Things will change for one of the two this week — while misery will continue for the other — as the Blue Devils head to Winston-Salem to play the Demon Deacons. At 7-3, Wake is already bowl eligible, while 4-6 Duke can't lose another game if it wants to play in the postseason.
As crossover rivals, the private schools from North Carolina play each other every season. They did not meet up in 1943 or in '66, but have battled every other year since 1921 with the first meeting on record coming in 1889. The Demon Deacons won last season's game in a 59-7 blowout, but Duke has won five of the last seven meetings.
Duke at Wake Forest
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 23 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Wake Forest -7
When Duke Has the Ball
Since scoring 41 points on Georgia Tech on Oct. 12, the Duke offense has slowed to a crawl. The Blue Devils scored 44 total points in the last four games, and perhaps their worst showing of the season was last week when they put up just six points on a Syracuse defense that was giving up 31 points per game. Quarterback Quentin Harris had another rough outing, going 19-of-36 with two interceptions. As his performance has slipped, the Duke losses have piled up.
Harris was also sacked four times, and the running game failed to really click, so there is plenty of blame to be spread amongst the Duke offense. The recent season-ending injury to starting center Jack Wohlabaugh makes matters worse with the offense struggling to find any type of identity. The hope this week will be that Harris can get time to throw so that he can return to his early-season form, especially since the running game has done little since the Georgia Tech game six weeks ago.
Another reason why Duke will throw first in this game is that the Deacs’ pass defense ranks 102nd nationally, giving up 254.2 yards per game. And it has been more than just Trevor Lawrence and Clemson who have lit up Wake. Beyond end Carlos Basham Jr., they don’t put a lot of pressure on the quarterback, and only 15 FBS teams have allowed more passing plays of 10-plus yards than Wake. One thing they have done very well is force interceptions, and no ACC team has thrown the ball to the other team more than Duke.
When Wake Forest Has the Ball
The good news for the Wake Forest offense is that they won’t be playing Virginia Tech or Clemson this week. In both games, the Deacons completed less than 50 percent of their throws and rushed for less than 65 yards. Against Clemson, they totaled just 64 rushing yards and 41 passing yards. Star quarterback Jamie Newman threw four interceptions in the two games and didn’t have a touchdown pass while being sacked nine times.
The expectation is that Newman will rebound against a Duke team that isn’t on the same level right now as Virginia Tech, never mind those monsters in orange. And despite the loss of star receiver Sage Surratt, that is certainly possible. However, the Duke pass defense has been a strength of the team for much of the season. The Devils have allowed a 53.9 percent completion rate, which is good for 13th in the FBS, and are in the top 30 in most of the defensive passing categories.
But the problem for Duke, especially in recent weeks, has been its inability to stop the run. Opponents have rushed for more than 200 yards against Duke in three consecutive games. Granted, in the Notre Dame game, containing the quarterback was the big issue, but Syracuse had two backs top the 100-yard mark. We will see if the combination of Cade Carney, Kenneth Walker III, and Christian Beal-Smith can be a viable part of the Deacons’ offensive attack this week.
There is one big difference between Duke’s recent woes and those of Wake Forest. While the Demon Deacons lost to the two hottest teams in the ACC, the Blue Devils’ four-game losing streak includes a loss to 4-6 North Carolina and a 49-6 drubbing by a Syracuse team that did not have a win over a Power 5 opponent coming in. There are health concerns for Wake Forest with Surrat and Justin Strnad lost for the season and Scotty Washington’s status still up in the air. But those problems pale in comparison to what Duke is dealing with from a mental aspect. They have lost four in a row, been blown out in three of those losses, and now need to beat Wake Forest on the road and suddenly resurgent Miami next week to make the postseason. That’s not going to happen and the bowl hopes will end this week when Wake Forest beats Duke comfortably.
Prediction: Wake Forest 27, Duke 14
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.