Daniel Jones is in for quite a ride.
Coming off arguably his best game in a Duke uniform, when he smashed Duke’s single-game yardage record with 547 yards, Jones will get a golden chance to prove himself as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation against a red-hot defense that has held its opponents to less than 20 points in five straight games.
Duke will travel to take on No. 2 Clemson Saturday at 7 p.m. at Memorial Stadium in Clemson, S.C., hoping to spoil Senior Day for potentially the most successful class in ACC history, as the group is vying for a record-breaking 51st victory. Amongst the seniors are Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant, two members of a defensive line regarded as the most talented in the nation with four potential first-round NFL draft picks.
“We’ve prepared for a lot of great football teams over 30-plus years, but this team is complete,” Blue Devil head coach David Cutcliffe said. “It will be challenging playing down there on a Saturday night.”
Jones will have his hands full after a weekend in which he was hit just five times in the pocket against the quadruplet that has nearly surpassed the entire Duke defense in sacks with 17 on the season, compared to the Blue Devils’ 19. Earlier in the season, with an offensive line rotation of about eight regulars, Duke struggled with communication, resulting in Jones having to survive intense pressure. But now, with a solidified unit, the Blue Devils have surrendered just six sacks the past three weeks.
As a result, the offense has never looked better. Including a rain-soaked victory at Miami in which conditions prevented Jones from throwing the ball effectively, Duke has notched 107 points the past three games, resulting in two victories.
But the Tigers (10-0, 7-0 in the ACC) are on another level defensively, which all stems from their dominant defensive line.
“They’re all super talented and capable of rushing the passer and stopping the run. It starts there,” Jones said.
To combat the pass rush, Jones will need to get the ball out of his hands quickly. As a result, the offense may rely heavily on empty backfield formations, often with sophomore running back Deon Jackson lining up on the outside. The Blue Devils have had a lot of success in the formation, with Jones shredding opposing defenses often on rapid, accurate passes to a bevy of options.
Jones will have another tough challenge—opposing quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The freshman sensation has had an impressive start to his college career, first unseating last season’s starting quarterback Kelly Bryant before notching 19 touchdowns coupled with a 66.4 percent completion rate.
Lawrence has also displayed an ability to spread the ball, as three Tigers have caught at least 35 passes, which will be a challenge for a decimated Duke secondary that just lost starting safety Dylan Singleton to a broken leg suffered last week against North Carolina.
“You don’t stop him,” Cutcliffe said. “You’re just trying to minimize the amount of damage that a player like that can cause you.”
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Lawrence also has one of the ACC’s best running backs next to him, Travis Etienne, the sophomore who leads the Power 5 in rushing touchdowns with 15. Cutcliffe’s squad may potentially be down a key contributor in helping stop Etienne in Joe Giles-Harris, who is day-to-day with a knee injury after missing last week’s victory.
Regardless, the Blue Devils (7-3, 3-3) are not about to back down in their first visit to Clemson since 2008. Despite going for its first-ever program victory against a top-three team, Duke has its own weapon, one who is playing his best football heading into the contest.
And he is not scared either.
“This is what we play for,” Jones said. “It’s a huge opportunity. That’s the way we’re approaching it, and we’re confident that we’ll make the most of it.”