Daniel Jones hopes to put on the same type of show in the Quick Lane Bowl against Northern Illinois today at Ford Field that he did in Duke’s 41-17 rout of Northwestern in September.
Jones, a 6-foot-5 sophomore quarterback, accounted for 413 yards of total offense in the win over Northwestern, which is now ranked No. 20.
He completed 29-of-45 passes for 305 yards and two touchdowns, also rushing for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
“That was a big game for us, offensively one of our better games for sure,” Jones said. “It seemed like we were able to run the ball and throw the ball when we wanted to and that kind of matchup brought us speed and opportunities for us to have a balanced attack.”
Jones has multiple weapons to work with, including T.J. Rahming, who had 12 receptions for 127 yards in that lopsided victory and Chris Taylor who hauled in a 52-yard touchdown reception.
Rahming leads Duke (6-6) in catches (61) and receiving yards (733). Junior Jonathan Lloyd has 37 receptions for 364 yards. Running back Shaun Wilson has rushed for 743 yards and five touchdowns.
Jones has had his moments and strong performances this season, but has lacked consistency, a reason he finished the regular season with 2,439 yards and 12 touchdowns with 11 interceptions, completing 55.7 percent of his attempts.
Duke’s season has been a roller-coaster, starting with four straight wins, including a 34-20 victory over Baylor and a 27-17 win at rival North Carolina, but that was followed by six straight losses, four coming by seven points or fewer.
“We beat Northwestern, Baylor and Carolina, but didn’t do a great job of building off of that, didn’t form as well offensively, and we’ve tried to get back to that the last two games and I think we’ve been close,” Jones said.
After a 4-6 record, Duke closed the season with wins over Georgia Tech (43-20) and Wake Forest (31-23) to punch its ticket to the Motor City.
In the win over Georgia Tech, Jones again played at a high level as a dual-threat, completing 18-of-26 for 177 yards and two touchdowns without an interception, while running for 91 yards and a touchdown.
“We use the spread with a lot of zone runs and zone reads, and this year we’ve added more run schemes and are doing more in the run game,” Jones said. “T.J. Rahming is probably the guy with the best numbers, but we have a whole bunch of receivers who can make plays and have stepped up.
“We’ve had one guy emerge in one game, another the next, and we’ve had tight ends make plays all season, especially the late games.”
Junior tight end Daniel Helm caught an 18-yard touchdown pass from Jones in the season finale, a 31-23 win at bowl-bound Wake Forest.
Jones threw for a career-high 346 yards.
What does Jones feel is his strength as a quarterback?
“My poise has been my strength,” Jones said. “I wouldn’t say my decision-making has been perfect, but I think my ability to control my emotions has helped me.”
And, of the six-game losing streak, with four games having been on the line late but ending in losses?
“It was certainly tough, took a lot of mental toughness and fortitude to keep coming to practice every day and doing everything we needed to do to be in position to win,” Jones said.
“We were in position to win a lot, didn’t make those one or two plays that push you over the edge, but were able to do that in the last two games.
“The big thing during that losing streak is that our practices didn’t fall off. We didn’t lose our drive or our want-to in practice and I think that allowed us to finish strong. We feel fortunate to be in a bowl game and certainly excited for Detroit.”
Quick Lane Bowl
Duke vs. Northern Illinois
Kickoff: 5:15 p.m. Tuesday, Ford Field
Records: Duke 6-6, Northern Illinois 8-4
Line: Duke by 2.5