So far, we’ve seen Duke play two games against very different teams with very different, but expected, outcomes. Week one, No. 2 Alabama dismantled the Blue Devils 42-3 to start the season and the following Saturday, Duke took its turn as the bully to an inferiorly talented team, tearing apart North Carolina A&T 45-13.
Now, already more than 15 percent into their 12-game schedule, we know very little more about the Blue Devils than we did before the season even began. Perfectly symbolizing Duke’s uneventful start to the year, the Blue Devils sit in the dead center of ESPN’s Football Power Index, ranking 65th out of 130 FBS teams.
While there has not been much to take away about Duke’s prognosis for the rest of 2019 yet, there are still 120 minutes of football to dissect. Here’s what we know so far about the Blue Devils:
Quentin Harris can chuck it—or can he?
The quarterback who averaged less than five yards per attempt against the Crimson Tide hardly resembled the same player who threw and flew his way to 428 all-purpose yards and five touchdowns against the Aggies seven days later. Which Quentin Harris will Duke get this Saturday against Middle Tennessee and beyond? The answer lies somewhere in between.
Harris’ best trait as a passer, his willingness to take deep shots downfield, also leads to inconsistency. But if the redshirt senior can keep avoiding sacks and turnovers, I expect Harris to continue to exceed expectations behind center.
Running backs galore
The two-headed running back monster of Deon Jackson and Brittain Brown transformed into a trio when Mataeo Durant carried the ball seven times against Alabama and into a quartet last week when freshman Jaylen Coleman tallied five rushes in the blowout. Heck, even a former safety is joining the party, with Jordan Waters taking snaps as a running back in the preseason.
Though productivity among the unit is evenly distributed so far, it’s a mistake to spread the love too much. Jackson is the best playmaker on the offense, with 1,100 yards for scrimmage and nine touchdowns a year ago and will likely see the bulk of carries when ACC play begins.
Prone to big plays
Through two weeks, Duke has yielded four touchdowns of more than 20 yards, including North Carolina A&T’s Jah-Maine Martin’s 66-yard scamper that he went virtually untouched on a run up the middle.
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The Blue Devils’ go-to 4-2-5 defensive scheme can leave them susceptible to long gains, meaning this may be a recurring and frustrating theme for Duke, as it has been for the last two seasons in Durham.
Three years after a disastrous freshman season in which he hit just three of his 10 field goal attempts, A.J. Reed is back as the Blue Devil placekicker. With a low stakes kick while Duke was already up by three scores, Reed connected on a 50-yarder against the Aggies, flashing the boot that initially earned him the starting role as a true freshman.
Bye bye, triple-option
After running a triple-option for much of the first half against Alabama, the Blue Devil offense looked a lot different against North Carolina A&T from the start, even running an empty-back set to open the game. Though Harris kept it 13 times, many of these were on scrambles and draws out of shotgun.
Is the triple-option gone for good? “Probably not,” head coach David Cutcliffe said after the Crimson Tide contest. Cutcliffe said that Duke would “continue to tinker with” triple-option sets, but any worry that Duke would turn into a plodding option-only team should be gone.