Following an impressive 21-7 road victory over Northwestern, there was plenty of reason to be optimistic about Duke’s season outlook. However, the Blue Devils lost two of their key pieces to injury in quarterback Daniel Jones and cornerback Mark Gilbert.
Jones, who is still recovering from a left clavicle surgery, was replaced by Quentin Harris, who appeared to be more of a run-first quarterback in comparison to his predecessor. Previously, Harris was almost exclusively featured in short-yardage rushing situations. Given that he was rarely called upon to throw the ball, the redshirt junior’s passing abilities were certainly a major question mark entering his first career start against Baylor.
Harris replaces Jones on a key third down in the red zone here, but is unable to make much happen. After initially taking a step back as if he was going to throw, Harris immediately decides to tuck the football and run. The Taft School product is unable to find any space to run and comes up well short of the first down marker. Through the first two weeks, Harris had yet to live up to his dual-threat potential, as he managed to gain just 104 yards on 39 career carries, resulting in an abysmal 2.7 average yards gained per rushing attempt.
Heading into last Saturday, it seemed likely that Duke’s offense would stall behind Harris. After all, this was a run-first quarterback who had yet to prove that he could actually be effective running the football. In addition to obvious uncertainties in the passing game, the success of the Blue Devils’ duo of running backs, Brittain Brown and Deon Jackson, could have also been affected, as opposing defenses would be able to stack the box.
And yet, despite all the doubts, Harris proved to be highly capable behind center, showcasing both his arm and legs against the Bears.
Harris showed off his ability in the pocket, as he connects with Johnathan Lloyd for a touchdown on an absolute beauty of a deep ball. The Connecticut native demonstrated his superb arm strength. However, Harris struggled on shorter reads, and finished the day completing just 12 of his 30 passing attempts. Running backs and tight ends accounted for just two receptions for seven yards, and Harris did not seem comfortable targeting these positions.
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Maybe the most impressive part of Harris’ debut was his ability to stimulate the running game, which was stagnant against Northwestern. In addition to his 14 carries for 83 yards, Brown and Jackson chipped in 23 carries for 138 yards. Although the offensive line deserves most of the credit for Jackson’s touchdown scamper, Harris perfectly executes this draw, putting the Baylor defenders on their heels.
On the whole, Harris impressed in his first full game at quarterback, and will serve as an entirely suitable stopgap as Jones recovers. Duke’s next test will come on Saturday against N.C. Central, a team that the Blue Devils should easily take care of.