw and work the clock. Duke racked up a 16-play, 64 yard drive in the fourth quarter that consumed almost eight minutes of clock to put the Huskies away for good. 

2. Blue Devils flagged for just two penalties

As it has all season, Duke played a clean brand of football. The Blue Devils had averaged just 42.6 penalty yards per game, No. 27 in the nation before Tuesday, and bested it in the Quick Lane Bowl. 

3. 18 tackle for loss yards allowed

Coming into Tuesday, Northern Illinois was the best defense in the country in racking up tackles for loss—it averaged nearly 40 tackle for loss yards per game. But Duke’s offensive line buckled down and allowed just 18 tackle for loss yards on eight tackles for loss. It limited the damage and slowed All-American defensive end Sutton Smith, who had just one tackle for loss and no sacks. 

Looking forward: 

Duke will return eight starters on both defense and offense, which should bode well for 2018. But upon further inspection, all three of those offensive starters lost are on the line—Evan Lisle, Austin Davis and Gabe Brandner. The defense should be good enough going forward to keep the offense in the game, but the offensive line’s inexperience should be a big concern going forward for Blue Devil fans. 

The kicking game, which was much improved until Austin Parker was dismissed from the team, should also be a major red flag—Willie Holmquist will be gone, leaving no clear or even slightly experienced replacement outside of A.J. Reed. 

But if Jones can get strong offensive line play, he was the weapons around him to do damage and perhaps take Duke to the next level. 

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