After a good season-opening win over Presbyterian, all eyes now turn to the week 2 opponent: the Duke Blue Devils.
Wake Forest has dominated Duke over the past decade (winning all 10), but fans on both sides know that the record is not really representative of the close games that the two teams have played.
Let's jump right in and take a look at Duke's win last week over Elon, and who they rely on to win football games.
Duke started off their year on Saturday with a 41-27 victory over the Elon Phoenix. Duke was led by sophomore quarterback Sean Renfree, who completed 31/39 passes for 350 yards and 2 touchdowns (no interceptions). Elon stayed close with Duke throughout the first half, and was down 27-13 at the break, but Duke just wore the Phoenix down and piled up over 500 yards of offense for the final tally.
Although Duke looked good offensively, there were concerns on their defense. Scott Riddle, one of the best quarterbacks to ever play at Elon led the Phoenix to 406 yards total. A number that stuck out to me was 5.9, the yards per carry the Elon running backs got. While a lot of this was the willingness to give Elon the run and just stop the ferocious passing attack of Riddle, this is still a shockingly high number. Coach Grobe and our running backs should be licking their chops in preparation to run all day against the Devil's D.
Much like Wake Forest, Duke is getting a new quarterback worked into the system after 4 years of a great QB (Thaddeus Lewis). Unlike Wake Forest (so far anyway), Renfree has stepped up to the challenge and really grabbed the job by the neck and not looked back. Renfree was a highly touted QB coming out of high school and chose Duke over Arizona State, Boise State and Oregon State. Due to the talent level of not only Renfree, but Connor Vernon and Donovan Varner (combined for over 1700 yards and 11 touchdowns last year), head coach David Cutcliffe has gladly been able to air the ball out. This was evident in the 39 passing attempts of Renfree on Saturday.
The running game for Duke is not as good as they would like it to be to complement the strong passing game. This is actually a tremendous understatement. Last year Duke finished dead last in nearly every team rushing category in the country. The Blue Devils only managed 63.5 ypg on the ground last year (which was 120th by more than 5 yards). Not only that, they averaged only 2.2 ypc, which is a pathetically low number, especially for a BCS conference team. I would venture to say that the running game has to improve because it simply cannot get much worse. The Devils got off to a good start in week one by running for 192 yards on 45 carries (4.3 ypc). In all likelihood Duke will continue to air it out against us on Saturday and only run if they have short yardage situations or in an attempt to deceive our defense.
As noted already, Duke has several questions on defense that were left unanswered against Elon. While they did focus on the pass, allowing 5.9 ypc to a FCS team is not usually a good sign. It is even less of a good sign when they are playing the 2nd best rushing attack in the country on Saturday in Wake Forest (50 attempts, 415 yards, 8.3 ypc, 6 touchdowns). Duke managed 2 sacks and 2 interceptions last week against the Phoenix and will need to get more pressure on Stachitas/Price to force them to get rid of the ball quickly when we do throw the football. If I had to guess, I would say that Wake Forest will pound it out on the ground all day on Saturday and get a variety of looks against the 3-4 defense of Duke.
What Duke may potentially have in their favor is their defensive scheme. They typically line up in a 3-4 formation, which stops teams from running outside and gives them the middle. As we have seen for Wake Forest, with all the sweeps, orbit reverses, draws and counters, we favor the outside running game. If Duke can limit our speed and keep our backs inside the tackle box, they may be able to contain our rushing attack.
In terms of the kicking game, Duke is in pretty good shape. Will Snyderwine kicked a school record 17 field goals last year and has been name to the Groza Award watch list for this year. He has range up to 60 yards and made 17-20 fg's attempted last year (2525 xpa/xpm). Essentially, if Duke is inside our 25-30 yard line expect them to get at least 3 points barring a turnover.
Punting is a bit of a different story. Kevin Jones is the punter again for the Blue Devils and on Saturday he had 2 kicks for 64 yards (32.0 ypk, 100th in the country). This probably won't be the biggest problem for Duke on Saturday because of the lack of punts for either side really.
The game on Saturday should prove to be a better one than most people think (especially the ones that I have heard on the Wake Forest side). Duke has a very impressive passing game, and our secondary will be tested tremendously. If we can get a couple of stops early and get in Renfree's head it could change the game. On the other side of the ball, we must attack their rushing defense and see if they can stop us.
It should be a game of two styles: the passing attack of Duke and the rushing attack of Wake. The last team to have the ball should win the game and it will be a fun shootout to watch.