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Daniel Jones, DeVon Edwards lead Duke into matchup at Notre Dame

| Friday, September 23, 2016

Redshirt freshman Daniel Jones wasn’t supposed to be Duke’s starting quarterback this season. But when redshirt senior and returning starter Thomas Sirk reinjured his Achilles in late August, the Charlotte, North Carolina native was thrust into the starting role.

When Jones takes his team’s first snap Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, though, he’ll be going against an Irish secondary that’s in the same position.

Senior Max Redfield, who was dismissed from the team last month, was supposed to start at safety, not freshman Devin Studstill. Before injuries, followed by a suspension, senior Devin Butler could have made a good case for the starting spot at cornerback. Now, after an injury to sophomore Shaun Crawford, it’s sophomore Nick Coleman and freshman Julian Love getting the playing time instead.

A month ago, fans wouldn’t have been expecting Jones to throw Coleman’s way. But that’s where the Blue Devils (1-2), and Irish (1-2), are at.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly praised the Blue Devils’ young quarterback during his Tuesday press conference, saying Jones has been “as good as anyone in the country” when it comes to running an offense this year.

“We have film on him. He’s poised,” Kelly said. “I love his poise for a freshman. He has a really good command of the offense. He does not seem at all fazed when he’s back there.

“Now, they’re in an open-ended offense where you’re exposed at times, and he does not blink back there. I like the kid. I think he shows a lot of poise, and he’s got some athletic ability.”

Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe said he expects Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder to attack Jones, who’s thrown the ball 48 times in each of Duke’s last two games — both losses, to Wake Forest and Northwestern.

“He’s going to try to cause a lot of problems for Daniel,” Cutcliffe said during his Wednesday teleconference. “We’ve got to manage him, manage the people around him and put our players in position to hopefully be successful a larger percentage of the time than what we’ve been.”

But while there’s a similarity to draw between the Blue Devils passing game and the Irish pass defense, it’s not so easy to find one when it comes to defensive pressure: Duke has sacked opposing quarterbacks 14 times this year, coming in at third-best in the nation and top in the ACC. Notre Dame is yet to record one.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Duke’s pass rush is the 5-foot-9, 180-pound DeVon Edwards, who leads the Blue Devils with three sacks this season. Cutcliffe, however, said racking up sacks isn’t the only uncharacteristic thing the redshirt senior defensive back has done in his athletic career.

“Well, I went and watched DeVon practice basketball when he was in high school, and the thing that impressed me most, he was a 5-foot-9, 180-pound scoring machine, great shooter, but you know what he was, he was their leading rebounder,” Cutcliffe said. “He had a way to get the ball. He had a fierceness about getting to a ball that went up on the basket. He has the same fierceness when he comes after a quarterback.”

Kelly praised Duke defensive coordinator Jim Knowles, complimenting the defensive tactics he employs in Durham, North Carolina.

“He’s got a good scheme,” Kelly said. “They do a really good job of coaching their players. They do a nice job, and they’ve got some veteran players that have played a lot of football.”

Edwards’ impact, though, doesn’t just lie on the defensive side of the ball. As the 2016 season carries on, a storyline might present itself: Can Edwards usurp C.J. Spiller as the NCAA’s all-time kickoff return champion? Spiller notched seven during his career at Clemson; Edwards currently sits on six.

But will Irish sophomore Justin Yoon give Edwards the chance to take one to the house? When asked if Notre Dame will kick to Edwards on Saturday, Kelly was noncommittal.

“Absolutely. And then maybe not,” the Irish head coach said.

But when discussing Edwards, Cutcliffe was a little more concrete in his thoughts.

“With all of the things that he does for his team, I don’t know if there’s a bigger MVP anywhere,” Cutcliffe said. “You know how big a fan I am of DeVon’s. He slices, he ducks, he fakes, he cuts. He’s strong, pound for pound, unbelievably strong.”

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About Alex Carson

Alex Carson graduated from Notre Dame in 2017 after majoring in Applied and Computational Mathematics and Statistics and living in O’Neill Hall. Hailing from the Indianapolis area, but born in Youngstown, Ohio, Carson is a Cleveland sports fan convinced that he’s already lived the “best day of his life.” At The Observer, Carson was first a Sports Writer, then served as an Associate Sports Editor (2015/16) and an Assistant Managing Editor (2016/17), before finishing his tenure as a Senior Sports Writer. A man of strong convictions, he ardently believes that Carly Rae Jepsen's 2015 release E•MO•TION is the greatest album of his generation, and wakes up early on Saturday mornings to listen, or occasionally watch, his favorite least-favorite sports team, Aston Villa. When he isn’t writing, Carson spends his time counting down the days to the next running of the Indianapolis 500 and reminding people that the Victory March starts with the lyric, “Rally sons of Notre Dame,” not “Cheer, cheer for Old Notre Dame.”

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