Winston-Salem, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - Riding a six-game win streak, the surprising Duke Blue Devils set their sights on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, as they make the short trip to Winston-Salem for an ACC showdown at BB&T Field.
David Cutcliffe has been steadily building a program to be proud of in Durham, and this year the Blue Devils have delivered in a big way. With a 48-30 upset of nationally-ranked Miami-Florida a week ago at home, Duke moved to 8-2 overall and 4-2 in conference play, good for sole possession of first place atop the Coastal Division standings. With the win, the now 25th-ranked Blue Devils earned a spot in the Top 25 for the first time since 1994. Bowl eligible for the second straight season, Duke's six-game win streak is also its longest since 1994.
"This is a process," said Cutcliffe after the win against Miami. "I think we have enough veterans in the right places. The way they practice and you practice over four or five years like this. Getting better as practice goes on is one of the principles I believe in strongly as a coach. You finish at the highest level that you can find. You do that and you do it every day for so long and this particular team bought into it quickly in spring practice. I really feel like this team understands what it takes to play four quarters. We have to continue that because to be quite frank with you we're not good enough physically to not play that way. That's what we have to do."
Jim Grobe's Demon Deacons were never really a threat in the ACC this season, as they close out their conference slate with this game. Wake Forest, which was idle this past weekend, has dropped three straight games, including a humbling 59-3 rout at the hands of Florida State last time out. With the loss, Wake fell to 4-6 overall and 2-5 in league play.
These two local rivals are meeting for the 94th time since the series' inception in 1889. Duke leads the all-time series 54-37-2 and snapped a 12- game loosing streak to the Demon Deacons with last year's 34-27 win.
Someone different has stepped up every game this season to make plays that have helped Duke's cause. Last weekend it was quarterback Brandon Connette, who matched a school record with four rushing touchdowns and in the process, became the school's all-time leader in the category (29). He also threw a touchdown pass in the win. Connette and Anthony Boone have shared time under center and both have been effective, completing over 62 percent of their passes each, while combining for well over 2,300 yards and 18 touchdowns. Connette obviously adds a dual-threat component in this offense, ranking third on the team in rushing (320) yards and first in TD runs (12).
Running the football effectively has taken Duke to new heights this season. The Blue Devils are netting 185.1 yards per game on the ground, with Jela Duncan (485 yards, 5.3 ypc, 3 TDs) and Josh Snead (480 yards. 7.1 ypc) leading the way.
Duke also has the luxury of one of the ACC's top receivers when the team does get vertical. Junior wideout Jamison Crowder has hauled in 73 balls, for 956 yards and three TDs this year and is averaging 95.6 yards per game.
The Blue Devils have raised their level of play on defense as well this season and are no longer a doormat for the offensive juggernauts in the ACC. The team is allowing just 23.0 ppg this year. Duke has recorded 19 takeaways on the season, including 13 interceptions.
Junior linebacker David Helton leads the defense with 97 total tackles. Sophomore safety Jeremy Cash is a close second with 91 stops, including 7.5 TFL, while leading the team with four interceptions. Other playmakers include junior linebacker Kelby Brown (88 tackles, 8.5 TFL, one sack, one INT, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery) and senior defensive end Kenny Anunike (57 tackles, 11.0 TFL, 4.0 sacks).
Wake Forest has struggled with consistency on the offensive side of the ball and really took a hit in terms of talent, when All-ACC wide receiver Michael Campanaro was lost to injury. He is the school's all-time leader in career receptions (229) and was having another terrific season before suffering a broken collarbone which has him sidelined indefinitely.
Quarterback Tanner Price has scrambled to find an adequate replacement in the passing game, but one doesn't exist. Price has completed just 55.8 percent of his passes on the year, for 1,954 yards, with 12 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Campanaro's 67 receptions lead the team by a large margin, as the next most productive receiver has just 17 receptions.
Grobe knows the offense has had a tough time without Campanaro.
"We've probably thinned things out a little bit, we're not asking those guys to do as much maybe as we would have. I think the difference is now, there's not really a go-to guy in that group. It's a group of good kids that want to play well, and we've got to do a better job distributing the football. Tanner (Price) has to get comfortable doing that. Back in the day you kind of had a feeling on the snap (and) get it to (Campanaro), that comfort zone is broken right now so you got to get used to reading things out a little bit better and maybe not forcing balls. In the past we tried to get things into Campanaro, and that's not possible now so we've got to be more balanced."
Tailback Josh Harris leads a stagnant ground game with 368 yards (3.7 ypc). The Demon Deacons are only averaging 89.5 yards per game rushing, ranking a woeful 117th nationally. The team is also 117th in total offense (297.4 ypg) and 114th in scoring (17.8 ppg).
While the Wake Forest offense has been awful for the most part, the defense, with the exception of the Florida State game, has kept games competitive. The Demon Deacons are only allowing 23.8 ppg on the year, holding foes to 361.3 yards of total offense.
Redshirt freshman safety Ryan Janvion (74 tackles, 2.5 TFL, one INT and one fumble recovery) and sophomore linebacker Brandon Chubb (70 tackles, 1.5 TFL, one INT) have been active defenders, but the crown jewel of the Wake defense is All-American candidate Nikita Whitlock. The veteran nose tackle lacks prototypical size (5-10, 250), but has been unblockable, making 65 stops, with team-highs in TFL (16.5) and sacks (8.5).