Duke (3-3, 1-1 ACC) will host in-state ACC rival Wake Forest (4-2, 3-1 ACC) on Saturday afternoon in Wallace Wade Stadium. The two programs are familiar foes, having met 91 times, including each of the last 44 seasons. The Blue Devils hold the all-time lead in the series, but the Demon Deacons have dominated their Tobacco Road rivals over the past decade. Duke’s last victory over Wake Forest came in 1999, and though the two teams have produced several competitive and memorable matchups since (5 games decided by less than a touchdown), the Demon Deacons have won 11 straight in the series. The Blue Devils will try to end that streak when the two teams kickoff at 12:30 PM ET on the ACC Network.
After a disappointing season in 2010, the Demon Deacons have been one of the ACC’s biggest surprises in 2011, with conference wins over NC State, Boston College, and Florida State. Wake Forest is led by a disciplined offense, which leads the ACC in red zone efficiency (89.7% scoring) and turnovers (5 total turnovers). The Demon Deacons feature a balanced attack led by QB Tanner Price (267 yards per game, 2nd in the ACC), WR Chris Givens (123 yards per game, 1st in the ACC) and RB Josh Harris (82 yards per game, 6th in the ACC). The defense has been opportunistic, forcing 9 turnovers on the season, but ranks last in the ACC with just 6 sacks.
Both Duke and Wake Forest were riding winning streaks before a conference loss last week, and both teams will look to get back on track this Saturday with a crucial ACC win.
KEYS FOR DUKE
1. Limit Explosives: the Blue Devils got burned repeatedly last week against the Seminoles, and that helped put the game away early. The combination of Price and Givens has proven to be explosive this season for the Demon Deacons, as evidenced by a 79-yard TD catch last week against Virginia Tech and a season average of 18.5 yards per catch. Expect Ross Cockrell to have a busy day keeping tabs on Givens, and the entire Blue Devil secondary will have to help to keep him contained. Josh Harris is the key for the Wake Forest running game, but has been limited in practice this week. Expect senior Brandon Pendergrass to help shoulder the load, and look for Duke’s Kelby Brown and Matt Daniels to have a big role in stopping the Deacs on the ground.
2. Take care of the football: Duke has improved on their turnover ratio from a season ago, but continue to give the ball away. QB Sean Renfree threw a costly tipped pass interception early in the game against FSU last week, and that helped to set the tone of the game. Wake Forest has been the best in the ACC at taking care of the football, and the Blue Devils cannot afford to give the Demon Deacons extra possessions on Saturday.
3. Find an unlikely hero: we’re at the halfway point of the season, and every team is bound to have injuries. They have certainly piled up for the Blue Devils, but Duke has showcased some of their improved depth over the past few weeks. Heading into Saturday, there are three key positions of concern for the Blue Devils, where young players will be needed to step up. Duke’s secondary is slowly healing, but several players are hurting, including a few not listed on the official injury report. Lee Butler, Johnny Williams, and August Campbell all appear on this week’s injury report, which means that players like Zach Greene and Jordon Byas will have to take on a larger role again this week against an explosive Wake Forest passing game. The Blue Devils have significant injuries to two potential offensive line starters in David Harding and Brian Moore. Both players may be able to play, but will be far from 100%, which means that Conor Irwin may again have to take some snaps at center. Lastly, senior WR Donovan Varner continues to nurse a hamstring injury that will limit him on Saturday, meaning more snaps for freshmen Jamison Crowder and Blair Holliday. A combination of these young players will have to make an impact for the Blue Devils to get the W on Saturday.
Wake Forest +4, Duke -2
Duke has made significant improvements in limiting turnovers this season, but continue to struggle in forcing turnovers. The Blue Devils rank 3rd in the ACC with just 8 turnovers on the season, but are last in the conference with just 6 takeaways of their own. Similarly, the Demon Deacons are 1st in the ACC with just 5 turnovers, but 8th in takeaways with 9.
Duke 10, Wake Forest 6
Two of the ACC’s worst pass rushes will face off on Saturday, with the Blue Devils having slightly more success thus far. The Duke offensive line has also done a slightly better job protecting their QB, having given up 13 sacks on the year versus 16 allowed by Wake Forest.
Duke 40%, Wake Forest 37%
Again, both teams fall in the bottom half of the conference in 3rd down efficiency. The Wake Forest defense has held opponents to just 34% on 3rd downs, which means that the Blue Devil offense will have to execute well to move the chains on Saturday.
With two of the top WRs in the country squaring off on Saturday, the team that does the better job defensively will win this game. These two defenses will be challenged to keep their opponents’ offense grounded with stars like Conner Vernon and Chris Givens. In their losses, the Blue Devils have been burned by explosive plays, especially through the air. If Price is able to find Givens in open space, it will be a long afternoon for the Blue Devils.
Duke 12, Wake Forest 8
This statistic is very misleading. The Blue Devils have the worst red zone offense in the ACC, scoring on just 73.9% of trips to the red zone. When Duke does score, it’s usually on the ground, with 12 rushing TDs to just 2 passing TDs in the red zone. Wake Forest is tops in the ACC, scoring on nearly 90% of their trips to the red zone, and feature a balanced red zone offense with 8 rushing TDs and 6 passing TDs.
Wake Forest 92%, Duke 40%
While much of Dukes struggles in the kicking game came early in the season, the Blue Devils still have improvements to make. Wake Forest’s Jimmy Newman is 1st in the ACC with an average of 2 made FGs per game.
Duke 36.2 yards per game, Wake Forest 49.7 yards per game
Surprisingly the Demon Deacons rank next to last in the ACC in penalty yards per game. The Blue Devils continue to be one of the more disciplined teams in the conference. Duke will have to continue to play good fundamental football on Saturday, as their margin for error against a confident and talented Wake Forest team is slim.
With 11 straight wins in the series, it’d be an understatement to say the Demon Deacons have the Blue Devils’ number. Both teams enter the game bumped and bruised and fresh off an ACC loss. Wake Forest has been the more consistent team and have done a good job taking care of the football. With a depleted offensive line, expect a light workload for Duke’s running backs and quick throws from Sean Renfree. A hamstring injury to Donovan Varner will provide an opportunity for young Jamison Crowder and Blair Holliday to step up. The Blue Devil defense will have their hands full trying to stop Wake Forest’s combination of Tanner Price, Chris Givens, and Josh Harris. The team that takes care of the football will emerge the victor.