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2020 Wake Forest Football Opponent Preview: Duke Blue Devils

Quick breakdown of the Duke Blue Devils

NCAA Football: Pittsburgh at Duke James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

We continue our preview of the Wake Forest opponents with the yearly coastal division rival, the Duke Blue Devils. Once again, I’ll start with some general information and a quick look at how Duke fared in the 2019 season.

Game Date: November 21st, 2020

Opponent: Duke Blue Devils

Conference: ACC

Head Coach: David Cutcliffe (72-79, 34-62)

2019 Stats

Record: 5-7, 3-5

2019 vs Wake: Wake 39—Duke 27

Highest Ranking: N/A

Post-Season: N/A

Wins: NC A&T, MTSU, VT, GT, Miami

Losses: Alabama, Pitt, Virginia, UNC, Notre Dame, Syracuse, Wake Forest

Yards per Game: 329.7 (114th in NCAA)

Yards Allowed per Game: 379.6 (56th)

Points per Game: 25.3 (94th)

Points Allowed per Game: 29.2 (77)

Key Departures:

  • Quentin Harris, QB (209-357, 2078 yards, 16 TD, 11 Int, 510 rush yards, 7 rush TD)
  • Aaron Young, WR (29 rec. 367 yards, 3 TD)
  • Koby Quansah, LB (105 total tackles, 12.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks)
  • Dylan Singleton, S (89 total tackles, 5 TFL, 2.0 sacks, 3 FF)

Notable returns/additions

  • Chase Brice, QB (50-85, 581 yards, 4 TD, 1 Int at Clemson in 2019)
  • Deon Jackson, RB (172 rush, 641 yards, 6 TD, 833 total yards, 8 total TD)
  • Noah Gray, TE (51 receptions, 392 yards, 3 TD)
  • Jalon Calhoun, WR (46 receptions, 420 yards, 4 TD)
  • Marquis Waters, S (73 total tackles, 2 TFL, 2 Int, 7 PD)
  • Shaka Heyward, LB (68 total tackles, 6.5 TFL, 3.5 sacks, 1 Int, 2 FR)
  • Victor Dimukeje, DE (41 total tackles, 9.5 TFL, 8.5 sacks)
  • Chris Rumph II, DT (47 total tackles, 13.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks)

Even though the 2020 season has basically gotten rid of divisions, the Deacs will still be making the trip to Durham to face the Blue Devils in our annual cross over game. As far as 2019 is concerned, Duke started off the season quite well, destroying Virginia Tech in Blacksburg 45-10 in their ACC opener. Unfortunately, they then went on to go 2-6 in the remaining 8 games, beating just GT (3-9) and Miami (6-7) at home. That’s not a particularly good way to end the season.

Based on the stats, inconsistent QB play really hurt the Devils last season. Starting QB Quentin Harris would go from completing 80% of his passes with 6 touchdowns total in back to back wins over MTSU and VT, to going 18-43 with 2 Ints in a home loss to Pitt. That should be less of a problem for Duke this season, as the Devils added Clemson graduate transfer Chase Brice in the off season (I don’t know who the starter will be, but I’m just going to assume the Brice is going to be the guy). Brice hasn’t play that much since high school, but in his few appearances for the Tigers, he has completed 60% of his passes for over 1,000 yards.

While the Duke offense struggled to move the ball last season, finishing 114th out of 130 teams in total offense, they do return several very skilled players. Senior Deon Jackson, who accounted for 833 total yards for the Blue Devils last season, was voted Preseason 3rd team APB by Athlon Sports. Senior Noah Gray, who led all ACC tight ends in receptions last season, was voted preseason 2nd Team All ACC. Add to that Duke returning 4 out of 5 starting offensive linemen (including a senior and a redshirt senior) from a season ago, and the Devils should be poised to have a bounce back year on offense.

Duke’s defense was much better than the offense in 2019. The Blue Devils gave up almost 380 yards and 30 points per game, which—considering their struggles on offense—was pretty impressive. While the Devils are losing their top tackler in Koby Quansah and a really good safety in Dylan Singleton, they are also returning several very experienced and talented players. Victor Dimukeje and Chris Rumph, who were 4th and 9th respectively in sacks in the ACC last season, will anchor a strong front line that could make things difficult for Sam Hartman. Redshirt Sophomore Shaka Heyward had a breakout season in 2019, stuffing the stat sheet with 68 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, 1 interception, and 2 fumble recoveries. With a year under his belt, he could be poised to become a big time play-maker for the Duke defense.

I guess I should also mention special teams, where Duke will once again have kick returner extraordinaire Damond Philyaw-Johnson. You may remember him as the guy who almost single-handedly sent Wake Forest to Shreveport with his 2 kickoffs returned for touchdowns (the 2nd one giving Duke the lead with 9 minutes left in the 4th) in Wake’s 39-27 win over the Blue Devils. He was voted Preseason 1st Team All ACC by Athlon Sports. Hopefully the Deacs have improved the kickoff coverage this year, because you know after last season’s game, Philyaw-Johnson is going to try to return every single kick—no matter how far in the endzone it may be.

As always, the Duke game should be very winnable for Wake Forest. The two teams are likely very even on both sides of the ball, so not giving up big plays on special teams (there’s no shame in just kicking the ball out of bounds) could be the difference maker. Of course, this game isn’t set to be played until late November, so it’s extremely difficult to predict what Wake Forest and Duke will look like come game time.