Daniel Jones is fresh off one of the top individual performances by a quarterback in Duke football history.
Jones, a 6-5, 215-pound redshirt sophomore, threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 108 yards and another two touchdowns in Duke’s 41-17 win over Northwestern this past Saturday.
Only one other Duke player, Brandon Connette (vs. Pittsburgh in 2013), has ever thrown for 300 yards and rushed for 100 yards in the same game. Duke (2-0) coach David Cutcliffe said Tuesday that Jones is only beginning to show his skills and a higher level of play from him will come as the season progresses.
Here’s Jones’ take on the team’s hot start and more, heading into Saturday’s home game against Baylor (0-2):
Q: Having spent time this summer with NFL star quarterback Peyton Manning, who was a master of reading the defense and checking to a different play at the line, did you guys talk about that aspect in particular?
DJ: We talked about his preparation and how much time he put into that. He told a story about, in the Super Bowl (against Carolina in February 2016), he was playing a game with (linebacker) Luke Kuechly and going back and forth on the blitz and being able to recognize that and call a protection based on where the blitz is coming from. You get an idea of how prepared he was. How seriously he took that. That definitely had an impression on me.
Q: The first two weeks you guys (Duke) have put up 101 points in wins over NCCU and Baylor, Duke’s best two-game scoring output since 1945. Why has the offense been so good?
DJ: “It started up front for us. The offensive line is playing at a really high level and playing together, bringing some physicality that we are able to use. That, combined with the speed that we have, a lot of the athleticism on the perimeter at receiver and running back. That combination is working well for us right now.”
Q: That said, there’s room for improvement, which I’m sure Cutcliffe has talked about. What are the areas to focus on this week?
DJ: “It’s consistency, but I guess from my perspective it’s always making sure we are in the right play, a play that’s going to give us an advantage. So to be able to consistently execute we have to make sure we are in plays that against their looks are going to give us a chance to be successful. That’s what my focus is on right now. As an offense, that will help us a lot.”
Q: You had two interceptions during the Northwestern game, one of which was wiped out due to a penalty. What did you learn from those two plays?
DJ: “You’ve got to know that someone is always open. The first play was different than the second play. On the first one, there was another guy open on that play. It’s understand the play and move on. The second play (where the penalty reversed the interception) down there in the red zone, understanding how valuable the ball is there. You can’t afford to jam or force a ball into a tight window there. The smart play there is just to let it go and move on to the next play. I think it’s not getting stuck and moving through the concepts and the progressions.”
Q: You’ve played in Wallace Wade Stadium when it’s been full for games like UNC and Virginia Tech. You’ve also seen games last Saturday against Northwestern with small crowds. How does the team get its energy up on a day when the crowd is small?
DJ: “You know, we only have 12 opportunities, 12 games to play every year. I think each game the opportunity to play is exciting enough for us. I think a lot of our energy comes from that. At 4-8 last year, we understand how valuable each of these games are. The opportunity to win a football game needs to be exciting, and I think it is for us.”