Slow start, poor finish hurt Duke

Aside from the bookends of the game, the Blue Devils were very good on Saturday.

The Blue Devils can look at the one defensive breakdown in the fourth quarter as a reason for their 24-23 loss to Wake Forest.

But more of the blame will go toward a dreadful first half. The Blue Devils have had some troublesome starts to games this season.

"I don't know what would cause that," nose tackle Charlie Hatcher said.

Coach David Cutcliffe took the blame for what he felt was a lack of emotion at the start of the game. Now the Blue Devils must knock off nationally ranked Virginia Tech in order to avoid a winless three-game homestand.

Duke scored 23 consecutive points in the game against Wake Forest. But that was only enough to wipe out what had been a 17-0 deficit, not enough to create a comfortable margin.

So it will have to go down as one of those games in which the Blue Devils showed enough spirit to fight to be in position to win. But, again, one of those games that got away.

"We have to learn how to play for four quarters and not just two," receiver Conner Vernon said. "Hopefully, we can figure it out next week."

--Duke scored 30 or more points in the previous four meetings with Wake Forest and lost each of those. If they had reached that mark Saturday, the Blue Devils would have produced a victory and avoided what has become a 12-game losing streak to Wake Forest. The Blue Devils scored a season-high 20 second-half points when they staged their comeback.

--The Blue Devils converted on their first four fourth-down plays in the game against Wake Forest. They ended up 4-for-5 as they were unable to pick up necessary yardage on their second-to-last possession. Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said the Blue Devils' approach worked, in part, because of what the Blue Devils accomplished on some third-down plays to put them in position for fourth-down success.

KEEP AN EYE ON: LB David Helton -- He was involved in two of the sacks in the Wake Forest game. His role has mostly been limited this year, but he helped apply more pressure in the opposing offensive backfield. His one solo sack was the first of the freshman's career.

LOOKING GOOD: WR Jamison Crowder showed some of his best moves on special teams. He had his best kickoff return of the season at 35 yards and scurried for his best punt return at 13 yards. He's finding ways to impact games other than plays from regular offensive sets.

STILL NEEDS WORK: Tackling in the secondary has remained an inconsistent area. Even though some of the Blue Devils' leading tacklers are defensive backs, they've picked some inopportune times to have breakdowns in that area. That inability to make a stop resulted in the game-winning touchdown play for Wake Forest in Saturday's game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "It shows us that if we can do that for a whole half, we can do that for a whole game." -- NG Charlie Hatcher on holding Wake Forest to one first down in the second half.

--QB Sean Renfree was effective during stretches against Wake Forest, completing 28 of 45 attempts. Those completions accounted for 213 passing yards and so it was largely a passing strategy that consisted of shorter routes.

--With RB Desmond Scott back and playing after an injury, he and RB Juwan Thompson are pretty much splitting the ball carrying out of the backfield. Thompson had 11 carries and Scott had 10 attempts against Wake Forest.

--QB Anthony Boone didn't play in the two previous games before re-emerging as a short- yardage and red-zone specialist for the game against Wake Forest. He scored on two short touchdown runs.

--C Brian Moore made his first start of the season after he had missed the first six games with a broken arm.

--S Jordon Byas was a starter in the defensive backfield, making his first start of the season. He notched a season-high five tackles.

--WR Donovan Varner was in the starting lineup, though he was listed as questionable with a leg injury entering the game. He made a 26-yard reception late in the game, one of his four catches.

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