Daniel Jones has been making waves as a potential first-round NFL Draft pick as a quarterback.
But after a high-velocity game against North Carolina, he could make the case for a solid running back as well.
Duke took down North Carolina 42-35 Saturday afternoon in Wallace Wade Stadium, securing the Victory Bell for the third consecutive year. Both teams went back and forth in the first half, but key plays from Jones gave Duke the advantage it needed to put the game away. The Blue Devil quarterback led the team in rushing yards at 186 and completed 31-of-54 passes, creating 547 yards of total offense, a Duke single-game record.
"I know I’m not the fastest guy on the field, I’m just trying to run as fast as I could," Jones said. "Both those long runs, I’m not sure I really got touched and that’s a credit to those guys up front. There were seams there and I was just trying to get them and do what I could so, those guys played great all day up front. They opened up seams for me and Deon and added pass protection too so that was a lot of fun."
Jones' last play of the first half showed just why the redshirt junior is one of his team's most versatile weapons. After whiffing a pass to Deon Jackson, the Charlotte native took matters into his own hands and opted to run the ball on third down. Jones found a lane down the middle and shook off a pair of North Carolina defenders to break through, running for 61 yards with 16 seconds left to give Duke a 35-28 lead heading into the locker room.
The Blue Devil quarterback again showed his legs in the second half as Duke's passing consistency began to falter. After back-to-back drives ended in turnovers for the Blue Devils, Jones exploded with a career-high 68-yard run to put the home team just two yards from the end zone. Duke (7-3, 3-3 in the ACC) subbed in backup quarterback Quentin Harris to secure the touchdown and a 42-28 lead.
The Tar Heels (1-8, 1-6) scored their only points of the second half late in the first quarter to trim the lead to one possession and got the ball back, but their last-gasp Hail Mary into the end zone fell incomplete as time expired.
"Man, I could not believe it," center Zach Harmon said of Jones' running. "He runs like a deer, he’s so fast…. It goes without on how much we respect that guy. You saw what he could do as a player out there, but what you guys don’t see is how good of a leader he is in the locker room. I wish that could be exposed somehow. He’s the type of guy you want to root for."
Both teams traded blows throughout the first half in a fast-paced slugfest.
North Carolina ran the ball down the field for a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive. The Blue Devil defense looked lost without redshirt junior linebacker Joe Giles-Harris, and Duke's rival from down the road took the lead just three minutes into the game. Duke responded instantly with a trio of passes to Chris Taylor and T.J. Rahming on the ensuing drive, setting the Blue Devils up on the 48-yard line. Jones then launched a dime to Taylor, who broke a tackle and snaked through North Carolina's anemic secondary for a 52-yard touchdown.
The Tar Heels struck next with another rush-heavy touchdown drive, headlined by a 40-yard run from Michael Carter. The Blue Devils struggled to contain the North Carolina running back before the break, as Carter finished the half with 122 net rushing yards. However, Jones was there with long passes to Johnathan Lloyd and Daniel Helm to knot the score yet again.
"They came out fast, and we knew they were coming out fast," safety Jordan Hayes said. "It’s just part of holding our own and knowing what we had to do and line up and do what we do."
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The Blue Devils then got their first two stops against the Tar Heels at the start of the second quarter, and a missed field-goal attempt from North Carolina set Duke halfway up the field for Jones to methodically roll to the end zone. But runs from Carter and Javonte Williams helped the Tar Heels knot the score again at 21-21.
Duke started to hit some road bumps on its next drive, requiring a pair of third-down conversions to keep the offense going—the team converted 13-of-20 third-down attempts in the game. This time, Duke's clutch plays in the face of North Carolina's defense paid dividends with a four-yard rush to the end zone by Jackson.
But yet again, the Tar Heels responded. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Dazz Newsome found a lane through Duke's defense and threaded the needle for an 84-yard touchdown run. North Carolina would not score for the next 30 minutes, as the Blue Devil defense looked like a completely different unit in the second half.
Duke will continue its ACC campaign facing undoubtedly the toughest test of its season, taking on No. 2 Clemson on the road next week.
"We’ll look at the film and learn a lot," Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. "It wasn’t perfect but we did so many things well we have a lot to build off of. We’re going to have to readjust again... We have a lot of fight left in us though. Somebody is going to step up, and I believe that in my heart, whether it’s players, staff, or anybody involved in Duke football."