Trailing 14-3 early in the second quarter against Georgia Tech at home on Nov. 18th, Duke was just 44 minutes away from dropping its seventh consecutive contest and failing to reach a bowl game for the second time in as many years, despite a 4-0 start to the season.

With a postseason appearance on the line, quarterback Daniel Jones came alive, leading what had been a dormant offensive unit to a 43-20 comeback victory against the Yellow Jackets and a 31-23 victory over Wake Forest the following weekend, which made the Blue Devils bowl eligible for the fifth time in six seasons.

Duke will look to close out its season with a victory and finish with its fourth winning record in the last five years when the Blue Devils travel to Detroit to take on Northern Illinois for the first time ever in the Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field Tuesday at 5:15 p.m. Duke has just a single bowl win since 1961, which came in a 44-41 victory against Indiana in the Pinstripe Bowl in 2015.

“They know what they did,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said of the late-season resurgence. “Literally, the grave digger had the last shovel load. Somebody knocked it out of his hand, and then we found a way to dig out of it. You’re always appreciative of that, but I think that’s been the theme.”

In order for the Blue Devils (6-6) to earn a victory in the Motor City, they will need to continue to take pressure off their defense by maintaining long offensive drives and finishing them with scores. Duke did an outstanding job of this early in the season, when the Blue Devils put up an average of 34.0 points against North Carolina, Baylor and Northwestern, storming out to a perfect 4-0 start.

But Duke’s offense seemingly disappeared in its next six contests. The Blue Devils scored just seven offensive touchdowns and averaged less than 14 points per game in that span. Jones also struggled threading the needle in those six games, completing more than 55 percent of his passes just twice. However, he surpassed that mark in each of his last three contests.

"He just wants to get better. He wants to be the best," wide receiver T.J. Rahming said. "He showed us that throughout the season, working through injuries, coming to the sideline hurt after taking big hits, just being that leader that our team needs. It builds on everybody."

The key for Duke offensively Tuesday will be its secondary receivers. Although Rahming has led the charge with 733 receiving yards, Jones hasn’t had a clear-cut second option the entire season.

Cutcliffe has praised the Blue Devils' depth in their receiving core, which sported eight players with more than 100 yards—including Johnathan Lloyd, Daniel Helm and Chris Taylor, who have each amassed a 50-yard performance in the last two weeks—but which player will step up has been a question mark.

Duke will need someone to rise to the occasion to get past one of the nation’s best defenses. The Huskies (8-4) hold opponents to an average of 328.0 yards per contest—ranking 18th best in the nation—and are led by consensus All-American defensive end Sutton Smith, who has the ability to shut down the Blue Devils at the line of scrimmage.

“They have one of the more aggressive defenses we’ll play,” Cutcliffe said. “They have such a knack for attacking the ball. They play great team defense, that’s why they have so many tackles for losses.”

On the other side of the ball, though Northern Illinois will be without its best rusher Jordan Huff—who leads the team with 740 yards—the Huskies could provide a tough test behind dual-threat quarterback Marcus Childers. Childers leads the team in rushing attempts and has added five touchdowns and 454 yards on the ground to his 15 touchdowns in the air.

To help stop Childers, the Blue Devil defense will welcome back junior linebacker Ben Humphreys, who is third on the team with 64 tackles despite missing the last two games due to a leg injury.

"Ben has fought back.... It's been hard work. He's been in the training room grinding every day, so to have him back on the field—it's a good experience. Ben's one of our leaders," All-American linebacker Joe Giles-Harris said. "He's worked to the point where he's able to play, and we're excited about it."

Alongside Humphreys, the redshirt sophomore Giles-Harris will anchor Duke's front six. Giles-Harris led the Blue Devils with 117 tackles, including 15 for a loss. The Nyack, N.Y., native also ranked second on the team with 4.5 sacks and will play a crucial part in Duke’s efforts to stop the Huskies at the line of scrimmage.

Lastly, the Blue Devils will be without kicker and punter Austin Parker, who has been suspended from school and dismissed from the team for academic reasons. Parker converted 33 of his 35 extra-point attempts and made 81 percent of his 21 field goal attempts on the season to lead a revitalized Duke kicking game. Graduate transfer William Holmquist will take over the majority of the kicking and punting duties.

“Everybody that is returning realizes the impact that this game has on them,” Cutcliffe said. “We’re going to turn around and be back in school in January, and you’re either doing it on a one-game losing streak or a three-game winning streak, so it’s significant for that energy surrounding next year’s team.”