Duke got a strong debut from freshman quarterback Daniel Jones and big time contributions from seniors Jela Duncan and AJ Wolf to cruise to a victory over the NC Central Eagles. Duke scored all 49 points in the first half and used the rest of the game to get some game experience for the reserves. Duke has a lot to build on and a few things to work on as they begin ACC play next week when Wake Forest comes to Durham.
Coming into the opening game all eyes were on redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Jones. Jones was named the starter earlier in the week after Thomas Sirk went down with a career ending injury in the last week of preseason practice. Everyone was interested to see how the freshman would respond to the challenge in his first collegiate action. Jones did not disappoint. In one half’s worth of action Jones went 10 for 15 for 189 yards and 2 touchdowns. Jones also added a rushing touchdown on a read option play. Jones definitely looked the part, progressing through his reads regularly, making good decisions, and showed a nice touch on deep passes as well. Jones spread the ball around finding receivers, tight ends, and running backs. Jones passed his first test, his first conference game will provide another challenge.
It’s always hard to learn a lot about your team when playing such an overmatched opponent, especially the defense. But the Blue Devils’ defensive unit really stood out on Saturday and got good production in areas that were question marks coming into the season. Senior DT AJ Wolf had 3 sacks in the game, more than any single player had all of last season. The defensive line as a whole was disruptive, never allowing any big running gaps and keeping Eagles QB Malcolm Bell under pressure and uncomfortable in the pocket all game. In his first game in a Duke uniform redshirt freshman linebacker Joe Giles-Harris was probably the defensive MVP of the game. Giles-Harris was all over the field and set the tone early for the defense. Cornerback Bryon Fields looked good in his return to the field after missing last season. Fields forced a fumble after a pass completion that was recovered by Duke. Fields corner back partner Breon Borders picked off a pass in the first half. The big lead allowed the Blue Devils to get a lot of young players in the game which will be a big benefit moving forward.
While a lot of it had to do with inexperience and some first game jitters, Duke played a sloppy second half. The Blue Devils had 5 turnovers coming as the results of fumbles. One on a muffed punt by Ryan Smith and a few on botched handoffs. Duke was also whistled for 10 penalties. A lot of those game against the offensive line via false starts and some holding penalties. Duke will have to clean that up. Nothing kills momentum faster than getting your offense behind the chains. Duke’s overwhelming talent gap over NC Central made the penalties and turnovers a nonfactor, but they won’t have that same luxury moving forward.
Additional News & Notes
Jela Duncan ran for 115 yards and 2 touchdowns. It was his third career 100 yard game and second career multi-touchdown game.
Saturday’s victory was Duke’s fifth straight season opening win. They are now 7-2 in season openers under David Cutcliffe.