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Wake Forest Football Preview: Duke Blue Devils

The Deacs are on the road to take on one of their oldest rivals

NCAA Football: Military Bowl-Central Florida at Duke Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

In week 10, the Deacs are back on the road to take on the final of their three annual primary opponents, the Duke Blue Devils. This one is nothing new for either team, as Duke and Wake Forest were cross-over opponents under the old ACC schedule and played every year anyways. Outside of NC State and North Carolina, no one has played Wake Forest more than the Duke Blue Devils, with the two teams meeting over 90 times (I have checked 3 sources on total games, and they range from 93 games since 1925 to 102 games since 1886).


  • Opponent: Duke Blue Devils
  • Date: Thursday, November 2nd, 2023
  • Location: Wallace Wade Stadium | Durham, NC
  • Vegas Win Total O/U: 6.5
  • 2022 Record: 9-4, 5-3 in the ACC
  • Previous Matchup: Wake 31—Duke 34 (2022)
  • All time vs Wake Forest: 55-38 (per Wake Forest)

Duke was one of the biggest surprises in college football last season. After finishing 3-9 in 2021 and letting go of head coach David Cutcliffe, I think most people assumed the Blue Devils were in for a rebuilding year in 2022. What happened was the exact opposite; former Wake Forest DC Mike Elko took over and pulled off one of the most impressive turnarounds in recent history, winning 9 games in his first season. Winning 9 games in year 1 is an impressive feat for any coach, but for Elko to pull it off in his first ever season as a head coach at a school that was 3-9 the season before and has only had two other 9+ win seasons since 1941 is a crazy accomplishment. It was no surprise that Elko was awarded the ACC Coach of the Year last season.

One of the reasons for Duke’s improvement last season was the offense. The Blue Devils improved substantially in 2022, increasing their scoring output by 10 points per game (22.8 to 32.8) from 2021. It would be hard not to attribute most of that improvement to starting QB Riley Leonard. Leonard had a breakout season in 2022, throwing for 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns while also leading the team in rushing with 700 yards and 13 touchdowns. He was one of 3 players in the nation last season to throw for 2,900 or more yards and rush for over 695 yards. While he may have sort of slipped under the radar last season because of all the attention guys like Drake Maye, Sam Hartman, and Jordan Travis were getting, I think the secret is out with Leonard this year.

Alongside a phenomenal quarterback, the Blue Devils are getting most of their starters back from last season. Duke used a “running back by committee” approach in 2022 with Jordan Waters (566 yards, 8 TD), Jaquez Moore (508 yards, 5 TD), and Jaylen Coleman (480 yards, 4 TD)—all three are back this season. They also return Leonard’s top 2 targets in the passing game in Jalon Calhoun and Jordan Moore, who combined for 122 catches for 1,500 yards and 9 touchdowns last season. The offensive line should remain solid with 3 returning veterans, including 1st Team All-ACC OT Graham Barton. With so much production coming back, it's hard to see how Duke’s offense won’t be, at the very least, as good as it was last year—I have it feeling it will probably be even better.

The offensive improvements were significant, but what Mike Elko was able to do with Duke’s defense last season was also incredible. In 2021, Duke was one of the worst defenses in the entire nation, giving up a whopping 40 points and 520 yards per game. In Elko’s first season, with many of the same players, Duke had the 31st best scoring defense and the 68th best total defense in the nation, giving up just 22 points and 378 yards per game. On top of that, Duke was one of the best teams in the nation at forcing turnovers, coming up with 26 takeaways.

The Blue Devils do have to replace their top two tacklers from last season in Darius Joiner (97 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions) and Shaka Heyward (97 tackles, 2 sacks, 2 interceptions), but they get almost everyone else back from last season. The defensive line should be the most solid unit, with preseason 1st Team All-ACC tackle DeWayne Carter (11 tackles for loss, 5.5 sacks) and Ja’Mion Franklin both (3.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks) both back after great production in 2022. The secondary, which struggled at times last season (allowed over 320 yards passing in 5 games), adds some depth with transfers Myles Jones, a 6-4 CB from Texas A&M, and Al Blades Jr., a 6-1 CB from Miami. Wake fans know firsthand how good Elko is on the defensive side of the ball, so I expect the Blue Devils will likely be a very good defensive team again this season.


Duke has one of the best QB’s in the ACC and a lot of returning talent from last season, which will probably cause some issues for Wake Forest’s defense. Despite racking up 450 yards and 31 points last season against Duke, the Deacs were unable to win because they could not stop Riley Leonard from completing 70% of his passes for nearly 400 yards. Time will tell if the Wake defense has made any improvements, but I’ll put this one down as a loss for now.