A year after roughing him up, Virginia expects a more experienced Daniel Jones at QB for Duke
CHARLOTTESVILLE – Daniel Jones doesn’t know if it should be labeled revenge, redemption or some other catchy term. He just knows that, after putting forward a nightmarish performance against Virginia last football season, he’s eager to try his hand against the Cavaliers again this Saturday.
“I’ve never been a guy who seeks out revenge like that, but I certainly am looking forward to the opportunity to play a better game against them,” Jones, Duke’s sophomore quarterback, said this week. “I’m definitely looking forward to it, and ever since last year, I’ve been looking forward to it.”
A year ago, Jones threw five interceptions and lost a fumble in a 34-20 home loss to U.Va. The rookie quarterback threw four of his interceptions in the first three quarters. Still, the Blue Devils trailed just 27-20 with 11:34 to play.
But when Jones lost the football on a strip sack in the end zone by Virginia linebacker Jordan Mack, a fumble that was recovered by defensive lineman Eli Hanback for a touchdown, Duke’s fate was sealed. Jones threw one final interception on the next possession, to put the ugly exclamation point on his awful afternoon.
“That’s just an example of how hard it is to win when you turn the ball over that much,” Jones said. “As a quarterback, you really hurt your team’s chances of winning turning the ball over. I think you learn how valuable each possession is and how valuable taking care of the ball is. That’s definitely something I learned in that game.”
He learned something equally difficult, if not more so, after the game. Quarterbacks who turn the ball over six times get a lot of negative attention from fans and media.
“Learning how to deal with the good and the bad is a part of the position,” Jones said. “I learned a lot from that situation last year.”
The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Charlotte native will bring all that experience into Saturday’s game at Scott Stadium between Duke (4-1, 0-1 ACC) and Virginia (3-1).
“Last year, he was young, but he’s gotten a lot of experience over the years growing and having to lead that team,” Cavaliers sophomore defensive end Juwan Moye said this week. “He likes to run a lot. He’s really confident in his game. He’s a solid piece. Like last year, we knew that if we got to him, we could own the game. I think we’re going to have to have the same game plan, but he’s going to be a lot tougher.”
Jones didn’t go into the year expecting to be the starter or even play. The Blue Devils had senior Thomas Sirk coming back from an Achilles injury. But Sirk re-aggravated the tendon issue and missed the season. Duke went with Jones over junior backup Parker Boehme.
The Blue Devils went 4-8. Jones played well enough, throwing 16 touchdown passes and nine interceptions on the season, including the five that day against U.Va. He completed 62.8 percent of his throws.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe said the shaky outing against the Cavaliers might’ve taught Jones lessons, but it didn’t rattle him.
“He’s a pretty resilient person,” Cutcliffe said this week. “He’s extremely bright. He’s a great character person. That affects any quarterback, to throw five interceptions in one game, have six turnovers. But I’m proud of him. He’s a solid -- about as solid a person as you can get.”
And Cutcliffe doesn’t think it will be weighing too heavily on Jones’ mind once the teams kickoff Saturday.
“I don’t think he’s thinking about that in particular as you go play Virginia again,” Cutcliffe said. “I just think that’s probably something that we’ll always be -- a lesson that was hard-learned a year ago.”
Nearly all of the key figures from last year’s defensive effort return for U.Va. Cornerbacks Juan Thornhill and Bryce Hall, how each picked him off twice, and All-American safety Quin Blanding, who got him once, along with Mack and Hanback, are playing key roles again for the Cavaliers.
The unrivaled low point of Jones’ season was the unequaled peak of U.Va.’s. The Duke win, their first road victory since 2012, a string of 17 straight road losses, ended up being the Cavaliers’ last of the year. After the open date that followed, they lost their final seven games.
This year, Virginia won back-to-back games over Connecticut and Boise State before having last week off. Now, with their first 3-1 start since 2007, the Cavaliers could position themselves for a run at bowl game.
A win over Duke in their ACC opener would be a big starting point.