The Blue Devils came into Thursday night’s home finale against the rival Tar Heels with their season on the line and responded in dramatic and impressive fashion. Duke upset a ranked and talented North Carolina team winning the Victory Bell, extending hopes for a bowl game, and effectively ending the Tar Heels hopes of winning the Coastal Division. Daniel Jones had his best game in a Duke uniform, Shaun Wilson once again thrived as the lead running back, and a shorthanded defense played lights out against one of the ACC’s best offenses and the top QB NFL Draft prospect.
I think it’s safe to say Daniel Jones is no longer a freshman. Jones played a fearless game, taking chances when he needed too, while playing smart and leading the offense up and down the field like we hadn’t seen yet this season. Jones completed 22 of 34 pass attempts for 240 yards and 1 touchdown and ran for 94 yards on 16 carries with 2 touchdowns. The young QB outplayed future NFL Draft pick Mitch Trubisky. Jones made nearly all the correct reads when running the option, something he has gotten very good at over the course of the season. After failing to connect with his receivers down the field early in the game Jones made some big plays down the stretch. In the end Jones completed 8 passes that went for 15 yards of more. Some of those were short passes that the receivers turned into big plays, but the fact is Duke found some of the big plays that had been missing on offense this year. A lot of credit goes to the coaches for calling a great game. Duke had the perfect balance of running, screen passes, and shots down the field. North Carolina was not prepared for such a well rounded, efficient attack.
When news broke shortly before kickoff that senior cornerback, and the active leader in interceptions and pass break ups, Breon Borders was out with a hip injury it seemed as if it was going to be a long night for the defense going up against such a high powered offense. After the first quarter those fears seemed to be coming true. UNC moved the ball at will on their first two possessions. The Blue Devils didn’t get discouraged and stuck to their game plan. The offense provided the spark and the defense spread the fire. Duke intercepted Trubisky twice, doubling his total for the season. The coverage held up all night and eventually the defensive line was able to generate some pressure. Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys had a tall task, trying to contain Elijah Hood and TJ Logan, in addition to a mobile Trubisky. At times they seemed outmatched, but overall they made enough plays to hold the Tar Heels. The two linebackers combined for 28 tackles and each had a TFL. True freshman Mark Gilbert did a commendable job filling in for Borders. Safeties Alonzo Saxton, Deondre Singleton, and Corbin McCarthy collectively had their best game of the season. McCarthy was all over the field making plays early in the game and Singleton and Easton were responsible for the two interceptions.
The Blue Devils showed a tremendous amount off effort and passion last night. After being embarassed by the Tar Heels the last two seasons Duke out every ounce of energy they had into getting back the Victory Bell. All talk leading up the game seemed to surround the new paint design on the Victory Bell with several Tar Heels claiming they were bringing spray paint to the game to repaint it after they won. They’ll have to find another use for that paint. Not only did Duke upset their rivals and ruin their season, but they kept hope alive for a fifth consecutive bowl game. Both remaining games are on the road against division opponents and won’t be easy. But after knocking off a talented North Carolina squad the Blue Devils know they are more than capable of getting another win. The positive energy from last night’s win should carry into next week and the off-season. Duke has a bright future with this roster, they may just have a bright present too.