The Duke Blue Devils aren’t used to having a lot on the line this late in the season.
When they take the field against Wake Forest tomorrow afternoon, however, they’ll have a bit of extra motivation.
With a victory, the Blue Devils (8-2, 4-2) could extend their winning streak to seven games, retain their place atop the ACC Coastal division, and pull themselves within one win of a trip to the ACC Championship game. Wake Forest (4-6, 2-5), meanwhile, will be making their last stand in their quest for bowl eligibility after dropping their last three contests.
I’m still not used to the whole expecting Duke to win thing, so I’m going to remain emotionally cautious for now. Wake Forest has thirtieth-year senior Tanner Price who, up until the last two games, had been putting together another decent season, full of solid game management and consistency. However, the last two contests–in which the Demon Deacons have scored just three total points–he has played the worst football of his career, going a combined 23-58 for 176 yards and 4 interceptions.
He has been so uncharacteristically bad that I would be shocked if he doesn’t bounce back and turn in an admirable performance against the Blue Devils’ secondary that was roasted by Stephen Morris last week. Of course, it is no coincidence that his stats have trended downward since do-it-all receiver Michael Campanaro suffered a broken collarbone.
For Duke, they’ll be hoping QB Anthony Boone can finally bounce back after weeks of frustration. A heavy dose of timely defense, a decent rushing attack, and Brandon Connette have been getting Duke by all year, but the Blue Devils would really be able to take the next step as contenders if Boone were able to get back on track.
He looked better last week, going 11-15 for 104 yards on a day where the running game took care of pretty much everything. It was also his first interception-free game since a 35-7 win over Navy back on October 12th; he had thrown a total of eight picks in his previous three contests.
If the struggles continue, however, I’m sure Cutcliffe will have no problem turning to Connette, who is basically what would happen if you crossed a Swiss Army Knife and a quarterback. On the year, Connette has thrown for 1,209 yards and ran for 320 more, totaling 25 touchdowns along the way.
Coming off a bye week, I expect Wake Forest to look much better than they have the last three weeks. Their defense has been sturdy–with the Florida State and Clemson games being the only exceptions–and I completely expect them to give Duke their fare share of issues.
That being said, I don’t see them managing to shut down the plethora of weapons Duke boasts on a regular basis. Eventually, Brandon Connette is going to do something Brandon Connette-like. Jamison Crowder is going to come up with a big catch or two. One of the running backs will find a way to have an effect.
It may be a slow start for the Blue Devils, and we have every reason to expect that after the last few weeks, but I’ll be shocked if Wake Forest hangs around and so much as threatens to strike midnight on Duke’s Cinderella story.
Duke 31 – Wake Forest 13