Duke's freshman QB Daniel Jones may simply be a fill-in for the Blue Devils with former starter Thomas Sirk sidelined for the year, but Bud Foster is willing to make the lofty comparison to another signal caller tutored by David Cutcliffe back in the day.
"Don't laugh, but he reminds me a lot of Peyton Manning," Foster said. "Just all of his body mannerisms. Maybe that's the mechanics that Dave (David Cutcliffe) teaches there, but he's big like Peyton, he's got the same kind of footwork and movement, he probably runs maybe a little bit better, but I see a guy that can spin it really well."
That's about as high a compliment as a quarterback can get at any level, and Jones has done enough in the early going to at least partially earn it — he's 44th in the country with an average of 236 yards per game, and is completing 62.5 percent of his passes, good for 37th nationally.
But he's just one part of an offense that Foster believes is a bit more dangerous than Duke's 3-5 record might indicate.
"They have a great system offensively," Foster said. They remind me a lot of us, in some ways, from the standpoint that they'll take what you give them. Or if you tip something, they'll have a counter to that. We've gotta really be good in our disguises and we've gotta be really good and sound fundamentally."
Foster is also wary of the team's receiving corps, which helped the Blue Devils pile up 45 points in a four overtime loss a year ago. In particular, he sees a lot of Jamison Crowder in sophomore WR T.J. Rahming — the two even wear the same number.
That could be bad news for Tech's secondary, particularly after the team's corners struggled a bit last week against Pitt.
"I think those guys are in a position that is probably one of the most challenging positions in all sports," Foster said. "Every play is a critical play for those guys...In basketball, those guys get beat. You get a great point guard, he gets beat 20 or 30 times potentially, but it may not cost them the game. You get beat a couple times at corner, it'll cost you the game. In baseball, you can be a dynamic hitter at .250, maybe .275. If you're batting .300 as a corner, you're gonna be sitting over there with me."
On the ground, Duke has a few more problems to address. After employing a three-man running back rotation through the first part of the season, a season ending achilles injury for leading rusher Jela Duncan will force the team to adjust a bit.
But DT Ricky Walker, who has gotten the nod for the starting job as Nigel Williams' nurses an ankle injury the last two weeks, doesn't think they'll miss a beat in Duncan's absence.
"We watched them today," Walker said. "Up front (they are) very good, physical. The running backs were definitely running pretty hard downhill. (Duncan), that's the guy that's hurt I believe, he runs pretty good. But (Shaun Wilson) and (Joseph Ajeigbe), they've got the juice, too. We have to bring it to the each play for four quarters."
Foster echoed those sentiments, adding that Jones — who is the team's second leading rusher in terms of number of carries — makes this rotation a bit of a "three-headed monster."
"They run north-south, physical, break tackles; they're gonna still do what they do," Foster said. "They're still dynamic at that position. They've led the country the last couple of years in not giving up minus-yardage plays. Very efficient offense, I don't see them changing any with this injury. Obviously he was their leading ball carrier, but like I said, they did it by committee."
ON HIS THOUGHTS ON WHIT BABCOCK'S CONTRACT EXTENSION:
"I just heard about it. Pete (Moris) said something to me as we were walking off the field. That's great news for Virginia Tech. Whit's done a tremendous job in his tenure so far. He's hired some dynamic people in administration and on the playing field. That's great news from our end of it and it's great for the university."
ON HOW DUKE WILL LOOK WITHOUT LEADING RUSHER JELA DUNCAN:
"They've always run by committee anyway. They have three backs, it's kind of a three-headed monster, and then you throw the quarterback in there, too. He's like their — as far as number of carries — their quarterback is their second leading rusher, as far as carries go. (Shaun Wilson) is a dynamic back. He's really explosive. (He's) a guy that anytime he touches the ball, the has the chance to take it. (Joseph Ajeigbe) and (Jela Duncan) — (Ajeigbe's) the guy that's replacing (Duncan) — they're two peas in a pod. They're both 5'9, 215-220 pounds. They run north-south, physical, break tackles; they're gonna still do what they do. They're still dynamic at that position. They've led the country the last couple of years in not giving up minus-yardage plays. Very efficient offense, I don't see them changing any with this injury. Obviously he was their leading ball carrier, but like I said, they did it by committee. It was always (Duncan), (Wilson), (Ajegbe). Those three guys were working hard and playing a significant amount of plays."
ON THE HEALTH OF NIGEL WILLIAMS:
"He was in blue (limited practice jersey) today. We're just taking it day-by-day. I know he's working hard to get back. He's been a great leader for us and he's been a great leader in the training room, too, just trying to get back. I know he practiced a little bit today. We'll see how he feels tonight and find out maybe more tomorrow how he held up. We're hoping to get him back as soon as we possibly can."
ON WHAT HE'S SEEN FROM RICKY WALKER AND WHAT GAVE HIM THE EDGE OVER TIM SETTLE FOR THE STARTING JOB:
"He's played really, really well. I think experience and being consistent. Also, it's about playing the one position — Tim plays really the one side — Ricky can play both sides and Woody (Baron) can play both sides. That's kind of part of it, too. It's a combination of things. Tim's continuing to develop, but Ricky's been outstanding this fall. I feel really, really good about how he's played and where he's come as far as his experience and play making ability. He's been very productive for us."
ON DUKE QB DANIEL JONES:
"Well you see a guy that gets better and better every week. He's 6'5", he's 210-215 pounds. Don't laugh, but he reminds me a lot of Peyton Manning. Just all of his body mannerisms. Maybe that's the mechanics that Dave (David Cutcliffe) teaches there, but he's big like Peyton, he's got the same kind of footwork and movement, he probably runs maybe a little bit better, but I see a guy that can spin it really well. I see a guy that each week, you see feels a little bit more comfortable within the offense and where he wants to dish the football. He's got a good core of people around him. They graduated some good players last year on the perimeter, but that's the one thing they've done the last several years is recruited some really good quality skill kids. It's really almost like a clone from a year ago. They've got a 3 (T.J. Rahming) and he looks like 3 (Jamison Crowder) from before. He's very dynamic, very explosive. Their tight ends are extremely talented, and they've got three starters back from that group we played last year. They're a much better football team than their record indicates. Well coached. We've got the utmost respect for this program and how they do it and they have a great system offensively. They remind me a lot of us, in some ways, from the standpoint that they'll take what you give them. Or if you tip something, they'll have a counter to that. We've gotta really be good in our disguises and we've gotta be really good and sound fundamentally. That goes back to how good these guys are and what they do."
ON IF HE GOT ANY YARD WORK DONE THIS WEEKEND:
"You know what, I didn't. I built a — I didn't build it — but I had a fire pit built. Really nice stone one. My kids came down and we broke the seal on that thing, so to speak, on Friday night. It was a nice little bonfire in that thing. It was pretty cool."
ON THE ROTATION AT CORNERBACK AND HOW IT'S WORKED SO FAR:
"I think it's gone well. I think those guys are in a position that is probably one of the most challenging positions in all sports. Every play is a critical play for those guys. They do a lot of running. They're gonna get shots in the way we play our defense. They're gonna run deep balls and we've gotta keep some guys fresh in there. But I think this, they've played well. In today's game, the way the offenses are spread out, as (many) deep balls that they're throwing, they're creating so much matchup situations, there's a lot of pressure on that position. Not just our guys, but look at Pitt this last week. Football, it can cost you a game. In basketball, those guys get beat. You get a great point guard, he gets beat 20 or 30 times potentially, but it may not cost them the game. You get beat a couple times at corner, it'll cost you the game. In baseball, you can be a dynamic hitter at .250, maybe .275. If you're batting .300 as a corner, you're gonna be sitting over there with me. Those guys, I think, have been playing very well for us and very solid. We're gonna be challenged again this week. That's just the nature of today's game. I thought after evaluating us last week, I thought our corners played really well. I thought we didn't do some things gap-fit wise that we could have been better in the run game. We could have been a lot better there, and then the one play they hit on us down the middle, we were in man coverage and Chuck (Clark) thought it was gonna be a naked and cheated outside and the guy stuck him and came inside. At least he was anticipating, which I like, because that was the indicator going into the game. He was playing anticipative football, which makes sense. They did a nice job countering off of that thing. All in all, we've gotta get back to where, in my opinion, last week wasn't — we played extremely hard. We played hard for 60 minutes and we competed. But we could be better as far as technique and fundamentals. That's where our emphasis has been so far the first couple of days this week.
ON IF HE'S SEEN THREE BETTER WIDE RECEIVERS AT THE SAME TIME THAN ISAIAH FORD, CAM PHILLIPS, AND BUCKY HODGES:
"Probably not. Not at the same time. We've had Danny Coale and Jarrett (Boykin) and then you had those buys backing them up, Corey Fuller in here, too, coming into his own a little bit. Corey, it would have been nice to have him one more year, and then maybe you might've had a core like the group we have right now. Isaiah's a dynamic athlete, obviously great ball skills. Obviously Bucky's a physical freak and has so much potential and you see it all the time. And then you see Cam, who's probably kind of the unsung guy, but also is the guy that the last couple of weeks has stepped up and made some really big plays catching the ball and running with the ball in his hands. But I think right now, the way they're playing, I don't know if we've had, in my time here, that much quality depth and experience in playmaking at that spot than we do right now."
ON IF IT'S A RELIEF TO SEE AN OFFENSE THAT CAN HAVE HIS DEFENSES BACK ON AN OFF NIGHT:
"It's fun to see. I don't get a chance to watch a lot of the offense, but when I do and I see the highlights, you see some excitement going on. You see multiple guys being playmakers. You see it from the quarterback position, obviously you see it from the receiving position, you see different guys touching the ball in different ways; that presents a lot of problems to a defense. It's good to see the productivity. It does take a little stress off of us. When you have a team, particularly if you can get ahead and they've got to play catchup, that changes my play calling and my outlook sometimes on things. Where the game is, the time of the game, the situations and that type of thing. It may free me up a little bit more. In the past, you're really kind of tight and concerned about maybe pressuring because you didn't wanna give up anything. Now, you can maybe pin our ears back a little bit more at times. But it was nice the other night. There's been games like this that we gave up some plays and we couldn't recover. It was nice that anytime Pitt got something going, that we answered. That's exciting. Our kids get juiced about that. We need to go make a stop and get the ball back. When we made a couple of stops (in the fourth quarter) on third down and turned them into points, which ended up being the difference in the ballgame. In today's game, for us to go out there and put goose eggs on people, I don't know if we can realistically — we wanna do that every week — but all we're asking for is we go out and play every play and execute every play and compete to 100 percent of our abilities every play. If we get that, we can live with the result. If we get that, though, the result will be on the positive side when it's all said and done."
ON HOW VERSATILE CHRIS CUNNINGHAM HAS BEEN THIS YEAR:
"He's still improving. We'd like to get him out there a little bit more, but for (the) guy's first year playing, he's made great progress. Just needs to continue to get better. He has the tools. A lot of it is just maturity and knowing what to do a little bit better. He's working at it and getting there, and we need him to."
ON IF HE WORKS WITH BUCKY HODGES IN PRACTICE:
"Not much. He mostly stays with Coach (Holmon) Wiggins. Now we do some things with him that we used him in the spring when he was with him quite a bit. Hopefully that's helped him a little bit. And then small roles that we're using him at. Bucky's done a great job, and Buck can do whatever you ask him to do. Definitely right now, he's helping us so much on the outside, which is good."
ON JOEY SLYE'S PERFORMANCE AGAINST PITT:
"I think he's continually got better throughout the year and improved. I think all the specialists have. Confidence means a lot, so I think when you have that at that position, it really helps you. I talked to him today and congratulated him on the great game and his award and all that, but we've gotta move on. It's the next one and anything people remember is your last kick. We'll be in that situation again this year, probably — maybe more than once — where every point matters and he's gonna have to go out and execute again."
ON IF SHORT FIELD GOALS ARE SORT OF A CATCH-22:
"No doubt. The one thing he's good about is he's got experience and he's been out there doing it a lot. I've mentioned before, I think the guys, when they've had a bad situation or something bad happen, they have responded the next time. That's always a good sign to see. We're gonna need him and we're gonna need (those) points in the near future. I think he's ready to take on that at any time."
ON THE IMPORTANCE OF THE NUMBER 25 JERSEY:
"I think there's a little magic to it. We appreciate Coach (Frank) Beamer for putting that magic on it. Number one, I think it's a very special deal to our players. That's what has made this really cool. We've talked to them, we want the number to live forever. Eventually, there's gonna come a time where guys won't know as much about the number 25. But what we can continue to do with that — i think it's another way just to recognize your guys. Our guys are excited every Thursday for Coach (Justin) Fuente to announce who that's gonna be. Then guys going out there and appreciating that and understanding it's representing something big, I think, has kind of helped them make a play or two."
ON IF THE PITT GAME WAS AS WELL AS THEY'VE COVERED KICKS THIS SEASON:
"I think we've steadily improved. That's where it started out a little but rough and rocky at times early. You get your personnel right and know it a little bit better and get games reps, I think you just continue to improve. We're gonna face great returners every week. We're gonna face them again this week. We've gotta do a great job of working as a unit and making plays in open space. For me, and for Coach Fuente, if we know our personnel better, then those guys can go do that are confident about doing that. We're pretty excited about the coverage team right now."
ON IF MITCHELL LUDWIG HAS TURNED A CORNER:
"He's kicking the ball better. He's been exceptional when we get down there and gotta place the ball. We've done a great job of field position, I think. The coverage units are keeping people pinned. I think his confidence is growing. He had a tough situation with the rain and all that in North Carolina, but he's responded well and had some good games. But the whole key is it's his first year punting. I think he's more comfortable. You start to create confidence, which helps you."
ON HOW DIVINE DEABLO HAS EMBRACED SPECIAL TEAMS:
"Awesome. We have about six, maybe eight, true freshmen. Before the season even started, just because of some depth in certain areas, we knew that we needed true freshmen to help us on special teams. When you can find (the) offensive guys like him and (Eric) Kumah, and there's others, to get out there and help on these units, number one it helps spell some starters. You want your personnel to be good regardless, but our freshmen have done a great job. I know Reggie Floyd, (Tavante) Beckett, (and) (Jovonn) Quillen have really stepped up for us. When you talk about starting on kickoff team, that ain't an easy job. I think we've got three true freshmen starting on that unit. They just keep getting better."
ON HOW MANY UNITS DEABLO STARTS ON:
"He's starting on three right now. We're working him on possibly four. Good player. You can tell guys that are just good football players and instinctive. When you get them out there on these type of units, because there's space and they've gotta deal with that, those instincts pay off."
ON WHAT MAKES CUNNINGHAM A VERSATILE WEAPON IN THE RED ZONE:
"You can hide him a little bit more, I think. You get down there and get them thinking run and all of the sudden you sneak him out. But we're in some bigger personnel down there, also. So we're getting him in there more. He's playing more of the true Y. Sam (Rogers) and (Steven) Peoples are playing more at the fullback/H, so we're in that personnel look more down there. But he's been awesome. He's made some big catches and had a big two point play for us earlier. He's just gotta continue to grow and get better. We've been proud of him as a redshirt freshman."
ON IF HE'S USED THE LAST TWO WEEKS OF STARTING TO GROW:
"It's definitely an opportunity to take advantage of. I've been waiting patiently for my name to be called, and I'm taking advantage of that. Each week, we do good at preparing. Just going in giving credit to our opponent each week, because each week is a big week. Taking advantage of the reps with the ones."
ON WHAT HE THINKS HE'S IMPROVED ON THIS YEAR:
"Just playing hard. Coach (Charley) Wiles always tells us, 'Hard, just being tough and physical, you're gonna make plays.' Just going hard each play until the whistle every play. Being consistent, that's the key."
ON IF WILES IS AS FUN TO PLAY FOR AS IT SEEMS:
"Yeah. Coach Wiles, he's the man. Great, great coach. He has experience. He tells us what's right and what's wrong. He's gonna tell you what you did, right or wrong. I love that about him. He prepares us each week to perform."
ON IF HE EVER HAS TO STOP AND WONDER WHAT WILES JUST SAID:
"Yeah, that happens once a week in the meeting rooms. The whole d-line will catch him. We'll look at each other and start laughing or something. It happens though."
ON WOODY BARON'S SEASON:
"Woody Baron is just a true vet. He comes to work every day. Lunchpail guy, blue collar. He's balling right now. That's what we need for his defense and this team. I feel like he's taking advantage of that opportunity. He's definitely someone to look up to."
ON HAVING BARON TO LEAN ON IN GAMES:
"It's great. It's great to have somebody next to you who has experience as a starter, who knows what they're doing. If you have any questions, you can communicate. He's right next to you. You don't have to look over or anything, just communicate the calls and go play ball."
ON IF THERE'S A DIFFERENT PLAYING THE LEFT TACKLE SPOT VS. THE RIGHT TACKLE SPOT:
"It's not really a difference besides putting your left hand down or your right hand down. My freshman year, I played my right hand. I'm right handed, so high school I played that. But then (in the) redshirt year, I started working left hand. Coach Wiles told me to start working left. So then after that, just rep it during my redshirt year. I feel comfortable both ways."
ON IF THERE'S A DIFFERENCE IN PUSHING OFF BETWEEN THE TWO SPOTS:
"Probably the first two weeks, you get used to switching. You've gotta get used to the steps. Step on the right foot, don't false step, but after the first couple of weeks, you rep it and you should be alright."
ON HOW GOOD IT FEELS TO BE WINNING AGAIN:
"It feels good. When I was being recruited, they told me every year was a 10-win season. I realized, I did my research, and they really were. It feels good to win. Just going out there each week, preparing the starters in practice. Coach Fuente gives us a plan and I'm with it. I believe it. Coach Foster has a great plan. Just trust the process."
ON IF HE'S USING STARTING THE LAST TWO WEEKS AS AN AUDITION FOR NEXT YEAR:
"No, I'm just doing my job. Coach told me to come in so I'm just doing my job. I'm not worried about that. When (Williams) comes back, whatever coach wants to do, I'm fine with that. I'll do my job to 100 percent."
ON IF HE THINKS HE'LL GET IN THE ROTATION MORE AFTER PLAYING WELL:
"No, not really. Coach, he rotates us pretty good anyways, this was before the injury. You've gotta have fresh legs, especially on a long drive or something, we get fresh guys in. I'm not expecting any difference in the rotation or anything like that. We're all team-first guys."
ON IF HE FELT HE NEEDED TO WORK HARDER COMING OFF A REDSHIRT SEASON WITH A NEW HEAD COACH:
"Definitely. I feel like — especially when you get a new guy that's in charge — you've gotta prove a point and work hard. That's just in my blood. Hard work is all I know. But yeah, that redshirt year, it helped me a lot. I'm very glad I did it. I took my time. I lost body fat and gained muscle. Took time to work on my left hand stance. It was definitely an advantage. It was a great thing."
ON IF HE'D DONE RIGHT HAND STANCE IN HIGH SCHOOL:
"Yeah. In high school, I couldn't even get in a left-handed stance."