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Couldn’t Be Happier: Duke

The Deacs move to 2-0 with a win at Duke.

Admittedly, after the first quarter of the game against Duke I was feeling pretty dejected about Wake's performance and thought it was more likely that the Deacs would be headed to a double-digit defeat than knocking the Blue Devils off at all in Durham. Wake was down 7-0 following a dominant first offensive possession by Duke and the offense looked as anemic, if not more so, than it had last Thursday in the opener against Tulane - a meager 7-3 victory.

And then there was hope. And it came in the form of a three-headed monster: Cade Carney, Duke Ejiofor, and Kendall Hinton. Not only did Wake win, but they themselves ended up being the double-digit victor and in the process moved to 2-0, now needing only four more wins to secure a bowl berth for the first time since 2011.

Despite the fact that John Wolford started the game as the quarterback, Hinton took over for good after several alternating possessions when he was at the helm for Wake’s first touchdown of the game midway through the second quarter. At this stage of the season, Hinton had been the quarterback for both of the team’s touchdowns and Coach Clawson gave him the opportunity to take over the starting spot when he sent Hinton back out for a second consecutive possession when Wake’s offense next received the ball.

Hinton seized the opportunity and rightfully remained the quarterback for the rest of the game. In total, Hinton finished a conservative 6-11 passing for 133 yards with one interception but he provided a spark on the ground - a part of the game where he opens up a different aspect of the game than Wolford brings to the table. He rushed 11 times for 63 yards but more than that, he brought the legitimate threat of a rushing attack and forced the Duke defense to keep an eye on him at all times when there was a delayed option-style play developing in the backfield.

Hinton’s ability to move the ball with his legs, either on a designed rush or where a passing play broke down with receivers, opened up another critical part of the Demon Deacon offense: the rush attack for the other guys in the backfield. Cade Carney was named the starter for the season opener and again for the Duke game, but after Tulane he hadn’t really had a great chance to show his full potential beyond a couple of times where he made guys miss early on in the play in the first half against the Green Wave.

When Wolford was in the game, the defense collapsed quickly and contained the running back position quite well in the first quarter as Wolford did not present the same type of explosive threat that Hinton did, and with both Hinton and Carney in the backfield as the game progressed, Carney had the opportunity to get into open field and showed what he could do when presented the chance.

Carney ended up rushing for over 100 yards and an impressive three touchdowns in what was just the second game of his collegiate career. The icing on top of the cake was an explosive 55 yard run for a touchdown in the second half where Carney saw a gap up the gut and just burst through the middle for a no-doubt six points to put Wake up for good with just under 20 minutes remaining.

Carney is the type of back who breaks arm tackles in the backfield and can make something out of nothing. Similarly, his partner in crime in the backfield Matt Colburn, was able to consistently wriggle out of early hits and Colburn also went for 54 yards on 8 carries to lead the team in yards per carry with 6.8 (to Carney’s 6.4). The success of all three guys who got the bulk of the carries, was a testament to how well the Wake offensive line played - a huge departure from the previous few seasons in addition to the season opener against Tulane. There were consistently gaps in the middle, the offensive front consistently won the battle with the Duke defensive line, and the offensive schemes were putting everyone in a position to succeed with proper execution.

I was one of the voices who was frustrated with the offense after the first game and first quarter against Duke, but I have to give kudos where they’re due and Ruggerio and staff put the team in a place to succeed which is the best you can say about a coaching staff in my opinion. The playbook was certainly a little bit more open against Duke than it was against Tulane and the offense appears to be aligned better for Hinton to be in as the starting QB. Rob covered it in his article yesterday, but Hinton deserves the starting job and I hope he’s the guy that is consistently out there moving forward. I do expect both guys to see time next week against Delaware and we may even see Kearns get some reps against the Blue Hens.

On the defensive side of the ball things started off inauspiciously. Duke was able to put together a dominant first drive and the Wake D missed several opportunities to stop the drive, including on fourth and goal where Duke RB Jela Duncan was blown up in the backfield but QB Daniel Jones made the correct read, kept the ball, and walked into the end zone to put the Devils up 7-0. After that, though, everything came up Wake and a large part of that was the monster performance of defensive lineman Duke Ejiofor.

Duke rose to his namesake game and was absolutely dominant throughout the first half. I’m certainly prone to hyperbole, but Ejiofor was unstoppable for large stretches of the game and he won almost every single rep that he was took against the Duke offensive line. He moved around the line and the defensive coordinator did a great job mixing up blitz packages to bring heat from the second and third level to assist Ejiofor’s push up front and keep the Duke offense guessing from which directly pressure was coming.

Ejiofor forced two fumbles and both of them were incredibly athletic plays that featured how good Duke really is at his position. The first fumble, forced in the first quarter, was off a perfectly read swing pass to the outside where Ejiofor got in the passing lane and deflected the throw backwards. Jones had a freshman mistake in that he didn’t ensure the pass went forward, and Duke tipped it back far enough for the Deacs to recover and following a review, Wake got possession off the fumble.

The second play was singlehandedly forced by Ejiofor as well as he beat his man, pursued Jones into the pocket as he tried to step up, and strip-sacked him before scooping the ball up to set Wake up for an early second half touchdown and put the Deacs up 14-7. It’s early in the season still, but Ejiofor certainly looks as if he is one of the more dominant defensive players in the conference and it is almost certain that he will be honored as defensive player of the week at least in the ACC - if not in the entire nation.

The defense overall played very well, especially in the second half, and allowing a scant 8.5 points per game through two is a really good start for the unit in general. My feeling is that the defense is going to need to carry the team for the most part, but so far they’ve been up for the task and gotten stops when they needed to.

In special teams, the punt coverage on the first couple of returns was...well...lacking. On the first return, the two gunners both went to the same side of the field and lost contain. The second return featured the outside guys getting beat to the sideline and, again, an inability to contain the returner and force him to the inside where the rest of the coverage is coming from. This is a bit of a concern moving forward against more athletic returners, but for the time being isn’t a massive issue.

Dom Maggio again had a fantastic game, booting it seven times for a 46.4 average. Maggio is sixth in the nation with 15 punts through two games and 31st in the nation in average at 43.13. I expect him to be one of the premier punters in the ACC as a freshman this year and by his senior year, I think he will be one of the better punters in the country. He has a booming leg and the Wake special teams has been an area of positivity over the past few years even when other sectors have struggled. I’m certainly excited for his future.

All-in-all, I’m absolutely amped about this win which got Wake to 2-0 on the year. I don’t want to go all Debbie Downer given what transpired, but I will say that I’m cautiously optimistic moving forward with a nagging thought in the back of my mind that what we saw yesterday was two mediocre-to-bad football teams fighting in a critical game for positioning early on in the year. Duke made plenty of mistakes which Wake opportunities to remain in the game and Wake made them pay in the second half.

I will point out that the best year in ACC history for Wake, 2006, also started with issues - barely getting out of the Syracuse opener with a win and then needing a blocked field goal by Chip Vaughn as time expired to avoid losing to a Duke team who ended up going winless (as Riley chronicled very well in an article earlier this week). A team like Wake Forest is always going to have several close games that makes the difference between a 3 or 4 win season and a chance for a 7 or 8 game season and on Saturday, Wake took a huge step in going on the road against an intra-state team who had knocked the Deacs off four years in a row and did what needed to be done to get to 2-0.

You can’t win them all if you don’t win the first two and Coach Clawson and the staff have put the team in position to beat FCS Delaware next week and move to 3-0 a quarter of the way through the season. I’m excited to see how Wake plays next week and think that the Deacs will put together a clinic and close out the Blue Hens early. That game kicks off at 6:30 in Winston-Salem and will be on ESPN3 for those of you who cannot make it.

If you have any questions, comments, or concerns let us know below. And as always, go Deacs!