Big play on defense helps Duke survive offensive struggle

Baylor defense harassed Daniel Jones in tough lesson

Duke Blue Devils linebacker Ben Humphreys heads to the end zone to score after making an interception against the Baylor Bears in the second half at Wallace Wade Stadium. Duke beat Baylor 34-20. (Mark Dolejs / USA TODAY Sports)

DURHAM — David Cutcliffe was on the phone, trying to figure out what to do with his offense, when the defense made the game-saving play in Duke’s 34-20 win.

Duke’s offense was struggling against visiting Baylor’s defense, and, despite an overall strong defensive performance, three big pass plays from the Bears had the Blue Devils clinging to a four-point lead early in the fourth quarter.

At the end of the third, quarterback Daniel Jones had a pair of seven-play drives that gained a total of 35 yards, forcing two Blue Devil punts.

Cutcliffe decided it was time to figure out what to do on offense.

“I was watching the defense,” Cutcliffe said, “but I was actually on the phone with the offensive coaches at that current time.”

At the time, Duke linebacker Ben Humphreys stepped in front of a Zach Smith pass at the Baylor 22 and returned it for a touchdown, giving Duke an 11-point lead. Baylor never threatened again.

“It was a thing of beauty to see,” Cutcliffe said. “He timed that zone coverage and picked it. What a time in the game for that.”

The defensive score helped break open a tight game that featured offensive struggles on both sides, briefly interrupted by explosive plays.

Baylor’s approach against Duke sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones had Cutcliffe raving after the game. The Bears pressured Jones, sacking him five times and holding him without a touchdown for the first time in six starts.

“They did so many different things that we hadn’t seen,” Cutcliffe said. “I don’t think I’ve seen many people show as many fronts as they showed in the ballgame. There were people in underneath coverage in different places, and there was a lot of disguise for them. For them to be able to do that in a week’s time, my hat’s off to them. I can’t wait to get to the tape!”

Jones wasn’t quite as complimentary.

“It was a tough day for the offense,” he said.

Cutcliffe made sure Jones learned from the long day.

“It’s a great lesson for him,” Cutcliffe said. “I told him how proud I was of him, afterward. That was a hard game for any quarterback. When you practice, all you can do is anticipate, and you put a defense in a script, what you expect them to be in. And they were completely different. It’s not easy when people are showing up in different spots. I told him I was very aware of that, and we will get you ready. Be fortunate you played in that type of game. That’s a growth game.”

While Jones was going through growing pains, the Duke defense was harassing Baylor. The Blue Devils had three sacks, three interceptions and held the Bears to a 2.1 rushing average. Baylor completed just 12 of 34 passes on the game.

Three of those dozen completions had Duke on the ropes, however.  Baylor scored on completions of 44, 73 and 79 yards.

Cutcliffe saw past the big plays, however. “We need to understand the explosives and what occurred,” he said. “That’s probably all (defensive coordinator) Jim Knowles is focused on, right now. He shouldn’t be. We did a nice job. We’re playing cohesive defense with 11 people doing what they have to be doing, not giving up very many easy plays. I know — the explosives, but they had to earn those.”

As the offense struggled and Cutcliffe burned up the phone lines, his linebacker turned in the biggest play of the day.

“I didn’t even get to say anything about it to him or the defensive coaches,” Cutcliffe said. “I just continued my conversation with the offensive coaches.”

“I’ll have plenty to say about it tomorrow,” he added.