SHREVEPORT, La.—Daniel Jones and T.J. Rahming put on a show in what may have been the last game of both of their college careers, leading Duke to its third straight bowl victory.
The Blue Devils rallied to beat Temple 56-27 in the Walk-On's Independence Bowl Thursday afternoon at Independence Stadium, scoring their most points against an FBS team since 1990. Duke erased a 27-14 first-half deficit with 42 unanswered points and scored touchdowns on seven consecutive drives from the second quarter to the fourth quarter.
Jones threw for 423 yards and five touchdowns, with his top senior target responsible for 12 receptions, 240 yards and two touchdowns.
"These players just took this and did it. It was very evident in Durham what their intentions were.... I was a little perplexed to start with in the game because I thought it might be like that from the start," head coach David Cutcliffe said. "I told them if we get five big plays in the second half defensively and just do what we do on offense, be relentless on offense, we’ll win this football game big, and lo and behold, we won the ballgame big."
Duke (8-5) started its comeback with its final drive of the first half after head coach David Cutcliffe made a gutsy decision to go for it on fourth-and-inches from the Blue Devils' own 34-yard line. Quentin Harris barely picked up the first down on a quarterback sneak, and Jones went on to finish the drive with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Rahming, trimming the deficit to 27-21 entering the locker room.
The Charlotte, N.C., native gave Duke a 28-27 lead on the first drive of the second half, picking apart Temple's defense with three completions to Rahming and finishing it off with a one-yard dive into the end zone on third-and-goal. Jones' chemistry with Rahming continued on the next drive with a completion up the middle before the senior wide receiver outran the Owls' defensive backfield for an 85-yard touchdown to put the Blue Devils in front by eight.
"He makes my job pretty easy when you can throw a glorified slant and he’ll take it to the house 80 yards," Jones said. "That’s not a hard thing for me to do and shows the kind of player he is and what he can do."
After a turnover on downs by Temple (8-5), Jones threw another touchdown pass to Jake Bobo for the freshman's first score of his career.
Playing without All-ACC linebackers Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys, Duke's defense kept the Owls in check with its best half of the season after the break. The Blue Devils shut Temple out for the final 34:33 with an array of blitzes, and the Owls badly botched a punt snap on their third drive of the half to seal their fate. Duke gained possession on the 10-yard line and easily punched it in for a score.
"We didn’t come here to play conservative. I thought we did a great job of dialing up some rushes and players picked it up," Cutcliffe said. "That's as good as I've ever seen a young defense."
The Blue Devils kept it close in the first half thanks to a series of impressive throws from Jones, who completed a 62-yard deep ball down the sideline to Rahming to set up the Blue Devils' first touchdown, a two-yard plunge on third-and-goal by Harris.
Jones briefly exited the game after getting hit from behind and appearing to injure his ankle midway through the first quarter, and Harris threw a pick-six to Temple safety Delvon Randall near midfield to hand the Owls a 13-7 lead. Jones returned to the field after that play and overcame multiple drops to orchestrate two more touchdown drives before the break.
"Nothing Daniel Jones does ever surprises me," Cutcliffe said. "When he has that much time to practice, great things can happen, but you don’t ever count on 56 points."
The redshirt junior captain made one of his few mistakes with an ill-advised third-down pass into traffic early in the second period that was picked off by cornerback Linwood Crump. Temple capitalized on the turnover with a touchdown to gain a two-possession lead, forcing Duke to play catchup the rest of the half as both squads found the end zone on their final two full first-half possessions.
Now, Jones will have to decide whether to declare for the NFL Draft or return for his final season of eligibility. Scouts and executives from several NFL teams were in attendance in Shreveport, and the 6-foot-5 quarterback is considered a potential first-round pick, with Thursday's performance certainly helping his draft stock.
"I have some time to figure that out," Jones said. "Right now, we’ve just been full speed ahead on this bowl and we’ll celebrate that tonight, and that’s what I’m focusing on right now."
Rahming also has an uncertain future with his four years of eligibility used up. He has no choice but to look to the professional ranks to continue his football career, but he has work to do to get a contract.
"I had a meeting with him two weeks ago kind of explaining to him we don’t know what the future’s going to be for a guy that small," Cutcliffe said. "He’s on my NFL team, but I don’t own one. But T.J. has had an incredible college career, what people dream about."
After Jones' decision, the countdown will begin for the Blue Devils' 2019 season opener against Alabama in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Aug. 31 in Atlanta.
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