Look, it never feels good to say goodbye to one of the most talented players in school history. With Daniel Jones declaring for the NFL Draft, Duke loses its three-year starting quarterback, who projects to be the Blue Devils’ highest-drafted player in more than three decades.
It is only natural to expect the worst from Jones’ replacement—a program like Duke rarely gets somebody with the physical tools that he possesses, plus how could somebody be as handsome as Jones?
Yet, although he may not be able to replicate the success of his predecessor, the Blue Devils should be just fine with Quentin Harris at the helm next season.
Harris, who will be a redshirt senior if and when he slides into the starting quarterback role this fall, has accumulated significant experience in his time as a backup. The Milton, Conn., native, served as Duke’s primary signal-caller while Jones was sidelined with a broken clavicle last September, which amounted to nine quarters of action against Northwestern, Baylor and N.C. Central.
When Harris took over for Jones, concerns loomed about whether or not he would be capable of running an offense—he had attempted just 13 passes before the Northwestern game, and primarily seen action only as a runner in short-yardage situations.
In Harris’ first significant game action, his performance was not particularly impressive, but it didn’t need to be. When Jones exited with his injury in the waning moments of the third quarter, all Harris needed to do was control possession and help the Blue Devils hang on to their 21-7 lead against the eventual Big Ten West champions, which he did. Although the 6-foot-1 field general did not lead any scoring drives, he showed flashes of his abilities, including a 25-yard scamper on third-and-8 that prevented Northwestern from receiving favorable field position.
My real reason for optimism comes from what Harris did against Baylor the following week. In his first career college start, Harris led a Duke offensive onslaught that resulted in a 23-0 lead at the half for the Blue Devils against their Big 12 opponent. For the first time in his college career, it was not Harris’ legs that stole the show, although he ran for 83 yards—the Taft School product threw for three touchdowns without turning the ball over, including a 66-yard touchdown pass to Johnathan Lloyd that was an absolute dime.
Despite his clear moments of brilliance, Harris did only complete 12 of his 30 pass attempts in that contest against the Bears, struggling to connect on his shorter reads. Maybe this is being overly optimistic, but I do not anticipate that the issues with accuracy stop Harris from being an effective option behind center for Duke head coach David Cutcliffe. Harris has a solid deep ball, is quick on his feet and is highly effective near the goal line, where Cutcliffe frequently utilized him even when Jones was healthy.
In terms of intangibles, Harris seems to truly have what it takes to be a leader for the Blue Devils this fall. When I have had the chance to speak to Duke's likely 2019 starting quarterback, I have been absolutely astounded with his football knowledge and energy. If my brief interactions with Harris are any indication, the Blue Devil offense should have a strong leader at the helm in the fall.
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With a decades-long history of disappointment and futility, it’s certainly easy to lose faith in Duke football. Just don’t let Quentin Harris be your reason for doing so.