Blue Devils suffer first loss in Daniel Jones’ return

Duke's Noah Gray (87) catches a touchdown pass while Virginia Tech's Reggie Floyd (21) chases during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Durham, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

Duke dropped its first game of the season, 31-14, to Virginia Tech, spoiling quarterback Daniel Jones’ return.

The junior passer started the game, despite breaking his clavicle three weeks ago. His 23-of-35 passing and 226 yards weren’t enough to hold off the visiting Hokies, however.

“I thought he was terrific,” coach David Cutcliffe said of the returning Jones. “He wasn’t antsy at all. There were some things we were going to stay away from as far as certain parts of the run game with him but he threw the ball well. He could’ve had two or three more touchdown passes in there. He was courageous in the pocket and kept his eyes down the field. I thought he came back playing really well.”

Jones was under pressure much of the night, however. Virginia Tech sacked him three times and hurried him into throwing the ball away on several other occasions. Making matters worse, the Hokies were able to apply pressure with a three-man rush, leaving an extra defender in pass coverage, further frustrating Jones.

“When you get 8-man coverage, you’re having to work not to throw into coverage,” Cutcliffe said. “We lost some individual battles (on the offensive line).”

The Hokies also tipped a pair of passes, including one that led to Jones’ first interception of the season. Tech also shut down the Blue Devils’ running game, holding Duke to 71 yards on the ground.

“Offensively, we didn’t convert, and conversions become turnovers,” Cutcliffe said. “We had a turnover. A little bit of a freak one but a turnover, so we lost that battle. We lost the sack battle three-to-one. We couldn’t run the football and they played coverage and kept everything in front of them. In the first half, we did miss two or three opportunities to score and with a team like Virginia Tech, you can’t miss your shots.”

On defense, Duke was victimized by missed tackles and a failure to stop the Hokies on third down. Virginia Tech completed seven of eight third down passes and victimized the young Duke secondary on several deep balls.

Tech backup quarterback Ryan Willis, starting in place of Josh Jackson, who was injured in last week’s loss to Old Dominion, passed for 332 yards and three scores.

“We’re playing an aggressive team and we have good corners, but they made some plays today,” said Duke linebacker Joe Giles-Harris. “Other than that, tackling for the defense was a big thing today. We have to continue to get better on that, myself included. We missed way too many tackles today.”

Duke now heads to their off week with a 4-1 record. The Blue Devils then begin a stretch of three road games in four weeks.

“There’s no panic button, and there’s no running from the challenge that you have,” Cutcliffe said. “You run right to it.”