With Daniel Jones out indefinitely, Duke is left with only one viable option: lean on true freshman Gunnar Holmberg.
It's always an unsavory option to trot out a true freshman quarterback—the speed of the college game can sometimes stunt their growth. But with the NCAA's new redshirt rules that allow him to play four games and not burn his redshirt, why not give it a shot?
The four-star recruit has been on campus much longer than most of his class—he enrolled at Duke nine months ago, giving him more time to learn the Blue Devils' system than most true freshman would. He's mobile like Jones—whose legs have been the key to Duke's success. When Jones runs, Duke wins.
And if it turns out Holmberg's not ready after four games, there will be little harm done, with his redshirt still intact and ample time remaining to develop, with Jones likely returning next season. He would still have three years of eligibility after Jones would likely leave Duke. Even if Jones is able to make a swift recovery—after say, four weeks—it would still be worth it for Holmberg to get a taste of college football.
Duke's more experienced option under center, Quentin Harris, is not as talented as Holmberg—especially in the pocket. Using Harris would be an ultra-conservative move that would lower Duke's ceiling. Current third-stringer Chris Katrenick's ceiling also doesn't appear to be as high as Holmberg's at this point.
Some might say that with mounting injuries, Duke should throw in the towel and focus on its future, with Jones likely healthy next year. But with a defense that might not stand the test of time, Duke needs to be in win-now mode.
The Blue Devils could lose both of its stud linebackers, Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris, after this season—Humphreys to graduation and potentially Giles-Harris a year early to the NFL Draft. It will also lose two more starters in defensive tackle Edgar Cerenord and safety Jeremy McDuffie to graduation.
Duke's strong point is its defense this season, and doesn't need a whole lot of offense to stay competitive and pull off an eight win or-so season in this year's ACC. All it needs is someone that will avoid mistakes as an average pocket passer and be able to run the football—which Holmberg should be able to do.
Plus, Duke's next four games—essentially Holmberg's would-be trial period—start out easy, facing a poor Baylor defense next week before getting a cupcake in North Carolina Central the following Saturday. Holmberg would then get a tough road test in No. 12 Virginia Tech and a solid home opponent in Georgia Tech—enough of a range to see whether Holmberg has the chops to be a winner for Duke.
If Duke comes out of that four-game stretch with two or more wins with Holmberg at the helm, he should be here to stay. If not, no harm, no foul.
Like it or not, it needs to be Gunnar time.
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.