DURHAM, N.C. – With consecutive wins to open the 2018 season, the Duke Football team looks to make it three straight victories Saturday at Baylor. The Blue Devils will kick off against the Bears at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on FS1.
PREPARING FOR FLORENCE
Due to the potential inclement weather from Hurricane Florence, Duke Athletics either cancelled or postponed scheduled home events for this weekend. The Blue Devil football team will depart for Waco a day earlier than usual, arriving on Thursday.
“I want to say personally that our thoughts and prayers continue to be with those who will be impacted by Hurricane Florence, including some of our families, but certainly those by the coast,” head coach David Cutcliffe said. “It’s very difficult to deal with Mother Nature. We hope there are no lives lost and minimal property damage. I know this is on many people’s minds. It’s a whole lot more important than a football game.”
CUTCLIFFE DEALING WITH GILBERT’S AND JONES’ INJURIES
During last Saturday’s game at Northwestern, junior cornerback Mark Gilbert suffered a season-ending hip injury. A preseason All-America selection, Gilbert had started the last 18 consecutive games.
“When I went to his room Sunday evening after the surgery, he really picked me up,” Cutcliffe said of his visit with Gilbert. “He’s a special young man. He will grow from this adversity. I believe in my heart of hearts he will come back better physical prospect than he is today.”
The Blue Devils also lost redshirt junior quarterback Daniel Jones for an indefinite period of time due to a fractured left clavicle suffered last Saturday at Northwestern.
“Daniel is working,” Cutcliffe said of the third-year starter. “We couldn’t keep him away. He’s already been in quarterback meetings. He is preparing to play a game because it’s his best opportunity to help the quarterbacks who will be playing. He told me, ‘I’m going to prepare just like I was going to play.’”
With Gilbert and Jones sidelined, Cutcliffe knows the challenge, but also opportunity that awaits his program.
“We have a job to do and that’s to be the very best we can be, week in and week out, regardless of what the circumstances are,” Cutcliffe said. “This is an opportunity. Anytime something like this happens, it’s an opportunity for Duke football. It’s an opportunity for the program. Not just for the players but for coaches as well. What are we worth? How do we respond? If you’re a football program, your response should be to increase your intensity, focus and put yourself in a position to realize this is an absolute golden opportunity for our program.”
Redshirt senior wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd agreed that there are opportunities and pushing forward is the best plan.
“We’re just trying to keep everybody up and rally together,” he said. “Some guys are going to have to play a bigger role than they have before. Some of the guys in the defensive backfield have to play different roles. Guys are versatile. Things like that are going to have to happen when you lose two important guys like Daniel and Mark. It’s next man up. We’re just going to keep pushing along.”
NEXT MAN UP: QUENTIN HARRIS
With Jones being out this week, redshirt junior Quentin Harris will make his first career start against the Bears. Harris has played in 13 career games, accumulating 85 passing yards and 104 rushing yards.
“We’re confident in Quentin,” Lloyd said. “Obviously he has a little bit of a different skill set than Daniel, but we’re not going to change much. We’re going to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We have full and total belief in Quentin and that he can do what we need him to do to help us get a win.”
Cutcliffe is equally as confident in this week’s starting quarterback.
“Quentin Harris knows his offense,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s someone who has worked hard. I have a lot of admiration for his readiness. He went in the game Saturday with no cadence or read issues. I thought he did an outstanding job.”
Redshirt sophomore center Jack Wohlabaugh has spent the majority of the fall snapping to Harris.
“When you see Quentin in the locker room or on the field, he carries himself like a starting quarterback, even if he wasn’t,” Wohlabaugh said. “He is now so I think he’s going to step in and fill that role perfectly for us. We’re going to keep doing what we do.”
Lloyd noted Duke’s offense will not change much from Jones to Harris.
“It’s still going to be the same thing,” Lloyd said. “We still have talented guys around Quentin. We’re going to keep doing the same thing we’ve been doing. And Quentin, even though he hasn’t been starting, when we practice during the week he does the same things as Daniel.”
YOUNG DEFENSIVE BACKS ALL OVER THE FIELD
With Gilbert out, the Blue Devils were very young in the secondary at Northwestern and expect to be at Baylor this weekend. Duke’s depth chart lists starters as: sophomore safety Marquis Waters, junior safety Dylan Singleton, senior safety Jeremy McDuffie or redshirt freshman safety Leonard Johnson, sophomore cornerback Michael Carter II and redshirt freshman cornerback Josh Blackwell. McDuffie missed last week’s game at Northwestern due to injury.
In the first two games of the season, Carter II has recorded his first career interception and fumble recovery. Blackwell started his first career game at Northwestern, registering four tackles.
“I’m excited for both of them,” redshirt junior linebacker Joe Giles-Harris said. “Michael stepped up huge last week, playing on the inside before being asked to move to the outside. He did a phenomenal job, then had an interception. Josh gets better and better every day. I’ve seen it since camp. He’s been waiting on his opportunity, and he’s got it. I’m excited to go watch him play. He reminds me a lot of Breon Borders when he was here.”
“Michael and Josh have stepped up in a big way,” Cutcliffe added about the pair’s performance. “I’m really proud. Josh played about 90 snaps in his first time playing and he did really well. They are great athletes with a lot of speed. That’s always a good place to start at corner.”
DEFENSIVE LINE GETTING HOME
During last Saturday’s game at Northwestern, Duke registered 14 quarterback pressures to go along with 4.0 sacks and 6.0 tackles for lost yardage. The Blue Devils will look to do more of the same this weekend against Baylor.
“Our defensive line is full of phenomenal guys up there,” Giles-Harris said. “They make playing linebacker and defensive back a lot easier. When the quarterback has two seconds to throw the ball, sometimes less, he forces bad throws. They just have a killer mentality up there.”
Cutcliffe believes the athleticism of the line also works to Duke’s advantage.
“We have some talent up there,” Cutcliffe said. “I think everyone realizes it’s the best physical group we’ve had. Coach [Ben] Albert does a great job teaching pass rush. I thought Northwestern got off to a good start against us. We didn’t get off the ball very well. Once we got on our edges, our kids are strong and have good hands. Hopefully we can build on that.”
WATCH OUT FOR THE RPO
Duke’s defense has faced multiple offensive schemes this season with Army West Point’s ball-control, triple-option offense, Northwestern’s more traditional attack and now Baylor with its run-pass option (RPO) offense.
“What concerns me is Baylor’s ability to throw RPOs,” Cutcliffe said. “They have receivers with size. Both quarterbacks are very accurate. You defend and try not to give up explosives. Explosives are where a lot of points live and that’s a key to this game.”
Giles-Harris agreed that the RPO will be a focus for the defense heading into this weekend’s action.
“Baylor is an exceptional team this year,” he said. “They’re coming off two good wins. They are a really athletic and fast team. As the linebackers, communication wise, they try to do a lot of RPO-type things. We have to stay on our keys and be smart while playing aggressive. The biggest thing is to stay physical and running with them step for step. We have guys in our secondary who are the most athletic that I’ve seen in a long time.”
WOHLABAUGH ENJOYING DURHAM
After spending the 2016 and 2017 seasons as a member of the football program at Ohio State, Wohlabaugh enrolled at Duke in January of 2018. An Academic All-Big Ten selection in 2017, Wohlabaugh did not see game action in two seasons with the Buckeyes as the program went a combined 23-4, earned a berth in the College Football Playoff in 2016 and won both the Big Ten Championship (27-21 over Wisconsin) and Goodyear Cotton Bowl (24-7 over Southern California) in 2017.
He couldn’t be happier to be a Blue Devil.
“I love it at Duke,” Wohlabaugh said. “I’m really glad I’m here. I’ve been here since January, so not too long, but I’m getting in the swing of things. I’m really happy I’m here.”
For Cutcliffe, there are few joys greater than watching a student-athlete love playing the game of football.
“Jack is a physical and powerful guy,” Cutcliffe said. “He’s just so happy. If we asked him to practice eight days a week, he would do it. He’s really enjoying playing football and that’s so much fun to see.”