(DETROIT, MI) – The word on the street, before yesterday’s Quick Lane Bowl at Ford Field in Detroit, was that if the real Danny Jones showed up it would be enough for Duke to prevail over Northern Illinois. Otherwise it was anyone’s guess between the two defensive minded teams.
Well, Jones showed up to play and the Blue Devils ran off with a 36-14 bowl victory for Duke head coach David Cutcliffe, his second in 10 years.
Duke needed to win their final two games to become bowl eligible while NIU were one game away from the Mid American Conference championship. It would seem that the starting momentum swung in Duke’s favour as they leapt out to a 14-0 lead by the end of the 1st quarter.
The Huskies, however, weren’t out of the fight and tied the score on two major scores, a Tre Harbison 25 yard slant run and a 67 yard pass and run from Marcus Childers to Jauan Wesley. Then the wheels fell off the wagon.
NIU, facing 4th and 18 from their own 11 yard line, attempted the inconceivable by faking the punt and throwing, instead, to a defensive back. The pass was incomplete and Duke went ahead to stay a short time later.
“Well, it was unusual. I don’t know whether they called it. The punter did it,” said Duke’s Cutcliffe. “The ball hit the ground on the snap. I don’t know, but it’s a real risky call. We do know that.”
Bowl MVP Jones opened the scoring by keeping the ball on a 1-yard run with Shaun Wilson following suit before the quarter ended. After the fake punt attempt, Jones connected with TJ Rahming for a 33-yard major. Wilson then took an 11-yarder from Jones before the half to bump the score to 26-14.
“Daniel can beat you in a lot of different ways, but he is definitively a very tough, mentally and physically, young man,” said Cutcliffe. “He earned that trophy today that he received.”
The Blue Devils scored their final touchdown when Brittain Brown romped in from 7 yards, though the play had to be reviewed after officials originally indicated he was downed at the 1/2 yard line. William Holmquist iced the cake with a 24-yard field goal half way through the 4th quarter.
Holmquist was pressed into service when starting kicker Austin Parker was dismissed from the team after a second academic policy violation. His replacement, Holmquist, connected on three conversions while pushing a 4th wide of the uprights. Jones attempted a 2-point conversion of Wilson’s 2nd quarter TD, but missed his man in the end zone.
Duke accumulated 213 yards on the ground with Jones completing 27-of-40 passes for 252 yards. Huskies QB Childers was 15-for-28 and 234 yards, but the team managed just 65 net rushing yards.
Defensively, Duke shut down the NIU running game and made 8 tackles for 42 yards behind the line of scrimmage compared to 18 yards on 8 tackles for the Huskies. Both passers were sacked twice.
“And then our defense held them to one-of-18 in third and fourth down conversions, and when that happens it results in Duke’s got 27 first downs and they’ve got 15 or whatever it was,” Cutcliffe said. “And the time of possession gets crazy flipped, that’s how you win football games. Field position and the kickoff coverage unit, that’s how you win football games.”