Early in the second half, Wake Forest had just returned an interception for a touchdown to make the score 34-9 in favor of the visitors. Many Duke fans started to head for the exits, and it appeared that the rout was on. Instead of rolling over and playing dead, the Devils bowed their necks on both sides of the ball and fought their way back into the ball game. Less than 15 minutes after the Wake interception. Duke scored 3 touchdowns to cut the lead to 34-29. Unfortunately, the Devils were not able to bridge that final gap, but the heart and determination of the Duke team were on full display in the second half Saturday.
Despite giving up 41 points, the Duke defense actually did not play poorly. The Deacs ran 72 plays and only were able to muster 331 yards of total offense. The Blue Devil defense did a credible job on 3rd down, forcing seven Wake Forest punts. Many of the Wake Forest points were the direct result of the Duke defense having to defend a short field. Facing a team that normally runs the ball well, the Duke defense held Wake to a 2.7 yard per carry average and 115 total yards on the ground.
Offensively, the Devils were able to put 36 points on the board. Eron Riley continued his campaign for all-ACC honors catching 8 passes for 143 yards and two touchdowns. Jomar Wright chipped in with 6 catches for 84 yards and a score. QB Thad Lewis struggled for much of the day, but was still able to pass for 291 yards and 4 touchdowns. RB Re'Quan Boyette led the Devils with 78 yards rushing on only 8 carries.
What went wrong?
The offense came alive in the second half, but still was out of sync for much of the day. In the first half, QB Thad Lewis was having all sorts of accuracy issues. Despite having time to throw and having open receivers downfield, Lewis struggled to hit his targets. His 298 yards passing came on 47 pass attempts. For Duke to be successful, Lewis needs to complete 60% or better of his passes. On Saturday, Lewis only completed 45% of his passes. His inaccuracy, combined with 5 receiver drops, caused too many 3-and-out situations in the first half, which gave Wake great starting field position on their drives. The Deacs used the field position advantage to build their sizeable lead. Lewis was overthrowing his receivers with some regularity. For most of the game, the passes fell harmlessly to the ground. However, an overthrow of receiver Austin Kelly early in the second half led to a Wake interception return for a TD.
The Duke defense played solid football for most of the game, but did a poor job of keeping Wake out of the end zone. Sure the defense forced two Wake field goals, but the Deacs still score 4 offensive touchdowns. For the Devils to win games, they must play tougher in the red-zone and force more field goal attempts from their opponents.
TDD Player of the game:
The Wake defensive staff came into the game knowing that Duke WR Eron Riley was going to test the defense deep. Despite frequent double coverage and rough play from the defense, Duke's #1 receiving threat proved to be too much for the Wake defense to handle. Not only did he catch 8 passes, he also drew two pass interference penalties, a late hit, and threw some key blocks to spring his fellow receivers on some of their receptions. On the season, the junior leads the ACC in receiving yards per game (90.6) and touchdowns (7). For his efforts, Eron Riley is this week's TDD player of the game.
After breaking their 22-game losing streak earlier this season, the Devils have now lost 3 games in a row. Duke has had chances to win each game, but the opponents are just making the extra play necessary to win the football game. This week, Duke had the ball on the Wake forest 40 yard line with less than 4 minutes remaining. They seemed to be in prime position to drive down the field and score the winning touchdown. Instead the offense has 4 straight incomplete passes to give the ball back to Wake. On the subsequent play, the Duke defense was caught napping as Kenny Moore took and reverse handoff 53 yards for the game-clinching score. The Devils responded with a quick TD drive, but were unable to recover the ensuing onsides kick. Once again, the Devils had victory in their grasp, but played just well enough to come up short in the end.
The Duke game plan coming in was to attack Wake early and often through the air. The play-calling seemed to catch the Deacon defense off-guard, but Thad Lewis's accuracy issues prevented the Devils from moving the ball. Wake was able to use Duke's offensive struggles to tilt the field in their favor. Two of Wake's first half scoring drives started inside Duke territory. The home team fell into a big hole and despite a valiant and somewhat dominant late third and fourth quarter performance; Duke was simply not able to overcome the four-score deficit they had incurred with their lackluster play earlier in the game.
The Devils will play their second straight home game this coming weekend, lining up against the Virginia Tech Hokies. The Hokies are coming off an impressive 41-23 victory over Clemson in Death Valley. They won the game by winning the turnover ball and more importantly scoring three non-offensive touchdowns. In true Beamer-ball fashion, the Hokies scored on a punt return, kickoff return, and interception return. The Devils will need to make sure that the Hokies earn every point they score if they are to defeat the Hokies. The Devils might have a little revenge factor coming into this contest on Saturday as well. In last year's contest, the Hokie defense knocked Thad Lewis out of the game early with 3 late hits in the first quarter. The last hit came on a disturbingly late-hit by graduated safety Aaron Rouse. The Blue Devil offensive line will have their hands full with the aggressive Tech defense. If the pass protection can give Lewis time to throw, the Devils will have a chance to exact some scoreboard revenge this weekend.