Career highs were shattered, a long-standing record was bested and Duke failed to defeat Pittsburgh.
Blue Devil quarterback Daniel Jones finished the day with 396 passing yards and four passing touchdowns, both personal bests through the first three years of his tenure on the team.
The real star for Duke, however, was sophomore Deon Jackson, whose 403 all-purpose yards—162 rushing, 89 receiving and 152 returning—broke the team’s all-time mark and set the table for the Blue Devils. Surprisingly, the program’s largest offensive output in terms of yards in nearly five years did not prove to be enough to outlast Pittsburgh, which outlasted Duke 54-45 in a tight contest.
“The main thing I try to focus on is being confident. I didn’t really think about the yards or anything like that,” Jackson said. “It still stings from the loss. The only thing that matters is that we didn’t carry out the win.”
Jackson and Jones were not the only Blue Devils with career days, as senior wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd set a personal best in receiving yards, with 136. Most of Lloyd’s production came on a 68-yard touchdown catch, on which the Graham, N.C., native simply outran the entire Panther defense on a screen pass.
Another encouraging part of the offense was Noah Gray, whose five catches for 48 yards each marked the largest total for a Duke tight end in 2018. The 6-foot-4 sophomore, who ranks behind seniors Daniel Helm and Davis Koppenhaver on the depth chart, seems to be the most gifted receiver of the trio despite his youth.
“He’s a really good route runner and pass catcher,” Jones said. “We put in some empty sets and he was featured in that because of what he can do. He definitely played well.”
Also featured in Saturday’s game plan was backup quarterback Quentin Harris, who ran for 117 yards and a touchdown in his two starts this season.
Harris spelled Jones in numerous close-distance situations, and did so effectively. The redshirt junior punched in two touchdowns, each on quarterback draws.
“That’s something that we have always liked,” Cutcliffe said. “Since I’ve been around here we have kept our backup quarterback involved in our goal-to-go offense.”
The outpouring of points came unexpectedly for the Blue Devils, who averaged just 18.7 points in their last three contests.
Despite the consistent production throughout the game, the Duke offensive attack stagnated in the fourth quarter. Pittsburgh outscored the Blue Devils 19-3 in the period, and the Duke offense looked feeble in its most important moment, failing to move the ball in a potential game-winning drive starting with 2:33 left.
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“I thought we had a really good plan going in. We played a lot of empty stuff, and did some quick throws. Our one back formation worked well also, which worked well too,” Jones said. “We just didn’t execute in the fourth quarter.”