Preview: Wake Forest vs. Duke

Grant Halverson

The ranked, yes ranked, Duke football team travels to Winston-Salem on Saturday with their eyes on the Coastal Division prize. Meanwhile, the Deacs need to win their remaining two games to become bowl eligible. Who will emerge victorious?

Duke enters this rivalry game against Wake Forest as a 5.5 point favorite even though the game is in Winston-Salem and Wake Forest has won 12 of the past 13 contests in this rivalry. That tells you just what a phenomenal job David Cutcliffe and his staff have done this season.

Offense

Duke utilizes a two-quarterback system on offense. Their first quarterback is Anthony "Ace" Boone who has more passing attempts than Duke's other quarterback Brandon Connette, but isn't more effective. Boone has thrown 34 more passing attempts than Connette has this season, yet still has thrown for 44 less yards, eight fewer touchdowns, and three more interceptions. Boone can also run it, but Connette has a higher rushing average on more carries. In my opinion, the more that Connette is on the sideline instead of Boone, the better for the Deacs.

The Blue Devils are a balanced team, but they do run (55%) more than they pass (45%). Part of what makes Duke's rushing attack so effective is that they have multiple backs and can substitute them; therefore, keeping themselves fresh, and wearing out opposing defenses. Sophomore Jela Duncan leads the team in carries with 91 and averages more than 5 yards/carry. Their homerun threat is junior Josh Snead, who is averaging more than 7 yards/carry. Against Miami, Snead had a run of 56 yards that helped set up a Duke touchdown just two plays later. That's not to mention Brandon Connette who is a Tebow-esque batting ram in the backfield. He's 6'2" 225 and has 12 rushing touchdowns on the year. He's a threat to punch it in if the Blue Devils get near the goal line.

Jamison Crowder is Duke's version of Michael Campanaro. Crowder has 73 receptions on the season and their next leader in receptions, Braxton Deaver, has 27. Even though Crowder has more than one-third of the team's receptions, he has just one-sixth of the team's touchdown receptions. In fact, there are three other receivers who have at least three touchdown receptions. Crowder is is also a threat to take punts back to the crib. He averages nearly 16 yards/punt return and has returned two punts for touchdowns. Given that Alex Kinal is tied for third place nationally with punts/game at 7.3, Crowder should have multiple opportunities to drastically change field position.

Defense/Special Teams

Duke is currently 34th nationally in scoring defense at 23 points per game. Duke is just middle of the pack in terms of sacking opposing quarterbacks, but they are top 20 nationally in interceptions with 13. The Blue Devils aren't spectacular in terms of yards allowed, as they are 70th nationally and allow 405 yards/game, but their defense is 38th nationally in turnovers forced and therefore they don't give up as many points as their yards allowed suggests.

The Blue Devils will be without defensive lineman Jonathan Woodruff due to an arm injury. Woodruff is currently second on the team in sacks with three. This is a welcome sign for Tanner Price who has faced a lot of pressure over the past two games. When Tanner Price drops back in the pocket, he'll have to be cognizant of DeVon Edwards and Jeremy Cash. The two have combined for six interceptions on the season and Edwards was named Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against North Carolina State in which he had two pick-sixes and returned a kickoff for a touchdown. Oh yeah, the pick-sixes were on back-to-back plays. Tanner Price only has eight interceptions on the season, but four of those have come in the past two games. The turnover battle is going to be critical in this one.

Duke's kicker, Ross Martin, is one of the better kickers in the nation. He is 44/44 on PAT's so far this season and has made 82% of his field goal attempts, including two field goals of over 50 yards in Duke's win over Virginia Tech.

Conclusion

With as much hype and media attention that this Duke team is receiving, it's worth pointing out that they are not without flaws. Keep in mind this is a team who was down 22-0 at Virginia. They were also also down to North Carolina State at home with under four minutes remaining in the contest. Those are two ACC teams who have combined for all of zero ACC wins. In their win against Virginia Tech, the Hokies had twice as many yards as Duke did. I'll also add that Duke does not have to play any of the top five teams in the Atlantic Division (Florida State, Clemson, Boston College, Syracuse, and Maryland). Now I give Duke all the credit in the world for finding ways to win those games and capitalizing on their schedule, but it's worth pointing out those caveats.

That being said, I still like Duke to take care of business against the Deacs. I simply don't have the confidence in Wake Forest to successfully move the ball down the field enough times. Since losing Michael Campanaro five minutes into the Syracuse game, our offense has manufactured all of three points in 115 minutes of football.

Prediction:

Duke 24

Wake Forest 10

What do you all think?

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