Wake Forest (5-6) entered the game against Duke (7-4) needing a win to keep their season and bowl streak alive. For the Blue Devils, it was their chance to get eight wins in the regular season for the first time since 2014. Most pregame articles pointed out to a close game with a small advantage to Duke.
The Deacs received the kickoff and started the game putting out a textbook rushing drive. The Blue Devils have been having problems defending the run all season, and the Deacs exploited that with a heavy dose of triple-option, misdirection and end-around runs. Wake did their best Georgia Tech impersonation by rushing for 47 of their 74-yard touchdown drive, while having only one passing play on a Greg Dortch reception. Most game previews pegged the Wake rushing game as a possible mismatch the Deacs could exploit, and Coach Clawson, rightfully, adjusted his offensive gameplan early to capitalize on it.
The Deacon Defense continued to put on a great performance despite missing so many players due to injury. On Duke’s second offensive drive, LB Demetrius Kemp popped loose the ball from the hands of Duke RB Deon Jackson giving the ball back to Wake Forest at Duke’s 16-yard line. The offense then capitalized on the turnover with a 15-yard touchdown reception by Dortch.
Wake Forest up 14-0 halfway through the first quarter.
The Deacs following offensive possession was a total change of pace. Instead of predominantly rushing the football, the Demon Deacons came out firing the ball on all cylinders with QB Jamie Newman. They passed the ball seven times out of 12 plays on the drive for 34 yards and a nine-yard touchdown throw to WR Scotty Washington. Just like that the Deacs took a 21-0 lead in the first quarter.
However, the Blue Devils finally put out a consistent drive highlighted by QB Daniel Jones’ run to barely convert on a 4th and 1. Duke capped off the 83-yard drive with a six-yard TD reception by RB Deon Jackson trimming Wake’s lead back to 14 points early in the second quarter. On top of the touchdown, the Duke defense forced their first three-and-out of the game to give the ball back to the Blue Devils at midfield.
Yet, Wake’s defense showed up once again forcing a three-and-out on their own. Despite their red-hot start, the offense failed to get the running game going after the first couple of drives and left the field once again empty-handed.
This was one of the problems last week against Pittsburgh, in which the Deacs could not keep their offense on the field, and the Defense ended up running out of gas in the second half. Clawson has made the defense’s rest time such a focus against Duke that he put his own daughter, Courtney Clawson, to monitor how many real minutes of rest the defense would get this week.
The results were far more encouraging against Duke as the Deacs led time of possession in the first half with nearly five more minutes with the ball than the Blue Devils.
Still, no offense no problem as Wake S Nasir Greer intercepted Jones for a 18-yard pick-six putting the Deacs up 28-7 late in the second quarter. Wake’s defensive turnaround is nothing short of remarkable. This was Greer’s first career interception as a Demon Deacon. Clawson got this unit ready to play after firing their defensive coordinator and having seven players in the two-deep losing time with injuries.
The offense would add to the score with a good two-minute drill that fell just three yards short of another touchdown. RB Cade Carney rushed for 35 yards on the drive and already eclipsing the 100-yard mark in the first half with 118. Deacs settled for a field goal as time expired to go into halftime leading by 31-7. As dominant a first half as any Wake fan would have hoped for.
Starting the second half, the Demon Deacons continued their dominance putting together another impressive drive. Carney looked like a man among boys bulldozing through defender after defender.
I cannot express enough how important it is for the offensive flow to have Carney handling RB duties so well by himself in the absence of Colburn and Beal-Smith. It opens up the passing game off of the RPO and keeps the defense guessing.
Newman seized the opportunity completing a 30-yard pass to Dortch to keep the drive alive and later on with a six-yard touchdown pass to WR Alex Bachman. Deacs with a commanding 38-7 lead midway through the third quarter.
Despite a 31-point lead, the Deacs didn’t take the foot off the pedal. Carney broke loose on a 48-yard run up the middle of a hapless Duke defense to set up their fifth touchdown of the game on a nine-yard acrobatic reception by WR Sage Surratt. Carney finished the game with 223 rushing yards and two touchdowns in 31 attempts; both rushes and attempts were career-highs for the junior running back. He now has 731 yards and six touchdown on the year.
They would still add two other touchdowns to finish with a final score of 59-7.
This game was the perfect storm for the Deacs in all possible aspects. Newman finished the game with 177 yards and four touchdown while completing 18 of 23 passes for a passer rating of 200.3. Dortch had his quietest 100+ game, leading all receivers with 124 yards and a touchdown. The defense completely man-handled Duke and future NFL QB Daniel Jones. They allowed only 251 total yards, while forcing four fumbles, a pick-six and 5 tackles for loss. The Deacs did not only win their sixth game of the season, they crushed the Blue Devils on the road for their largest win margin (52 points) in 129 years of the series between the two teams.
This is my first year covering the Wake Forest football team for the Old Gold & Black and Blogger So Dear and consequently my first year being present at the Deacs’ postgame conferences. Through the first half of the season, Clawson would often times open the press conference after all ACC losses owning the fact that the Deacs were completely outplayed and out-coached. But, he also pointed out to the fact that their performance did not reflect the talent and ceiling of this team. It was only a matter of being able to extract the best of his players.
Today, the talent and potential of this team were on full display. They completely outplayed and outperformed a talented Duke team when it mattered the most. This also tells a lot about this program’s identity under Clawson.
Enjoy the bowl game folks!