When Daniel Jones walked off the field with a left clavicle injury in Duke’s route against Northwestern just a week ago, the Blue Devils were watching more than just their star quarterback get sidelined indefinitely.
They were watching any guarantee of a strong start to the season fade away.
Although the Blue Devils took down the Wildcats with ease, it came at the cost of a starter on both ends of the ball—preseason All-ACC cornerback Mark Gilbert and Jones. Although Gilbert has been an integral portion of Duke’s secondary and one of the keys to the Blue Devils’ success in defending against explosive plays from the air, Duke’s depth at the corner will likely fill the gap. The part that the Blue Devils will be hard-pressed to replace will be the field general, and I do not believe Duke’s other options at the position have the combination of experience and raw talent to carry the Blue Devils through the foreseeable future.
With Jones in the locker room Saturday afternoon, Duke turned to redshirt junior Quentin Harris to lead the offense—with relatively middling results.
Through one quarter of play, Harris threw for a paltry 12 total yards and rushed for 27. Although the Wilton, Conn., native was 2-for-2 on passing attempts, that small of a sample size is far too small to draw any conclusions on Harris being a strong passing threat. In its final 15 minutes of play Duke essentially abandoned its passing game and instead focused almost exclusively on running the ball—a formula for stagnation at the hands of the Wildcats’ stout defense. I’ll admit, one quarter of running the offense while holding a 14-point lead is hardly enough time to post a verdict on how Harris will fill Jones’ shoes—however, the lack of real experience at playing long minutes is concerning, especially considering the caliber of defenses the Blue Devils will face in the coming weeks.
There’s also the question of how well Harris will fit into Duke’s system. One of the keys to the Blue Devils’ success has been Jones’ ability on the ground—across Duke’s seven wins of 2017, the redshirt junior quarterback averaged over four yards per carry. Last weekend Harris averaged just 2.8 yards on the ground, even when the Blue Devils were going all-in on the rush. If Duke banks on Harris to run the offense, it will likely be missing a key component of its recent success.
Other options Duke could turn to would be redshirt freshman Chris Katrenick or true freshman Gunnar Holmberg. While Harris has been classified as a pass-heavy quarterback, Holmberg has been billed as a physical rush-oriented field general. Although Holmberg fits the mold for an offense designed around Jones, his glaring lack of experience and development would ultimately prove to be a hinderance for the Blue Devils. With coming matchups against a Baylor squad shaking off a disastrous 2017 season and a Virginia Tech team boasting one of the toughest defenses in the ACC, Duke can’t afford to worry about ironing out the kinks in a young quarterback’s game.
At the end of the day, the Blue Devils lost Jones when they need him most as Duke approaches a critical four game stretch. Against Baylor, the Blue Devils will need an efficient, high-scoring offense to outpace the Bears if their dangerous wide receiving corps cuts through Duke’s weakened secondary. Although N.C. Central will be a cupcake win, a game against No. 13 Virginia Tech followed by a road contest against Georgia Tech will require all hands on deck.
With just two weeks to integrate relatively inexperienced and unproven quarterbacks into their system as well as suffering a tough loss on the defensive end, the Blue Devils will struggle mightily for the foreseeable future.
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