Conner Vernon is just six catches from setting a new ACC record for career receptions. Credit: CHUCK LIDDY
Duke at Wake Forest
When: 12:30 p.m.
Where: BB&T Field, Winston-Salem
Line: Wake Forest by 3
TV/Radio: ACC Network/WRAL, WDNC-620 AM, WKIX-102.9 FM
What they’re saying nationally about Duke:
ESPN’s Heather Dinich: The Blue Devils haven’t even played a league game yet, so you can’t count them out of the Coastal Division race, either. So far they’re on track to get to a bowl game, but they’re going to have to show they can win in their conference, too.
CBS Sports’ Sean Bielawski: This is a big game for both teams, but it is a little more meaningful for the Blue Devils. Duke is looking to get back to a bowl game for the first time since 1994. After next week's game against Virginia, the schedule gets considerably tougher in the second half of the season. This might be a must-win for Duke to make it to six wins and bowl eligibility.
Fox Sports South’s Andrew Jones: Duke’s football game Saturday at Wake Forest is the biggest the program has played since Oct. 29, 1994.That afternoon, the 7-0 and 13th-ranked Blue Devils ventured to Tallahassee to play one of 14 consecutive Florida State teams that finished ranked among the top four in the nation. The Seminoles were also the defending national champions. (Duke lost 59-20)
What they’re saying nationally about Wake Forest:
Dinich: The Deacs got into a shootout with Army, but they also got their ground game going in the 49-37 win. The next task will be to hold off a hungry Duke team trying to snap a 12-game losing streak against Wake Forest. The Deacs will need to find some defense this week.
More from Dinich: No Jim Grobe-coached Wake team has lost to Duke. It is the second-longest winning streak in a current ACC series. (Duke is 0-17 against FSU)
Key Player for the opposition:
WR Michael Campanero
Wake Forest’s go-to receiver currently leads the ACC in receptions, with 36, and has collected 421 yards and three touchdowns.
“He’s a dangerous guy,” Duke head coach David Cutcliffe said. “Whether he catches a screen or catches the ball across the middle, he’s such a good runner with the ball, like Conner (Vernon) is, they can turn something ordinary into something special. That’s the biggest thing, you better tackle well if you’re going to tackle him in space.”
Campanero, who was the second receiver behind Duke-killer Chris Givens last season, immediately asserted himself as the new No. 1 this year. In the Demon Deacon’s opening win against Liberty, Campanero set a new career-high with 10 catches. In the following week’s 28-27 upset of North Carolina, the slot receiver upped that mark, catching 13 passes for a career-high 164 yards.
At 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, Campanero scared away some teams when coming out of high school with his lack of size. Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said that was never an issue.
“He's not a really tall kid,” he said. “He's put together really well.”
With their 3-4 base formation, the Demon Deacons rely heavily on their nose guard. Nikita Whitlock was a second-team all-ACC pick last season, but he has missed the last two games with a high ankle sprain. All signs indicate that he will play on Saturday, and Duke has been preparing for his return. Harris, a true freshman, would start in Whitlock’s absence.
For Duke center Brian Moore, Whitlock presents a much different challenge than he faced last week with Memphis, which had a nearly 300-pound nose tackle to block. Whitlock, at 260 pounds, relies more on speed than girth.
QB Sean Renfree vs. Wake Forest secondary, including cornerbacks Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel
Wake Forest’s defense has struggled this year. The Demon Deacons are ranked 90th in scoring defense, yielding 33 points per game, and 103rd out of 120 FBS teams in total defense. Sure, stopping Florida State or Army’s triple-option attack are tough tasks, but Duke’s offense has an opportunity to take advantage of a weaker unit. And for the Blue Devils to be successful, Sean Renfree must make good decisions and go through his progressions to find the open man. Conner Vernon, Desmond Scott and Jamison Crowder provide him a trio of options.
Turnovers (both interceptions) for Wake Forest this season, the fewest in the ACC. The Demon Deacon’s +4 turnover ration ranks second in the league. Duke which turned the ball over four times last week, ranks 10th.
Straight victories for Wake Forest, dating back to 1999
Times the streak has been mentioned this week
While the Blue Devils have been largely politically correct this week, saying it’s a big game because it’s a conference game, there is a bit of rivalry flair in the air. And, of course, everyone is aware of the fact that the Demon Deacons have won 12 straight, with three of the past four games coming down to, essentially, one big play (or kicking game error for Duke).
“There’s no question this game hasn’t come out the way we would have liked it over the past few years” Cutcliffe said. “A lot of guys have played in the last three in this team. A few of them were around for the first one.”
Earlier this week, running back Juwan Thompson said everyone, even alumni, want to win this game. Former quarterbacks Thaddues Lewis for Duke and Riley Skinner for Wake Forest went back and forth on Twitter, with Lewis saying the 13th time is the charm.
Current graduate assistant Re’quan Boyette, who played at Duke from 2005-2009, said he considers the Wake Forest game bigger than the UNC game.
“Those games are wins we’re supposed to have,” he said.
Tweet of the week:
“Man ima stop sugar coating my talks this week and go ahead and b real. Man I HATE WAKE!!! #dukegang #wecommin” —backup QB Anthony Boone
ESPN’s Heather Dinich: Duke 35, Wake Forest 24
CBS Sports’ Shawn Krest: Duke 28, Wake Forest 24
Before we get to the game itself, a declaration: the team that wins this game will go to a bowl game.
That’s not a huge leap of faith from the Wake Forest perspective, as games against Maryland, Virginia and Boston College remain. For Duke, though, win this game, have good vibes heading into the Virginia matchup next week, and then find a way to get one more win.
By all accounts, the Wake Forest defense is ripe to be exposed. But what happens if Duke can’t generate any forward progress in the running game? And what if the offense fumbles two exchanges and Sean Renfree throws an interception? And what if the Blue Devils pay homage to the ghosts of Wake games past and either botch an extra point attempt (like they’ve done twice this year), muff a punt or miss a field goal? One thing is certain: Wake Forest will not beat itself.
On the flip side, what if the Blue Devils play turnover free and the 2nd-half defense from Memphis shows up? Well, in that case, Duke wins with no last-second heroics needed.
Duke has been a slow starting team this season, with the three early turnovers against Memphis and the punt return against Stanford coming to mind. Another slow start would force a furious comeback attempt (just like last year) and set the stage for history to repeat itself with a down-to-the-wire finish. In that case:
Wake Forest 21, Duke 20