R.L. Bynum, Correspondent
DURHAM, N.C. — Duke quarterback Daniel Jones doesn’t know what it’s like to go home without the Victory Bell after playing against North Carolina.
And, with a video game-like performance in which he rang up numbers like a pinball wizard, he wasn’t about to allow that to change Saturday.
A career-high 186-yard rushing day (a school record for a quarterback) complemented a day when he picked apart the Tar Heels’ secondary with precision in the first half to lead the Blue Devils to a 42–35 shootout victory at Wallace Wade Stadium.
“That’s a difference-maker,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said of the running ability of the 6-foot-5, 220-pound red-shirt junior.
“Daniel is the rare tall, great thrower. If he couldn’t run, he’d be a really good quarterback. But when you have that kind of speed to go with it, I think it makes him exceptional. It’s rare to get one built like he is that can do that as well.”
Duke (7-3, 3-3 in the ACC) has won five of the last seven over its rivals and three in a row, the best stretch since going 8–1 from 1950–58.
“We keep the Victory Bell right down there next to the locker room, so it’s fun to see that every day and get to do that for another year,” said Jones, who completed 31 of 54 passes for 361 yards, three touchdowns and one interception to go 3-0 against UNC.
“These games are fun, these rivalry games.”
It was almost as if Jones had a cheat code.
But, then again, many UNC opponents have figured out its defense.
“He’s a really good player and he did some unbelievable things today with his arm and his legs,” said Coach Larry Fedora, whose UNC team fell to 1-8 and 1-6 in the ACC with six consecutive losses.
“When you have a situation like that, and you’ve got guys in coverage where their eyes aren’t on the quarterback and somebody gets out of a gap, he finds it and he can make you pay. And that’s what he did today.”
UNC quarterback Cade Fortin warmed up before the game but was only expected to play in the event of an emergency.
That amounted to giving him a chance at a Hail Mary pass at the end that fell harmlessly to snuff the Tar Heels’ rally.
Until the final play, the Tar Heels went with Nathan Elliott, who completed 27 of 41 passes for 221 yards and a touchdown but only rushed for two yards.
With a school-record 547 yards, Jones became the 12th player in ACC history to surpass 500 yards in a game.
“We were clicking on offense, and it started early,” Jones said.
“Receivers were doing a great job of getting separation, getting out of breaks. A lot of stuff where I was just trying to get the ball out of my hand quickly and get it to the faster guys. That was fun. That was clicking, and we just had a good rhythm all day.”
Jones joined former Louisville star and Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson and former Clemson star Tajh Boyd as the only ACC players with multiple games with 300 passing yards and 100 yards.
Cutcliffe sees intangibles in Jones that he saw during the college careers of Jackson and another Heisman winner, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M.
“What was it that made the difference? Throwing, extending plays, play-making, those guys can change the game. Everybody is looking for a guy who can throw and make plays,” Cutcliffe said.
When the eye-popping passing numbers waned late in the first half and much of the second half — and he endured some drops — he beat UNC with his legs, including on a career-high 61-yard scoring run late in the first half … which was surpassed by a 68-yard run late in the third quarter.
He had only 141 rushing yards in seven games this season entering the day.
“I know I’m not the fastest guy on the field,” Jones said.
“I was just trying to run as fast as I could. Both of those long runs, I’m not sure I really got touched and I think that’s a credit to those guys up front. There were seams there and I tried to get to them and do what I could. Those guys played well all day opening up seams for me.”
One of those guys was left guard Zach Harmon, who says that not only is Jones fast but that he does things fans don’t see.
“It goes without saying how much we respect that guy,” Harmon, a red-shirt senior said.
“You saw what he can do as a player out there. But what you guys don’t really see is how good of a leader he is in the locker room and that’s what could be exposed somehow. He’s the kind of guy you want to root for. I love seeing him have success like that.”
Both runs came on run-pass options and Jones obviously made the right choice each time.
UNC’s man-to-man defensive scheme opens chances for opposing quarterbacks and Jones was more than happy to take full advantage.
“He knows our offense and gets pre-snap reads, and that’s what RPOs are all about,” Cutcliffe said. “We’re like everybody else now, we throw a lot of it and he is a part of that.
“He’s as knowledgeable as the coaches about what to do and what to expect and he makes everybody around him better,” Cutcliffe said.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever had any quarterback match the day he had today. I don’t know how many yards he would have ended up with if we caught everything he threw. What a tremendous effort.”
While Duke takes a two-game win streak to No. 2 Clemson next week, the Tar Heels just hope to put together something positive with a home game against FCS Western Carolina.
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