When Duke Has the Ball:
For three straight weeks now, no one in the conference has been throwing the ball better than Duke QB Thad Lewis. After a disappointing first two games, Lewis comes into this weekend as the ACC's second leading passer yardage-wise and is also among the leaders in passing efficiency. One could point to improved play along the offensive line, but Lewis's 241 yard, 2 touchdown, no interception day came despite the nine sacks and constant pressure from the Miami defense. Lewis is playing as well as any QB Duke has fielded in a dozen years. There is still room for improvement, however. Lewis lost two fumbles against Miami: One in scoring position and another that led to a Miami touchdown a few plays later. No doubt, the Deacs will be looking to get to Lewis, and when they reach him will be trying to strip the ball. If Lewis has time to throw, the Wake pass defense will have trouble containing the Duke passing game.
Despite not showing up in the final stats, the Duke running game finally made a positive contribution in last week's game. Junior RB Re'Quan Boyette was able to run for a season-best 71 yards on 14 carries. If the Duke offense can find some semblance of consistency in the running game, this could spell trouble for opposing defenses. The Devils also received a positive contribution from senior RB Ronnie Drummer, when he caught a short screen pass and blew by the Miami defense for a 41-yard TD. The Deacs, on the other hand, have been quite successful at stopping the run this year. Currently, they are allowing only 115 yards per game, and 2.9 yards per carry. Linebackers Aaron Curry and Stanley Arnoux and safety Chip Vaughn are the leading tacklers on the Deacon defense. Duke must get the defensive line blocked and get hats on these players; otherwise the running game will falter.
The Deacon front line is led by senior Jeremy Thompson, whose four sacks rank him second in the conference. Deacon CB Alphonso Smith garnered player of the week honors in their last game against Maryland because of his game-changing 100-yard interception. Smith is a good cover corner with speed and instincts to counteract his lack of height. He will be challenged this week but Duke's large sized wide receivers. Both starters, Jomar Wright and Eron Riley are physical mismatches for Smith. Expect Wake to play plenty of zone defense and give safety help over the top. The Deacs tend to give up yards, but seem to always stiffen up when the opponents is in scoring range.
When Wake Forest has the Ball:
Defensively, the Devils must shore up their two main weaknesses, underneath pass coverage and defending the perimeter run. Wake RB Josh Adams is a fast, shifty runner who excels in space and can make the first tackler miss. Wide receiver Kenny Moore leads the ACC in receptions per game and will run the ball on occasion via handoff on the end around. The Wake offensive staff will use these two players and other to try and expose the Devils lack of team speed in the back seven. If the Devils can get into position, however, the team tackling has improved dramatically from a season ago. LB Vince Rey is leading the ACC in tackles per game. CB Leon Wright and SS Adrian Aye-Darko are sure tacklers in the secondary, but have had troubles in man coverage this season. Their tackling will be extremely important this as they will need to provide that perimeter run support the Devils will almost assuredly need.
One of the big keys to stop any passing game is getting pressure on the quarterback. Defensive ends Patrick Bailey and Wesley Oglesby must be active and get into QB Riley Skinner's face. Defensive tackles Vince Oghobaase and Ayanga Okpokoworuk will probably face their stiffest test of the season to date in the middle. Wake Forest's Steve Justice is one of the nation's best centers. Mammoth guard Chris DeGeare is a 2-year starter provides the Deacs with a mauling presence up front. Duke HC/DC Ted Roof is known for playing aggressively on defense. Expect to see Duke challenge Skinner with blitzes. If the Devils do blitz, they need to get to Skinner and force him into a rushed decision. If Skinner has time to throw the ball, especially when Duke blitzes, he will have a field day against Duke's pass coverage.
Advantage: Wake Forest
Key Matchup: Wake QB Riley Skinner vs. Duke pass defense.
The Devils are dead last in the conference and one of the nation's worst at pass efficiency defense. Riley Skinner is not a superstar QB, but is very effective and running the Wake offense usually not prone to making mistakes. Wake usually is a run-oriented offense, but if their offensive staff watches any game film, they have realized that Duke has been having all sorts of issues in coverage. Opposing QBs are completing over 67% of their passes against the Devils. Duke has done a decent job of tacking after the catch, but if a QB can complete 2/3 of his passes, all the tackling in the world will not stop the offense from moving the ball and scoring points.
Three Keys to a Duke victory:
Get off the field on defense: The Devils have not done a good job on third down so far in 2007, allowing opponents to convert on 45% of third downs. Against Miami, the defense performed much better limiting the Hurricanes to a 33% success rate. Wake Forest has confidence in their schemes and their ability to execute in key situations. The Devils must be able to tighten up when it matters and force Wake to punt.
Hold on to the ball: The Devils have been shooting themselves in the foot on offense this season with drive-killing fumbles. The worst part about this is most of the turnovers are unforced. The Devils must take care of the football and not commit silly turnovers. Turnover margin is usually a key factor in winning and losing. Duke does not have an overwhelming talent advantage on any of their opponents to be able to afford these types of mistakes. If the Devils continue to commit unforced turnovers, they will almost assuredly lose.
Believe: The Devils had Wake beat last year in Winston-Salem. Only a blocked 27-yard field goal prevented Duke from defeating the eventual ACC champions. There is no question that the Devils have the talent and ability to beat the Deacs. The players need to get over the mental hurdle of losing and believe they can win. Success breeds success and, conversely, failure breeds failure. If the Devils can get over that psychological hurdle and believe they can win close games, they will start doing so.
This is a game Duke absolutely has to have if they are going to consider the 2007 season a success. The Devils could easily be 3-2 right now with thoughts and aspirations of a winning record and a bowl bid. The reality of the situation, however, is that Duke has let two straight winnable games slip through their fingers. They cannot afford to let this happen for a third consecutive week. On paper, Wake Forest cannot out-talent Duke. The Devils have speed and athleticism on offense that should give Wake Forest fits. On the other side of the ball, the Wake offensive line should have problems blocking Duke's defensive line. The big problem for Duke is the game is not played on paper. The Wake Forest coaching staff instills a winning mentality in their team every week. It is rare that the Deacons are not prepared for a game, both mentally and schematically. The question then becomes, can the Devils match Wake's intensity, confidence and execution. If they do, they stand a very good chance at victory on Saturday.
On offense, Duke must come out throwing the ball. Thad Lewis needs to play under control and be patient with his reads. The Wake defense usually employs an umbrella coverage scheme. They force you to complete your passes underneath and then they make the tackle. With Riley's recent success over the top, he will almost assuredly command extra attention every time he goes deep. This will open up the underneath routes. Lewis needs to take what the Wake defense gives and execute the offense. If Duke has early success throwing the ball and scores a few times, this should open up some running lanes for Boyette and others.
Expect this game to be close throughout. The Duke offense has already exploded once this season and should be able to score plenty of points against Wake. On the other side of the ball, the Wake offense will have a field day picking apart the Blue Devil secondary with underneath routes. The Deacons will not have a big day running the ball, but will be just effective enough to make a difference. Unlike previous years, this will not turn in to another Wake rout in Durham. The visitors, however, will make one more play than Duke and it will turn out to be the difference.
Wake Forest – 34
Duke – 28