Preview: Duke (1-6) vs. Wake (3-4)

Duke travels to Winston-Salem this weekend to face off against Wake Forest. Both teams come into the game winless in ACC play, however, their paths to this position are markedly different.

Duke has been struggling to stay in games, and in the end is losing by double digits every week. Conversely, Wake Forest has lost several heartbreakers, including last weekends near upset of #5 Florida State. Still, both teams will be battling it out to see who will emerge from the ACC cellar. Lets see how the teams match-up.

When Duke has the ball:

The Devils will be looking to build upon their improved offensive performance from a week ago. Tailback Cedric Dargan rushed for 108 yards against Virginia, the second 100-yard game in the three he's played this season. QB Mike Schneider threw for 191 yards and 2 touchdowns and played his best game of the season. The Wake Forest defense gives up 375 yards per game on defense. They do, however, toughen up when it counts, allowing only 19.3 points per contest.

The Devils should be able to move the ball between the 20s Saturday, but turning that success into touchdowns might prove to be difficult. TE Ben Patrick will be a key player. He proved to be a difficult matchup for the talented Virginia linebackers, and the Deacon squad has nobody on that level. They might employ a roverback or strong safety on Patrick, but whomever they use will be giving up a lot size to big Ben (6'4", 260 lbs).

When Wake Forest has the ball:

The unorthodox Deacon attack uses misdirection and angles to attack defenses. Obviously, the system works, as they are second in the ACC in rushing offense and 3rd in total offense.

Two QBs, Cory Randolph and Ben Mauk, will likely see the field for Wake and both are perfectly capable of directing the offense. Running back Chris Barclay was first team all-ACC a season ago, and is 5th in rushing this year. He ran wild against Duke last season, gaining over 160 yards and scoring three touchdowns in only one half of action.

The Deacons also have weapons on the perimeter. Senior wide receiver Jason Anderson is one of the most dangerous pass catching threats in the conference. His counterpart, sophomore Nate Morton is 5th in the conference in receiving yards per game. The Wake offensive line is not nearly as talented as what Duke faced last week, but they are disciplined and well-coached, and provide a unique challenge to the Duke defensive line because of their cut-blocking style.

Duke keys to the game:

The Trenches: Unlike last week, Duke's opponent will not have an overwhelming advantage in the trenches. Wake has a good, scrappy group on both sides of the ball, but they are not in the same athletic class with Virginia. The Deacons give up 166 yards per game on the ground, so they can be run on. After posting a solid total against the ACC's #2 run defense last week, Duke should be able to open up some holes for Dargan on Saturday.

Hang on to the Ball: Despite the struggles of both teams, the one thing they both do well is create turnovers. Wake has created 15 on the season, and is #2 in the ACC in turnover margin. The Deacon defense has scored 4 touchdowns this year, tops in the conference. On the other side of the ball, Duke has forced 17 turnovers, ranking second in the conference in that category.

Cornerback John Talley leads the ACC in interceptions and has returned two for touchdowns. Where Duke has failed, however, is on offense as they have committed 14 turnovers of their own. If Duke is to prevail this weekend, they must hang on to the ball and not give Wake any easy scores via turnovers.

War of Attrition: Duke has suffered a massive amount of injuries this season, especially along the defensive line. On the other side, Wake got several players dinged up against FSU, such as Jason Anderson and LB Brad White, that will probably not be 100% for this weekend. Wake is also having depth issues along the offensive line. It almost seems like the winner will be the team who can put the most healthy bodies on the field. It will be interesting to see if or how these injuries affect the game's outcome.

Final Analysis:

For the first time, since the Citadel game, Duke has a realistic chance of winning this weekend. While Wake has played many teams tough this year, they are coming of an emotional loss to FSU last Saturday, and will be hard-pressed to match that intensity this weekend against a one-win Duke team. From a physical standpoint, Duke can matchup with Wake along the lines. Wake will spread out and use misdirection and motion to confuse the Duke defense.

This offense will cause some isolation matchups between the Wake skill players and the Duke linebackers and secondary. Making tackles in these scenarios will determine whether or not the Duke defense can succeed in stopping Wake.

On offense, Duke will be hard-pressed to put up great passing numbers on the Wake secondary. The Deacs were also very aggressive with their blitzing last weekend against FSU, and it paid dividends in the form of two defensive touchdowns.

The Duke offensive line will not be overpowered, but they will be forced to read the defense and make adjustments in pass protection. If they can give Schneider time, he can complete the passes against just about any secondary. Of course, the passing game can be helped greatly by a solid rushing attack. Having Cedric Dargan healthy should allow the Blue Devils to run the ball successfully. Dargan will threaten the 100-yard mark once again and Duke will be in the game right to the end. Unfortunately, Chris Barclay will have a good day on the ground and the Wake offense will score just enough to get it done. Duke's struggles in the red-zone will be their undoing once again.

Final Score:

Wake -27
Duke – 24

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