Quentin Harris prepares for every Duke game as if he’ll be the Blue Devils’ starting quarterback.
For the first time this week, it’s not a drill.
Daniel Jones, Duke’s starting quarterback for its last 27 games, had surgery on Sunday to repair a broken left collarbone so Harris, a redshirt junior reserve who has attempted just 15 passes as a college player, will be the starter when the Blue Devils play at Baylor on Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
“It’s going to be different for me, going out there and being the starter,” Harris said. “But the biggest thing for me is to relax, play within myself and don’t try to force anything. Really just work within the system and trust my guys. I’ve kind of had a calm approach throughout this whole week. It helps having a guy like Daniel to lean on throughout the week as well with preparation.”
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Harris doesn’t pretend to be Jones. At 6-5, 220 pounds, Jones is considered a future NFL quarterback thanks to his build and arm strength. At 6-1 and 190 pounds, Harris is a different type of player.
Duke coach David Cutcliffe and offensive coordinator Zac Roper both said the offense contains a package of plays for Harris that he runs well. A few more plays may be thrown in since Harris will see more playing time, but he’ll essentially be asked to run the plays he already knows well.
So far this week in practice, the coaches’ report that plan is working well.
“What he’s done best is he’s not trying to be something he’s not,” Cutcliffe said Wednesday. “He hasn’t changed his approach, preparation to practice. He’s been good. He really has.”
Harris’ cause is aided by his familiarity to his teammates and coaches. He took a redshirt season in 2015 and has backed up Jones the last two seasons and the first two games of this season.
“He’s been a guy that’s been in that locker room a long time,” Roper said. “He’s earned his stripes. He was a backup and earned some playing time a year ago in key situations, key red zone and third downs situations. He went into the game and executed well. You look at his numbers and In a brief part of what he’s done over time we’re excited about about the expansion of what’s going to happen with his role this week. We’re ready to see the young man go play.”
Jones, who is expected to miss four weeks at a minimum, was injured late in the third quarter of last Saturday’s 21-7 win at Northwestern. Harris played the fourth quarter, completing his only two passes to gain 12 yards while running five times for 14 yards.
Even that experience, Cutcliffe said, gives Harris an advantage.
“He’s already had the instant ‘I’m the quarterback’ moment, thrust into a game last week, a close game he had to close out, and we won it,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s not like he’s just finding out he’s starting. He’s known that.”
Baylor coach Matt Rhule said he’s familiar with Harris’ game even though this will be the quarterback’s first start. Harris played sparingly bit against Baylor in Duke’s 34-20 win at Wallace Wade Stadium last season.
Before coming to Baylor last year, Rhule previously coached at Temple, one of many schools that recruited Harris out of Watertown, Conn.
“We know Quentin,” Rhule said. “We played against him. He’s a dual threat quarterback. He’ll be ready. When you play a David Cutcliffe team, you know you are going to get good quarterback play. He’s one of the best in the business for a reason.”
That said, Harris believes Duke has the element of surprise at Baylor. In his limited game experience at Duke, he’s not been in short yardage or red-zone plays. Last Saturday, he entered with Duke up by 14 points so he just needed to protect the ball.
“They don’t know what to expect from us,” Harris said. “I haven’t had as many snaps as I’m about to have. So they have to prepare for a little more dynamic offense, I would say. I’m looking forward to getting out there with our guys. We have a great game plan this week, put together by our coaches. The guys have had a lot of energy this week. I think they are ready for the challenge of going on the road and winning a back-to-back power five games.”