This wasn't how Duke mapped out a trip to its fifth bowl game in a six-year stretch, but it will have to do. The Blue Devils are fine with it now.
By winning their final two games after a six-game losing streak, the Blue Devils have been re-energized.
Duke is headed to the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit for a Dec. 26 meeting with Northern Illinois at Ford Field.
"We looked in the mirror," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said about the resiliency of his team. "We all considered where we were. It's called taking ownership. You either run to it or you run from it. We didn't run from anything. We ran right to it. We addressed everything we felt we need to address."
Given how downtrodden Duke's problem was a decade ago, it was important for the Blue Devils (6-6) to avoid a two-year gap without a postseason berth.
Northern Illinois (8-4) will be in a bowl for the ninth time in a 10-year span.
Duke has players at numerous key positions who'll be returning for next season, so this makes for a nice transition to the next year. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Daniel Jones has been inconsistent at times, but Cutcliffe said his toughness continues to shine through.
"He has a lot of reasons to make excuses and he took none," Cutcliffe said, pointing out that the month layoff between games should suit him well. "He needs to let his body heal a little bit."
So the Blue Devils might have found their mojo again on offense. Duke will have to have the offense cranked up again for the Quick Lane Bowl.
The Huskies have the Mid-American Conference Defensive Player of the Year with Sutton Smith, a redshirt sophomore defensive end. The Huskies rank high nationally in several defensive categories.
This might not bode well if Duke's offense reverts to a pattern of ending up in tough situations like third-and-long.
North Illinois' season has included an opening 23-20 loss to Atlantic Coast Conference member Boston College, which wasn't on Duke's schedule this season.
The Blue Devils had troubles with their slate when they lost to five bowl-bound teams in the middle of the season.
The determination to forge ahead made the postseason possible. Cutcliffe said how the Blue Devils performed in their last two games signaled that the team has all sorts of motivation. Duke defeated Georgia Tech and Wake Forest after losing to those teams in 2016.
"Not the fact that we are giddy about being in a bowl," he said. "... I think there was joy about how well we played in the second half (of the Wake Forest game)."