Better consistency was preached throughout the offseason for the Blue Devils, who suffered six consecutive losses in the middle of the 2017 season.
That was evident for redshirt junior quarterback Daniel Jones, who logged one of the more complete performances of his Duke career in the 2018 season opener.
The Blue Devils cruised to an 34-14 victory against Army Friday night at Wallace Wade Stadium. Duke avenged an ugly 21-16 defeat by the Black Knights from last November—which capped the Blue Devils' losing streak—with a near-perfect offensive outing.
"Efficiency came into physicality. We averaged 10 yards a play the first half offensively," Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. "It really was an outstanding performance mostly because we were so much more physical than we were a year ago."
After struggling to generate plays down the field for much of last season, Jones looked more aggressive from the outset for the Blue Devils (1-0). The Charlotte, N.C., native converted on 13 of his 17 pass attempts in the contest, including three completions for more than 20 yards.
Jones clicked with redshirt junior Aaron Young throughout the contest. Leading 10-0 with less than nine minutes to go in the first half, the Charlotte, N.C. native found Young downfield for a 61-yard pass to leave Duke first-and-goal at the one-yard line. Jones would take it himself to extend the Blue Devils lead to 17 on the ensuing play. The 61-yard connection was longer than any completion from Jones in 2017—Jones and Rahming linked up for a 58-yard touchdown pass against Pittsburgh last season.
The third-year quarterback found Young again at the beginning of the fourth quarter, connecting on a 25-yard touchdown to Young to extend the Blue Devils lead back to 17 at 31-14 with 13:27 remaining. The Murrieta, Ca., native would finish the contest with 114 receiving yards, his first career 100-yard receiving game.
"He’s a big playmaker," Jones said of Young. "[Explosive plays] help the pace of the offense to where you’re able to have those drives where you’re two or three plays and a score rather than down the field in 10 or 12 plays... being able to push the ball down the field and keep the defense on their heels has been an emphasis of ours.
Redshirt-senior Collin Wareham looked solid in his Blue Devils' debut. Wareham put Duke on the board early with a 25-yard field goal midway through the first quarter and also converted on all 4 of his PAT attempts.
Taking advantage of miscues was a major theme for Duke throughout the contest. Army (0-1) fumbled four times in the first half, losing half of them. The Blue Devils turned those into 10 points at the other end. Duke also took advantage of a missed field goal by the Black Knights, which ended in a 12-yard touchdown run by redshirt sophomore Brittain Brown to extend the lead to 10-0.
"It’s what we preach, day in and day out. Create havoc. Create turnovers," linebacker Joe Giles-Harris said. "Our guys buy into that. Extra pursuers, our defensive line, backside safeties and linebackers did a great job today of running to the ball. If you run to the ball and they don’t see you you can put your hand on the ball, helmet on the ball, and it’s going to come out. We did a great job at that."
Brown shined after earning the starting nod with Shaun Wilson in the NFL. Brown ran for 75 yards on 11 carries in the contest, barreling his way through for an average of 6.8 yards per rush.
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Jones looked shaky to start the second half, suffering a strip-sack fumble with 12 minutes remaining in the third quarter, setting Army up at its own 45. The Black Knights would take advantage, compiling an 11-play, 55-yard drive which resulted in the Duke lead getting cut to just 10 at 17-7 with 20 minutes to play.
The Blue Devils would respond, however.
"There was a little lull in the third quarter. That hurt us," Cutcliffe said. "It was good to see us turn it back on them. Defense doesn’t give up a point in the fourth quarter and offense again became dominant physically."
On the ensuing kickoff Deon Jackson returned the ball to the Duke 32. Jones then connected with Lloyd for 14 yards and a personal foul put the Blue Devils in enemy territory. Lloyd would later receive an 18-yard pass from Jones and Jackson picked up where Brown left off, scoring on a seven-yard run, the first touchdown of the sophomore's career.
Duke did have a scary moment with 3:49 left in the 3rd, however, when Brown went down after a 5-yard carry. Good news for the Blue Devils, however, as he would leave the field on his own power and returned later in the quarter.
"He’s good right now," Cutcliffe said about Brown's status. "He was stiff, a little. I was scared to death, but his knee is stable. I do know that, but it doesn’t mean it’s not going to be sore tomorrow. He can be sore tomorrow as long as he’s not sore on Tuesday."