Earlier in the week I suggested that the Baylor game would be the ultimate test for David Cutcliffe’s efforts to build up depth.
Consider that test passed, in a big way. Playing on the road, as a six-point underdog, Duke never trailed, defeating the home team 40-27.
Of course, backup quarterback Quentin Harris was a big part of this. Duke needed Harris to be a game-manager and he matched that need, exceeding it on occasion. He completed only 12-of-30 passes and some of his short throws looked like late-career Steve Blass.
But in a game of big plays, Harris made big play after big play, three touchdown passes but perhaps the biggest play a 28-yard run that blunted Baylor’s momentum after they had closed from a 23-0 halftime deficit to 23-13. Duke punched it in the end zone on that drive, Harris to T.J. Rahming from seven yards out.
Harris also led everyone with 83 yards, on 10 carries.
About that game-manager. Zero turnovers, zero penalties, prudently throwing the ball away to avoid sacks.
But it wasn’t just Harris. Backup Deon Jackson matched those 83 rushing yards, on 14 rushes, a 31-yard touchdown run the first quarter’s opening salvo. Redshirt freshman safety Leonard Johnson—starting because of Jeremy McDuffie’s slower-than-expected ACL recovery-salted the game away with a 53-yard pick-six, which made it 40-20, with 3:39 left.
Jack Wohlabaugh got his first career start, at center and keyed a 225-yard rushing performance. Antone Williams broke up a pass, Chris Rumph had a sack, Ben Frye a quarterback hurry. Zach Baker played much of the second half at guard, Myles Hudzick played corner and third-team running back Marvin Hubbard III got in some valuable work against a P-5 team. Jake Bobo recovered an onside kick.
Some more Blue Devils went off the field with injuries. Waco in September no doubt led to some cramps but they weren’t all cramps. I don’t pretend to know the status of the guys who went down. Perhaps tomorrow.
Duke is certainly due some good news on the injury front. NC Central next week and maybe more players will be coming off the DL than going on, before Duke jumps into the deep end of the ACC pool later this month, hosting the hot Hokies.
No question Baylor hurt themselves, especially with dropped passes in the first half and some untimely penalties. But Duke forced both Baylor turnovers, forced a big holding penalty in the first half, forced a blocked field goal.
Three-and-zero, two wins on the road as underdogs against teams from Power-5 conferences. That would have looked pretty good a month ago, when everyone was healthy. Considering everything that has happened, well, it’s further evidence that David Cutcliffe has assembled a roster and a staff and a tradition that deserves national attention.
This was Duke’s sixth win against an opponent from a Power 5 conferences since the beginning of the 2012 season. Only Clemson, Louisville and Florida State, all with eight, have more in the ACC.
T.J. Rahming’s four catches (55 yards), give him 191 career receptions. He passed Clarkston Hines to move into fourth place on the Duke career list, trailing Connor Vernon (283), Jamison Crowder (283) and Donovan Varner (207).
Johnathan Lloyd had a game-high 93 receiving yards, on four catches. His 66-yard, one-handed touchdown grab was the longest catch of his college career.
Special teams played a big role, good and bad. Baylor scored on a blocked punt, Duke allowed a long kick-off return on the game’s first play, and Colin Wareham missed a PAT.
But Wareham hit each of his two field-goal attempts, while Baylor missed two, one blocked by Marquis Waters. T.J. Rahming returned three punts for 59 yards, a 32-yarder the second-longest of his career; he went 33 against Wake Forest last season. Duke twice pinned Baylor inside its 15 on kickoffs.