WACO, Texas — Duke overcame all the distractions and an extended trip to Texas because of a massive storm and is off to a 3-0 start for the second year in a row.
Quentin Harris threw for 174 yards and three touchdowns in his first career start, filling in for injured Daniel Jones, and the Blue Devils jumped out to a 23-0 halftime lead on way to a 40-27 win at Baylor on Saturday while their home state of North Carolina was being inundated with rain from Tropical Storm Florence.
The Blue Devils had traveled to Texas on Thursday, a day earlier than usual to get out before Florence made landfall along the Carolina coast as a hurricane.
“I told them at the hotel I had admiration for them. It’s been incredibly smooth,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “I told them we’re leaving at 7 o’clock in the morning (Thursday) at the last minute, we loaded up the bus at 5:45 and not a single person was late. What does that tell you about this team?”
Duke was flying home Saturday night, though it was still possible they might have to land somewhere other than Durham and bus back to campus.
T.J. Rahming caught two of Harris’ TD passes (28 and 7 yards) and Johnathan Lloyd had a 66-yard TD catch. Harris, a fourth-year junior who was 12-of-30 passing, started because Jones fractured a clavicle last week and is out indefinitely. Jones had started 27 straight games for the Blue Devils.
“I thought I had a couple balls I probably could have been more accurate on,” Harris said. “Definitely want to get the completion percentage up. But at the end of the day, it’s a team game. My individual stats don’t matter. As long as we come out on top, I’m happy as I can be.”
JaMycal Hasty returned a blocked punt for a 33-yard touchdown for Baylor (2-1), the first time a Bears player had done that since Braelon Davis against North Texas in 2004.
The early deficit proved too much to overcome for Baylor, which was playing its first nonconference home game against a Power Five conference team since Sept. 12, 2008, against Washington State.
“We’re obviously disappointed in not just the outcome, but the way we played in the first half,” Baylor coach Matt Rhule said. “They made the plays they needed to make at crucial times and we didn’t do that. … We had opportunities with things we’ve done at a high level, from kicking field goals, making extra points, we just weren’t able to do that today.”
Baylor outgained Duke 400-399 in total yards, but the Blue Devils took full advantage of Baylor’s two turnovers.
Deon Jackson scored on a 31-yard fumble return in the first quarter, and Leonard Johnson put the game away with a 53-yard interception return for a touchdown with less than four minutes left.
“The D-line got a great rush, got the quarterback out of the pocket and he was rushing the throw,” Johnson said.
Charlie Brewer threw for 175 yards and rushed for two touchdowns for Baylor. Jalan McClendon added 95 yards through the air, including a 25-yard TD to Tyquan Thompson, and was the leading rusher for the Bears with 51 yards. But McClendon had the pick that Johnson returned for the score.
Duke: The Blue Devils have consecutive 3-0 starts for the first time since 1987-88. They played nearly mistake-free football, other than the blocked punt Baylor returned for a touchdown. Duke also didn’t have a penalty.
Baylor: This represented a step up in competition for the Bears, and they didn’t appear to be ready for it. They squandered both scoring chances in the first half with a missed field goal of 44 yards and a blocked one from 47 yards out. Baylor didn’t reach the red zone until the second half.
Baylor’s defense forced three 3-and-outs in a row to start the third quarter, which led to its first offensive touchdown drive and the blocked punt for a touchdown. That put the Bears within 23-13 and momentum on their side, but Duke answered with an 11-play, 75-yard drive.
“That was big for us,” Harris said. “I was really proud of the drive we put together there. … That really helped stretch the lead and stretch the game in our favor.”
Duke: Returns home to meet N.C. Central next Saturday.
Baylor: Opens Big 12 play at home against Kansas.