No. 22 Duke suffers first loss of season, 31-14 to Virginia Tech
Duke quarterback Daniel Jones returned for the team’s ACC opener against Virginia Tech Saturday night, but the third-year starting quarterback wasn’t able to lift the No. 22 Blue Devils (4-1, 0-1 ACC) to a win as the Hokies (3-1, 2-0 ACC) left Durham with a 31-14 win.
Duke’s first loss of the season wasn’t because of the quarterback’s play though, at least not according to head coach David Cutcliffe said.
“I thought he played really great, he played with no fear, I mean he wasn’t antsy in the pocket,” he said. “He looked strong, I thought he the the ball well. His running was outstanding. I would like to see him do that when he’s completely healthy. We just can play better all around him.
“I didn’t see anything that I would change about him. I think he’ll grade out what we call a ‘winner,’ based on what I saw.”
Jones finished 23-of-35 for for 226 passing yards and one touchdown and one interception. He was not as complimentary of his own performance, boiling it down to just “fine,” in his first game in three weeks after breaking his left clavicle in the Week 2 game at Northwestern.
“I didn’t do enough, just the whole game,” Jones said. “Just a tough game.”
Duke’s struggles started as Jones when 2-of-4 on the Blue Devils’ opening drive, the run game struggled (three carries for 10 positive yards, as one rush went backward) and a penalty collectively caused the drive to stall around midfield.
Jones threw the first interception for a Duke QB this season as his third-down pass was tipped and picked on the team’s second drive, then Justin Fuente’s team took a 3-0 lead on a 28-yard field goal with 6:34 left in the first quarter at the end of the drive.
Early, Jones aired the ball out and threw well-placed long passes for wide receivers that came up just shy of making the catch for explosive plays, but three minutes after VT got on the board, Jones finally connected on a long ball: a 23-yard pass to Noah Gray, who got into the endzone for this first time this season for a 7-3 lead.
“There were plays out there and we’ve got to do a better job, I’ve got to do a better job of putting the ball where it’s supposed to be and taking advantage of those opportunities that we have,” Jones said.
VT answered as Ryan Willis ended the team’s next drive with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Damon Hazelton, putting the Hokies back ahead 10-7 on the first snap of the second quarter.
Jones was sacked (for the first of three times on the night) on the first snap of Duke’s next drive, then the team went three-and-out as it was unable to recover after getting behind the chains. Virginia Tech converted on third-and-13 on its next opportunity, then Willis passed to Dalton Keene on the next snap for a 67-yard catch and run, making it 17-7 with 11:34 left in the first half.
Austin Parker missed a field goal for the first time this season on Duke’s ensuing drive, the 43-yarder sailed wide left and the score stayed 17-7 at halftime.
Virginia Tech extended its lead on its second drive of the second half as a 36-yard pass set up a six-yard score for a 24-7 Hokies advantage.
After being shut out for two quarters, Duke made its first trip to the redzone on the third play of the fourth quarter and Deon Jackson scored on a one-yard run to pull the home team back within 10 points, 24-14, but Virginia Tech responded with a 10-play scoring drive to bump its lead back up again, to 31-14.
This is the second season in a row the Blue Devils began the year 4-0, then dropped a prime time ACC game to fall to 4-1.
After last season’s 4-0 was followed by 0-6, the players know that their confidence has to stay higher following this year’s first loss in order to avoid the losing streak that Duke says it refuses to let happen this year.
“It takes maturity not to let one loss become two,” Cutcliffe said. “We have a more mature football team that’s been through more together.
“It cannot emotionally stifle you for one moment in the mentality of your battle, your fight, how you’re going to practice, how you’re going to work.”
With the maturity and a team that is (thankful for the impending by week because it’s) wounded and missing players, but talented, Cutcliffe emphasizes the zero-tolerance policy for “woe is me,” sadness and disappointment at this part of the season.
On the field, it boils down to more committed play even when games aren’t going as well as the Devils first four did (as the team faced its first halftime deficit of the season Saturday).
“We’ve just got to play for four quarters,” linebacker Joe Giles-Harris said. “Instead of just one, two or three like we did last year. We’ve got to play four quarters and you’re going to win games. When you don’t play for four quarters in ACC games, you lose. That’s what happened today, that’s what happened last year six times in a row. We won’t lose six in a row, five in a row, whatever it is.
“We’re going to do everything in our power to win the rest of our football games.”