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For Duke Football, It’s Quentin Time

How will Daniel Jones’s replacement do for the Blue Devils?

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NCAA Football: Duke at Northwestern
 Sep 8, 2018; Evanston, IL, USA; Duke Blue Devils quarterback Quentin Harris (18) drops back to pass the ball in the second half against the Northwestern Wildcats at Ryan Field. 
Quinn Harris-USA TODAY Sports

Five years ago, Anthony Boone injured his left clavicle in Duke’s second game, against Memphis.

Boone was Duke’s starting quarterback and the Blue Devils didn’t have many Plan Bs. Thomas Sirk was out for the season with an Achilles injury and Duke wanted to redshirt true freshman Parker Boehme.

That left Brandon Connette. Connette was a redshirt junior, a running quarterback, who even caught 11 passes in 2012.

Could he pass? Nobody knew. Connette had thrown only 26 passes in two plus seasons—he played two games in 2011 before an injury- many from trick formations.

He could. Connette replaced Boone in that Memphis game, passing for 198 yards and two TDs in a road comeback win. He threw for 323 yards against Pittsburgh, 324 against Troy.

During Boone’s month-long absence, Connette was 70-for-109, for 967 yards, nine touchdowns, five interceptions.

That’s a precedent for Quentin Harris, another redshirt junior replacing a starter sidelined with a clavicle injury. Not a prediction. But Harris is in a position that David Cutcliffe calls an “opportunity,” his first college start, on the road against the Baylor Bears, a P-5 conference team off to a 2-0 start.

Harris is 6-1, 195 pounds. He was a three-star recruit at the Taft School in Wilton, Connecticut, ranked the number 22 dual-threat quarterback in his class by ESPN.com.

Like Connette and Thomas Sirk, Harris has been a short-yardage rushing quarterback at the beginning of his Duke career. He has 39 career rushes so far, against only 15 passes, in 106 plays. He’s completed nine of those passes but the longest has gone for a modest 17 yards.

If Harris struggles, it won’t be for lack of preparation. Classmate Joe Giles-Harris (no relation) says Harris “Quentin came in with us, me and Daniel and Ben and all of us and I’m excited for his opportunity. Quentin is more than capable quarterback. He has a strong arm and his legs are a big part of him. We’re not going to change our offense for one player. He’s been preparing for his opportunity and now he’s got it.”

David Cutcliffe agrees. “Quentin Harris knows this offense. He works hard at everything he does. I have a lot of admiration for his readiness. He went into the game the other day. They were no cadence issues, no read issues. I thought he did an outstanding job and he’s obviously getting a full week of preparation.”

Daniel Jones is helping with that preparation. Cutcliffe says his injured star is studying film and contributing in the position meetings as if he were playing this week, because that’s the best way he can help his team win.

Wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd has seven catches, for 152 yards after two games, so he needs quality quarterback-play to continue his fast start.

“We’re confident in Quentin,” Lloyd says. “Obviously, he’s got a different skill set than Daniel. But we’re not going to change much. We’re going to keep doing what we’re doing. We have full confidence that he can do what we need him to do to get us to win. He’s been around. He knows the offense and he can throw the ball more than you guys (the media) have seen. We’ve seen him more and he can throw the ball. We have talented guys around Quentin. Although he hasn’t started, he does the same things as Daniel, the same schemes, the same game plans.”

Cutcliffe is more nuanced. “We are very systematic but our systematic approach is a big, old, giant hole. So, we will certainly use parts of the offense. It’s just a different circumstance. So, you have to use in your system what fits your personnel.”

Redshirt freshman Chris Katrenick is “up next,” with true freshman Gunnar Holmberg the third option. Both are promising talents but neither has taken a snap in a college game, although Katrenick has been through an extra season of practices.

Either or both could play at Baylor. Or neither. Naturally, Cutcliffe isn’t giving anything away and some level of deception might prove useful down the line.

Cutcliffe agrees with Lloyd that Harris has talents heretofore hidden.

“Quentin just hasn’t been asked to throw the ball very much. He can throw the ball. He’s got his offense and his way of doing things and we’re going to build on that. He has got a really accurate arm and throws the deep ball as well as anyone I’ve been around. He can throw intermediate, he’s a good, quick screen thrower. He’s got a lot of talent.”

With Jones almost certainly out until October, Quentin Harris will have a chance to prove that. It’s his team now.