The reason for the team's three losses can be found on the offensive side of the ball. In the Deacs' four victories the team is averaging 23.8 points per contest. In the three losses - the team has put up just 9.0 points. Wake has won eight straight meetings between the two programs, but it's the Blue Devils who still enjoy a comfortable series lead at 55-33-2.
When Wake Has The Ball:
The question surrounding the Deacons last weekend at Miami was "Is Riley Skinner hurt?". If the All-conference claiber quarterback wasn't hurt, there was something wrong on the offensive side of the ball because the Deacons ran the ball a staggering 52 times in 60 snaps.
As with any well-coached team, the Deacons make their living by controlling the football and being opportunistic when it comes to turnovers. Currently Wake Forest ranks ninth in the country in turnover margin (+1.14 per game) - recovering 10 fumbles and grabbing 10 interceptions against just 12 giveaways on offense. Of those 12 turnovers - four were interceptions - all which came in Wake Forest's 24-17 loss to Navy.
To say Skinner has to play well for Wake Forest to return to the top of the league is an understatement. He has posted a record of 22-9 including a 15-3 mark when he fails to throw an interception. And those interceptions haven't come often with the kind of accuracy the fourht year junior has demostrated in the past few seasons. It continues this year where despite the eight pass attempts against Miami, Skinner still leads the conference in passing percentage - completing 141-of-220 passes (64.1 percent).
The running game, which got so much use a week ago, has also been solid for the Deacons led by one time Duke commitment Josh Adams. Against Miami's vaunted defense Adams recorded the fourth 100 yard rushing performance of his career (21 carries for 111 yards).
Overall the offensive unit has its share of all-conference performers. The Deacons had three players - Skinner, WR D.J. Boldin, and TE Ben Wooster - names to the midseason all-ACC team. Boldin has emerged as the program's playmaking receiver in 2008 and ranks second in the conference in receptions per game (5.6/game) with 39 on the season.
Perhaps no team is as reliant on the ability of their kicker as the Deacons are. Sam Swank, a surefire NFL draft pick in June, is listed as questionable with a strained right quadricep muscle that held him out of each of the last three games. Swank has hit 70 career field goals over the course of his career and was the national leader in field goals per game at 2.5 per contest. For his career Swank has converted 70 of 89 field goal attempts while never missing a PAT (perfect in all 116 attempts). In addition to being the nation's best kicker, Swank has also handled the punting (37.6 yards per punt) and kickoff duties (65.0 yards per kick and seven touchbacks) for the Deacons.
When Wake Is On Defense:
With an offense that has been inconsistent hampering them, the Deacons have continued to be extremely strong on defense. Currently Wake Forest ranks sixth in the ACC in total defense and 19th in the country in scoring defense allowing just 16.7 points per game this season. As noted above the team makes a living off of creating turnovers - having created 20 in seven games. Of the 122 points the team has scored this year - 44 have come off of turnovers.
Defensive back Alphonso Smith has been a big part of that success- defending 16 passes in seven games while logging three interceptions. For his career Smith has recorded 17 picks - good enough to tie the program's all-time mark and for third place in the conference's all-time interception totals. Fellow cornerback Brandon Ghee will return to the field after missing the Miami game with a bum ankle. FS Chip Vaughn is the team's top returning tackler from 2007 (39 in 2008) while Kevin Patterson is in the top 10 in passes defended this season.
The linebackers are led by SAM Aaron Curry who ranks 9th in the league with 8.0 stops per game. On the season he leads the team with 56 stops and eight tackles for loss. Over the last two games, however, it has been MLB Stanley Arnoux who has led the team in tackles.
Up front the Deacons have a good amount of experience in the starting defensive line. No player on the line has fewer than four years experience in program Nose guard Boo Robinson leads the program with 22 tackles on the season while defensive end Matt Robinson is coming off a very big week against Maryland in which he forced a fumble and made four stops.
The Blue Devils have shown the ability to match up and play with Wake Forest over the past several years. However, as some analysts observed, the cavernous differences in the team's respective coaching staffs was the differnce. Based on the first seven games of 2008, the Blue Devils have completely closed that gap. In years past Duke has been able to throw the ball against Wake, and will need to be able to do that again on Saturday. As always it starts with the offensive line doing enough to give Thaddeus Lewis time to check down. Defensively expect to see the Deacons test the Duke defensive backfield where the Blue Devils are down to just two healthy cornerbacks. Last week we predicted that Vanderbilt would win and that worked out well. A lot will depend on the availability of Swank who assures his team points whenever they make it to the opponents' 30 yard line. If he can't go, Duke is going to make this interesting.
Predicted Final Score:
Duke - 17 Wake Forest - 20