Every week, the Blue Zone will make a take on Duke sports—whether that take may be hot, cold or lukewarm. This week's take is in from Evan Kolin:
Duke left Evanston, Ill. Saturday with a road win against a Northwestern unit that finished the 2017 season nationally ranked in the top 25. But that win came with a cost.
During the contest, the Blue Devils lost arguably two of their most important players. First-team All-ACC cornerback Mark Gilbert was the first to go down, dislocating his hip in the second quarter. The true junior has since been ruled out for the season. It only got worse from there, as redshirt junior Daniel Jones fractured his clavicle on a third-quarter sack. The timetable for Jones’ return is largely unknown, though he is expected to miss the remainder of September at least.
Both losses will be tough to overcome, but in football, there is no bigger blow than an injured quarterback, especially with the way Jones has carried the Blue Devils’ offense through its first two wins. The Charlotte, N.C. native completed 29 of his 39 pass attempts (74.4%) for 389 yards and four touchdowns, adding 40 yards and another score on the ground. His play was a big reason why a wave of optimism was finally beginning to form around the Blue Devils’ football program, with some even going as far as predicting a berth in the ACC Championship Game.
But now that Jones is going to miss an extended period of time, head coach David Cutcliffe and offensive coordinator Zac Roper must find another offensive weapon to step up during his absence. Backup quarterback Quentin Harris wasn’t bad in limited work Saturday, completing both of his passes. But with only 15 career passing attempts in three years, he will not be able to lead Duke in the same way Jones did. Thus, the Blue Devils are going to need to follow a new, run-first approach behind the legs of redshirt sophomore Brittain Brown.
Brown had a strong 2017 campaign, posting 701 yards and seven touchdowns on 5.4 yards per carry as the secondary back behind Duke alumnus Shaun Wilson. Brown also played well against Army in week one of this season, rushing the ball 11 times for 75 yards and a score. But the former four-star product of Canton, GA struggled against Northwestern, managing only 34 yards over his 13 attempts. Brown might have been able to get away with that kind of lackluster performance while Jones was healthy. But now that he is the go-to option on offense, that type of inconsistency isn’t going to cut it.
In the best-case scenario, Jones returns to the field Oct. 13 against Georgia Tech. But that still means he’d be out for Duke’s Sept. 29 matchup against No. 13 Virginia Tech at home, a game with high stakes in the ACC Coastal race. Virginia Tech’s defense ranked 11th in total yards allowed in 2017, but the Hokies return only three of their top-eight leaders in tackles and are starting seven underclassmen, meaning they can easily be exploited.
Of course, the loss of Jones will hurt. Nobody is saying it won’t. But if Brown is able to step up over the next few weeks, Duke’s aspirations to finish atop the ACC Coastal aren’t that far-fetched. And when all is said and done, it will just make for an even better story.
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.