Blue Devils line trying to keep quarterback safer

Line thinks QB Daniel Jones has been hit too much this year

Sep 29, 2017; Durham, NC, USA; Duke Blue Devils quarterback Daniel Jones (17) looks for running room against the Miami Hurricanes defense in the first half at Wallace Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Dolejs-USA TODAY Sports

DURHAM — Duke quarterback Daniel Jones was sacked once during the Florida State game last week.

For an offensive line that has struggled to protect the sophomore quarterback this year, that’s progress.

“It comes to a point where you’re tired of seeing your quarterback on the ground,” said right guard Zach Harmon.

It’s happened plenty of times this season. Baylor sacked Jones five times. A week later, North Carolina got him three times. Miami also had five sacks. For the season, Jones has been hit 26 times. He was hit just 31 times in 12 games all of last year.

“It’s like a shot to your stomach, when you see him get hit,” Harmon said. “You’ve just kind of got to buck up and say you don’t want to see that anymore.”

That’s easier said than done.

“I don’t think any light bulb went off,” coach David Cutcliffe said. “I think there were some alarms that were set by myself and my assistants. It’s not as simple as waking up and realizing your quarterback is getting hit too much.”

Duke vs. Pittsburgh
Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham  |  Saturday, 12:20 p.m.  |  ACC Network

With a young quarterback like Jones, it’s even more troubling because of the impact that the repeated hits will have on his psyche.

“It does a lot of things to you,” Cutcliffe said. “There’s a difference between playing quick and playing hurried. There’s a real fine line. I have this clock in my head — I know what quick is. When the ball is snapped, I know exactly when I want it out. It’s just from a lot of years. We pride ourselves on not holding the ball.

“What happens when you start feeling hurried, you actually lose that timing mechanism, because your feet aren’t set. You’re anticipating a problem before a problem even occurs. There are a million things you’ve got to watch,” he continued. “I don’t think a lot of that has entered into Daniel yet, but it’s going to some. It’s going to.”

The offensive line has had to deal with mental demons from the opponents’ sack binge.

“Baylor did a great job,” Harmon said. “They had a lot of blitz packages and stunts that were pretty exotic. We hadn’t seen it on film from them before. It took a lot of adjusting that game. After that, we’ve tried to expect the unexpected from defensive fronts.”

Instead of worrying about the tricks and twists, the line has gotten back to focusing on their jobs. “Regardless of what look we’re going to get, we need to make sure our scheme is sound,” Harmon said.

Florida State didn’t get to Jones that often, although Harmon admits that they played the Blue Devils one-on-one, without many tricks. Still, it was the first boost the beleaguered unit’s confidence has had in quite a few weeks.

“We’ve spent the last couple weeks really trying to protect him,” Harmon said, “because if we keep him off the ground, we’ll have a chance with whoever we play. That’s what we truly believe. What fuels us is not seeing him on the ground.”

Cutcliffe puts it even plainer.

“There is no passing game without pass protection,” he said. “None. Zero.”

Duke to honor former coach Spurrier

Former Blue Devils head coach Steve Spurrier will be honored during the home game against Pitt, prior to his induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.

Spurrier coached Duke from 1987 to 1989 and was a two-time ACC coach of the year. In addition to being one of only two coaches to have sustained success with the Blue Devils in recent years, Cutcliffe has another connection to the Ol’ Ball Coach.

“My brother Paige played with Steve at Florida,” Cutcliffe said. “Paige was a defensive lineman. I vividly remember Steve Spurrier’s career, because it was the only time in my life growing up that I wasn’t an Alabama football fan. When my brother turned down Alabama and went to Florida, he was lucky his last name was still Cutcliffe, and that’s the truth.”

Somehow, during Paige’s time with Spurrier on the Gators, coach Cut ended up with an odd souvenir.

“One thing I wished I still had was the chinstrap I got from him,” Cutcliffe said. “Wouldn’t you know, somewhere along the way, it got lost. That was not very smart on my part.”

As far as Spurrier the coach, Cutcliffe considers him a role model.

“He influenced a lot of us,” Cutcliffe said. “He was a trendsetter in throwing the football. He was a competitor of ours at Tennessee, with his taunting of us. ‘You can’t spell Citrus Bowl without UT.’ He was a clever guy. He had a lot of fun coaching football and played it at an extremely high level.”