Detroit – Duke dominated the opening quarter of the Quick Lane Bowl, jumping out to a 14-0 lead before defeating Northern Illinois 36-14 before an announced crowd of 20,252 fans Tuesday evening.
Duke scored midway through the first quarter when sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones scored on a 1-yard run on fourth down.
Then, Duke (7-6) gladly accepted a belated Christmas present when Northern Illinois went for a fake punt on fourth down … and 18 … from its own end zone and the pass by punter Matt Ference fell incomplete, giving the ball to Duke at the 11 and the Blue Devils scored three plays later on Shaun Wilson’s 1-yard run to open up a 14-0 cushion.
After Duke’s second TD, the Blue Devils held advantages on total yards (94-0) and plays run (20-10) in addition to the lead.
Jones finished 27-of-40 for 252 yards and two TDs while also rushing for 86 yards and a score. His performance brought back memories of his effort in a 41-17 rout of No. 20 Northwestern when he threw for 305 yards and two TDs and rushed for 108 yards and two scores.
So, how good was Duke? Well the Blue Devils converted on 7-of-13 third downs through three quarters while limiting Northern Illinois (8-5) to 1-of-10 on third downs and 0-for-4 on fourth down attempts.
“I think our offense has a lot of ways to attack, built in a lot of quarterback runs and makes my job easier when I can run the ball and we have a lot of weapons in the passing game,” said Jones who was named bowl game MVP. “We started out fast and that was big.”
Northern Illinois All-American defensive end Sutton Smith had high praise for Jones, saying: “He kind of picked up a lot of our blitzes. We didn’t execute enough as a team, but give credit to them. I have a lot of respect for him (Jones). He played his part perfectly.”
Wilson finished his senior year with a great going away party, rushing for 75 yards on 16 carries and a TD. He also scored on an 11-yard TD reception off a screen pass.
“It feels great, that’s a great way to go out, the only way to go out,” said Wilson.
And, on Jones’ performance?
“He played tremendous,” said Wilson of Jones. “He ran the ball well and he threw the ball well. He controlled the offense like he supposed to. When a quarterback leads a team like that, leads the offense and controls the tempo, things are going well for us.”
Northern Illinois bounced back from its slow start, showing its big-play ability with redshirt freshman quarterback Marcus Childers finding Spencer Tears for 44 yards to set up Tre Harbison’s 25-yard TD run.
And, Northern Illinois would score less than two minutes later when Childers found Javan Wesley for a 67-yard TD pass to pull even at 14 with 12:22 left in the second quarter.
Jones was at his best during the final two drives of the half, showing his ability as a dual-threat quarterback by moving the chains with both his arm and his legs.
First, Jones picked up a pair of first downs on runs, then went up top to find T.J. Rahming for a 33-yard TD pass for a 20-14 lead.
Then, in the final minutes Jones connected on all five of his pass attempts for 54 yards, the final one when he hit Wilson in the right flat and the Blue Devils’ senior running back did the rest for an 11-yard TD, reaching the end zone after taking advantage of a big block from tackle Evan Lisle.
In the first half against Northern Illinois, Jones connected on 16-of-23 for 178 yards and two TDs and ran for 28 yards and a score.
Northern Illinois had a chance of cutting into the lead early in the third quarter when Childers connected with Wesley for 42 yards to the Duke 18, but Duke’s defense made some big plays to force a 40-yard field goal and holder Josh Orne got up for a possible run but turned right into cornerback Mark Gilbert for a loss.
Duke took advantage of the strong defensive stop by moving 67 yards on 11 plays to open up a 33-14 lead with Brittain Brown’s seven-yard run.
Northern Illinois — which also failed to convert on fourth and three from the Duke 41 on an option run late in the first quarter — went to 0-for-4 on fourth down when Childers misfired on fourth and three from the Duke 33 late in the third.
Still, it was the fake punt that left everyone shaking their heads.
“We were trying to get a first down, trying to get us going,” said Northern Illinois head coach Rod Carey.
Said Wilson: “I was really surprised they did it. I don’t know why they did it since they were backed up and we were moving the ball pretty efficient in that first quarter.”
It was the first bowl trips for the teams to Ford Field, but Northern Illinois had made several appearances before at Ford Field while playing in the Mid-American Conference championship game.
The outcome put the MAC at 1-4 in bowl games this season with all of the setbacks being lopsided.