Photo: Daniel Jones
DURHAM, N.C. – It’s nothing new for NFL scouts to travel to Durham to take another look at Duke quarterback Daniel Jones. They’ve shown up since he took over as the starter in 2016, his redshirt freshman season.
The notion, though, that they might also have been attracted to see other prospects was dismissed long before Duke finished off North Carolina 42-35 Saturday before 35,493 fans at Wallace Wade Stadium.
Scouts began leaving their press box seats in the back row midway through the third quarter; all nine were gone by the fourth period’s early moments. By then, there was nothing more to learn about Jones than his final numbers on a record-setting day. His 547 total yards set a school record as he threw for 361 (31-54-1) and ran 15 times for 186.
Jones is only the third ACC quarterback in history to with multiple games of 300 yards passing and 100 rushing. He first did against Northwestern with 305 and 108 in the 2017 season. Jones joins Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, the 2016 Heisman Trophy winner, who did it three times and Clemson’s Taj Boyd, who did it twice.
“Daniel has been building toward this,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “His knowledge, his accuracy and we all know he can run. He is a fast human being. Fast enough to be a track athlete if he chose to be. Daniel has grown into such a fierce competitor and he prepares like you’re supposed to prepare.”
His touchdown passes were 52 yards to senior wide receiver Chris Taylor, 26 to senior tight end Daniel Helm and a 2-yarder to senior tight end Davis Koppenhaver.
On Jones’ 61-yard scoring run with 16 seconds left in the second quarter for a 35-28 halftime lead, he showed vision to find a seam, reaction to his the defense on the outside and speed to pull away without a defensive back catching him from behind.
The third-and-4 play was a quarterback draw option. Jones could have passed, but he saw running room up the right hash mark. At the same time, senior wide receiver Johnathan Lloyd read Jones’ decision to run. Lloyd kept sprinting up the sideline as North Carolina cornerback Trey Morrison chased him with his back to Jones.
“First of all, let’s give that guy (Jones) credit because he can run,” North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said. “He’s really a good player and did some unbelievable things today with his arm and his legs. When you have a situation like that, and you’ve got guys in coverage where their eyes aren’t on the quarterback and somebody gets out of a gap, he finds it and makes you pay. That’s what he did today.”
By the time Morrison looked back, Jones was able to veer to the middle of the field; Morrison could only chase Jones into the end zone. Free safety Myles Dorn, who was on the opposite hash mark when Jones burst up the field, also could only futilely give chase.
“When they play man coverage they stop accounting for the quarterback,” said Koppenhaver. “Johnathan kept running and the guy thought he was running his route. That’s a smart play by Johnathan.”
Koppenhaver, during the post-game interview, cradled the ball he caught for his 11th career touchdown, establishing a Duke career tight end record for touchdown catches. The redshirt senior’s score for a 21-14 lead to start the second quarter topped the previous mark of 10 set between 1961 and 1963 by Stan Crisson.
For Jones, his 46th career touchdown pass now ranks him sixth on Duke’s list. He accounted for four touchdowns to bump his career total to 62, second in school history.
Jones has NFL size as a 6-foot-5, 220-pounder and NFL arm strength. He is a pocket passer, but his size belies his running ability. That’s an added skill in the modern college and NFL offensive schemes.
Of the nine franchises represented, the New York Giants appear the most in immediate need of a quarterback. The New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints, though, may be interested in grooming Jones behind their respective ageless quarterbacks, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. The other teams were the Chicago Bears, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers, Cleveland Browns, Seattle Seahawks and Oakland Raiders.
What has held Jones back from being mentioned as a one of the marquee names is his lack of numbers in big games. But that is recognized around the NFL as a result of spotty pass protection, dropped balls and an inconsistent running game.
This time, though, Duke’s offensive line gave him time to pass and Deon Jackson ran for 78 yards and a touchdown in addition to Jones’ yardage. But there were some dropped balls that prevented him from a possible 400-yard day.
Jones also had a 68-yard run late in the third quarter to set up a 2-yard touchdown run one play later by backup quarterback Quentin Harris. This time Morrison tripped up Jones at the 2. The play was initially ruled a touchdown until the review determined his knee was down at the two.
“On both of those long runs, I don’t think I was touched, and that’s a credit to the guys up front,” Jones said. “There were seams and I tried to do what I could. Those guys played great in pass protection, too.”
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