When Duke has the ball:
After failing to score a single point in the 13-0 loss against Richmond, the Devils have spent the week searching for answers. The quarterback situation seemed settled last week with Marcus Jones as the clear-cut starter. On Saturday, however, freshman Thaddeus Lewis made a really strong case to supplant Jones in the starting role. Originally slated to play only a few series, Lewis ended up under center for the entire second half and finished the game 15-24 passing for 148 yards. While he did make some critical goal-line mistakes, the upside potential he showed in directing the team is difficult to ignore. Expect to see Jones on the field in some capacity. Lewis, however will most likely be tabbed to direct the offense this Saturday.
Regardless of who takes the snaps, Duke must find a way to block more effectively than they did Saturday. Running lanes were non-existent and the pass-protection was not much better. The good news is that tailback Justin Boyle is likely to play despite sustaining an ankle sprain in the first half of the season opener. Devil back Ronnie Drummer, also hurt in the first half Saturday, will be a game time decision. The good news for the Duke offensive line is that Wake's front seven is not appreciably better than Richmond's. The defensive front struggles to generate a pass rush. The Deacs are often either forced to blitz to generate QB pressure, or the just simply sit back and try to confuse the passer with disguised coverage and hope a mistake is made. The Wake secondary is better than last year's ACC-worst ranking suggests. Safeties Josh Gattis and Patrick Ghee are good football players, and CBs Alphonso Smith is a rising start in the ACC.
When Wake Forest has the ball:
The Deacons have been the ACC's best rushing team in four of the last five years. With starting QB Ben Mauk out for the season with a broken arm, the running game takes on even more importance. Replacing Mauk is redshirt freshman Riley Skinner. He will be called on to hand the ball off to the backs and receivers on reverses and throw a few passes to keep the Duke defense honest. The strengths of the Deacon offense are the running backs and receivers. Junior Micah Andrews started the season well, gaining 160 yards on 20 carries in the opener. The engine of the Wake attack, however, is the tough, experienced offensive line, led by Outland Trophy contender Steve Vallos.
The good news for Duke is the defensive line performed quite well in the opener and should be able to hold the line against the Deacs. Tackles Eli Nichols and Vince Oghobaase completely shut down the inside running of Richmond and ends Casey Camero and Pat Bailey were frequently in the Spider backfield. Most of the rushing yards were gained outside the tackles, and this should be an area of concentration for the defensive coaches during preparation this week. Wake will surely test the perimeter run defense of Duke and force the corners and safeties to come up and make tackles in the open field. The linebackers must also do a better job wading through the blocking traffic to get out and help clean up the perimeter plays. Of course, what makes the Deacon offense so effective is their ability to make you pay for overpursuing with misdirection runs. So the Blue Devil defenders must be aware of cutbacks and reverses, and stay with their assigned responsibilities.
Match-up to Watch:
The Duke offensive line vs. the Wake Front seven.
Both teams have big question marks in these areas. Neither squad has much depth and both have trouble dominating their opponents. If Duke is able to successfully keep pressure off of Lewis or Jones, the Duke receivers are talented enough to get open against the secondary and make plays. The Deacons will surely employs a multitude of blitzes from just about any position on the field. Watch for outstanding LB Jon Abbate to be a nuisance when Wake comes after the QB. . How Duke responds to this pressure will determine the success of the Duke offense.
Three keys to a Duke victory:
Score Early: In recent years, it seems Wake has jumped all over Duke early and the game has been over by the end of the first quarter. Duke must score early in the game for two reasons. Number one, it will allow them to get their first points of the season and take some of the pressure off. Second, Wake will have a much tougher time building a lead if Duke is scoring as well. There were some moments during the Richmond game where Duke looked like it could move the ball. Now, they need to string that together and get on the board early.
Know your assignment: The Wake offensive is similar to a wishbone team in that missed assignments can lead to big gains and easy scores. If the Duke defense plays assignment football, they have the talent to match-up with the Deacons and slow down their ground attack.
Convert: Duke was in scoring position 4 times against Richmond and came away with no points. There were two missed field goal including one block, and two turnovers on downs in the 4th quarter inside the 10-yard line. Duke must turn these opportunities into points. Wake will score points against just about anyone. Duke must be able to score enough to stay with them.
Duke will be the decided underdog against Wake this Saturday. The Devils might also be suffering from a confidence problem. The talent level between the two teams is negligible. The difference is the confidence and execution of the offensive and defensive schemes. Wake has supreme confidence that their offense will produce points and their defense will slow down the opponent just enough to give them a fighting chance almost every week. Duke, however, does not play with the same confidence level and seems to be a little tentative on both sides of the ball. Defensively, that lack of aggressiveness seems to be going away. The Duke offense, however, must throw caution to the wind and play full-bore. Mistakes are always made, but if they are made while giving maximum effort, they are more easily forgiven.
I believe we will see a more confident Duke offense. If they can avoid turnovers and patch together respectable drives, they will score enough to keep Duke in the game. Wake will be conservative on offense and play field position with Duke rather than take too many chances. Still, the perimeter run defense will prove to be an Achilles'' heel for the Devils and Wake will break one too many big plays on the outside. The Devils will be in the game but will give up a late score and fall short in their quest to taste victory in 2006.
Predicted Final Score:
Wake Forest- 24
Duke - 13