Win and they’re in.
The Blue Devils will travel to Winston-Salem on Saturday in search of their fifth bowl in the last six seasons. A sixth win will be no easy feat, as the Demon Deacons, led by senior quarterback John Wolford, just knocked off #25 NC State a week ago.
Wolford has put together an impressive final campaign for Wake Forest, leading the ACC in passer rating while also adding 10 touchdowns on the ground. The Demon Deacons sit at 7-4 and look to improve their bowl resume with a win over their in-state rival. Containing Wolford and the read option offense will be a challenge for a Jim Knowles’ defense playing without two starters in LB Ben Humphreys and S Jeremy McDuffie. With that being said, the Duke defense has played well enough to keep this team in almost every game on the season, and Saturday should be no different.
Daniel Jones and the Blue Devil offense, however, have been far from consistent. After an impressive 4-0 start to September, Duke fumbled their way through a six-game losing streak where they averaged just 12 points per game. As Coach Cutcliffe alluded to this week, “it’s not been any one thing...sometimes it's protection, route running, dropped balls, inconsistency of the run game.” Yet, somewhat inexplicably, Jones and the offense exploded for 43 points last week against Georgia Tech, and here they sit, on the cusp of bowl eligibility. Last week’s effort is a true testament to the Duke coaching staff and senior leaders, who have continued to work and believe in this group despite their struggles.
Beyond the obvious, there are a number of interesting storylines to this matchup. Both Cutcliffe and Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson have done commendable jobs at their respective institutions, and it is no surprise that both names have been associated with the current opening in Knoxville.
Wake Forest boasts a 2-0 record against North Carolina schools this year, with wins against Appalachian State and NC State. Duke enters the contest also with a 2-0 in-state record against NC Central and North Carolina. As such, an unofficial state championship and bragging rights are on the line Saturday. Amazingly, the Blue Devils are 15-3 in their last 18 match-ups with in-state schools.
These two teams have played a number of memorable games over the past several seasons, though the Blue Devils have won four of the last five. With what’s at stake for both teams, this season’s finale should be well worth watching.