College Sports

ACC Kickoff notebook: Duke QB, Coastal Division stars offer a sample of season goals

Former Charlotte Latin QB Daniel Jones is the clear leader of the Duke Blue Devils offense. Above, Jones speaks at Wednesday’s ACC Kickoff in Charlotte.
Former Charlotte Latin QB Daniel Jones is the clear leader of the Duke Blue Devils offense. Above, Jones speaks at Wednesday’s ACC Kickoff in Charlotte. AP

Quarterback Daniel Jones racked up 413 yards of total offense for Duke in a 41-17 win over Northwestern last September. A career high for Jones, the performance came in the midst of a 4-0 start for the Blue Devils.

But things changed soon after. Duke (7-6, 3-5 ACC) proceeded to drop six straight games, as Jones struggled against defensive-minded teams such as Miami, Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Then Duke bounced back to win its last three games. Jones rebounded with the rest of his team, finishing the year off with 338 total yards, three touchdowns and an MVP award in the Quick Lane Bowl.

Now entering his third year as Duke’s starter, the redshirt junior would like that consistency to carry over. Jones, a former Charlotte Latin standout, is on multiple quarterback award watchlists and the clear leader for the Blue Devils’ offense.

“I think as a team it was important for us to kind of find a way to right the ship and finish the season strong last year,” he said Tuesday, at the 2018 ACC Kickoff. “... That was valuable experience for all of us to go through that, and I think that’ll be big for us going into next season.”

Here are six more notes — one for each Coastal Division team — from the first day of ACC football’s media extravaganza, held at The Westin Charlotte.

Larry Fedora ACC Kickoff
North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora’s Tar Heels had problems last season holding fourth-quarter leads. Chuck Burton AP

North Carolina (2017 record: 3-9, 1-7 ACC): In 12 games last season, North Carolina held nine second-half leads. But that equated to just three wins.

A lot of that problem stemmed from the fourth quarter itself — opponents outscored UNC, 111-70, in the final 15 minutes. This offseason, the Tar Heels have been practicing two-minute drills and other clock-related situations to improve in the fourth quarter.

TaQuon Marshall ACC Kickoff
Passing plays are infrequent in the triple-option offense Georgia Tech quarterback TaQuon Marshall runs. Chuck Burton AP

Georgia Tech (2017 record: 5-6, 4-4 ACC): TaQuon Marshall rushed for 1,146 yards as a junior, the most by a Georgia Tech quarterback in a single season. Ahead of his senior season, though, he wants to improve another skill.

Marshall threw just 116 passes last year, completing 43 for 927 yards. Passing plays are infrequent in the triple-option offense he runs, but the focus has been on efficiency when such opportunities do arise.

Olamide Zaccheaus
Halfback Olamide Zaccheaus broke Virginia’s single-season record with 85 catches last year. Chuck Burton AP

Virginia (2017 record: 6-7, 3-5 ACC): Olamide Zaccheaus did it all for the Cavaliers last season. The 5-foot-8 senior, listed as a halfback on the team’s roster, broke Virginia’s single-season record with 85 catches last year.

He racked up 895 receiving yards, had 27 rushes and also spent time at kick returner. With quarterback Kurt Benkert gone, it will fall on the versatile Zaccheaus’ shoulders to lead the Virginia offense.

Pat Narduzzi
Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi answers a question during Wednesday’s ACC Kickoff. Chuck Burton AP

Pittsburgh (2017 record: 5-7, 3-5 ACC): The Panthers were behind one of the biggest upsets in the 2017 season when they beat then-undefeated Miami, 24-14, in late November.

The man who sparked that win was Kenny Pickett, the true freshman quarterback who scored all three of his team’s touchdowns. He’ll enter 2018 as Pittsburgh’s starter — and plenty of high expectations.

Josh Jackson ACC Kickoff
Virginia Tech’s dynamic quarterback Josh Jackson, the team’s starter last year as a redshirt freshman, is back. Chuck Burton AP

Virginia Tech (2017 record: 9-4, 5-3 ACC): In his first two seasons in Blacksburg, Justin Fuente has won a school-record 19 games. He’s kept Virginia Tech’s iconic streak of 25 consecutive bowl games alive. In 2018, it looks to be more of the same.

Dynamic quarterback Josh Jackson, the team’s starter last year as a redshirt freshman, is back. Defensive tackle Ricky Walker will anchor a defense that allowed just 14.8 points per game in 2017.

Jaquan Johnson ACC Kickoff
All-American safety Jaquan Johnson passed up a chance at the NFL draft to return to Miami. Chuck Burton AP

Miami (2017 record: 10-3, 7-2 ACC): Jaquan Johnson could have left for the NFL Draft. Instead, the All-American safety, who had 96 tackles and four interceptions, decided to return to the Hurricanes for another shot.

Miami ended its season with three straight losses after a 10-0 start and College Football Playoff aspirations. The team returns many of the players who got them so close to that goal.

Chapel Fowler: 704-358-5612; @chapelfowler

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