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Duke vs. Wake Forest: What to Watch For

T.J. Rahming, WR / Duke Blue Devils / Photo by Chris Summerville
T.J. Rahming, WR / Duke Blue Devils / Photo by Chris Summerville

When:  Saturday, September 10, 2016.  3:30 PM.

Where:  Wallace Wade Stadium, Durham, North Carolina

Television: ESPNU

Line:  Duke -5

Last Time:  Duke 27, Wake Forest 21.  The Blue Devils snapped a four game losing streak with a win in Winston Salem to close out the 2015 regular season.  Max McCaffrey’s second TD reception of the day gave Duke a 24-7 lead in the third quarter before the offense went stagnant and the secondary weakened, allowing the Demon Deacons to get back into the game.  Duke thought they had iced them game on a Ross Martin field goal with 2:33 remaining, but allowed Wake Forest to drive the field and score a touchdown in less than a minute of game time.  Duke recovered the ensuing onside kick and was then able to take a knee for the remainder.  Thomas Sirk threw for 275 yards and 2 touchdowns and ran for 57 yards and 1 touchdown.  McCaffrey ended the day with 5 catches for 93 yards and 2 touchdowns.

What to Watch For:

Execution on Offense:  The Blue Devil offense looked great in the first half against NC Central.  Duke moved the ball at will both on the ground and through the air, scoring touchdowns on 7 of their 9 first half possessions.  Daniel Jones looked sharp on short, intermediate, and deep throws.  Jela Duncan looked like a one man wrecking crew at running back.  All three tight ends had an impact and the receivers were able to get open regularly.  All of that needs to continue as the competition gets tougher, but the main focus for the offense will be cleaning up the penalties and cutting out the turnovers.  It should be noted that the majority of the 5 turnovers came in the second half and were committed by reserves, but there still needs to be an increase in focus to make sure those mistakes don’t become habits.  The only true turnover by the first team was a muffed punt by Ryan Smith.  The main focus for the first team offense will be on the offensive line.  The starters committed several false starts and holding penalties.  Duke’s talent was able to shoulder the burden against the Eagles, but that talent gap won’t be that big for the rest of the season.  Penalties can kill a drive and with a freshman quarterback and a still evolving group of receivers, the Blue Devils don’t want to disrupt the flow on offense and get behind the chains.

Defending 2 QBs:
John Wolford is the starter for Wake Forest at quarterback, but Duke can expect to see a good dose of sophomore Kendall Hinton, as well.  Wolford fills the roll of a more traditional quarterback, while Hinton brings more a running threat to the position.  Against Tulane in week one the Demon Deacon offense struggled.  Wolford only accounted for 79 yards on 9 of 17 passing.  Hinton had 8 carries for 24 yards and scored the games only touchdown.  Hinton added 17 yards through the air on 3 of 4 passing attempts.  While the game plan may be predictable depending on which QB is in the game, the Duke defense will still need to stay alert in coverage so they don’t get caught with a trick play.  Linebackers Ben Humphreys and Joe Giles-Harris were all around the line of scrimmage in week one and will probably look to lock up the Deacon running backs and pressure the QBs early in this game.  The defense looked sharp in the opener, but its hard to say how much can actually be taken from a game against an FCS opponent.  Wolford racked up 338 passing yards and 2 touchdowns against the Duke defense in the regular season finale last year so rest assured that the coaching staff will be in the secondary’s ear leading up to the game.  Wake has struggled mightily on offense for the past few seasons and Duke doesn’t want to be the team that allows them to break out of that.

ACC Season Begins: It’s not that rare that a team begins conference play in the second week of the season.  This week several teams opened up the regular season with a conference game.  This weeks matchup against the Demon Deacons is the earliest Duke has opened their ACC season since 2010 when Duke visited Wake Forest in the second game of the season.  Duke will need to be focused from the start.  Its easy for a team to cruise into the second game when they blowout an overmatched opponent in week one, particularly for a young team.  Duke has a seasoned staff and several veterans on both sides of the ball that should keep everyone’s eyes on Wake Forest this week in practice.  And while the win was easy there is plenty to work on from the first game as well.  With such a difficult schedule overall and a tougher conference schedule that the last few seasons with Louisville rotating in as the Blue Devils’ Atlantic Division opponent, getting off to a good start in conference play is key.  This is a game that Duke should win, but its also a game Wake Forest will be looking at, as Coach Cutcliffe alluded earlier this week.  The Blue Devils can’t overlook this game with trips to Northwestern and Notre Dame coming up.