Devils Illustrated sizes up the matchup with Wake Forest position by position. Who comes out on top in the final analysis?
Here's our rundown:
Even the best soothsayer may not be able to predict with any accuracy what will happen at this position. Wake Forest redshirt freshman Riley Skinner will get his first start of the season after Ben Mauk injured his arm against Syracuse last Saturday. Skinner probably won't be asked to do too much for an offense that relies mostly on the run, but he certainly isn't immune to the risks that come with playing a young quarterback. Duke coach Ted Roof has not announced who will start at quarterback for the Blue Devils, but it would surprise nobody if he turned to true freshman Thaddeus Lewis over Marcus Jones. Whoever starts the game for Duke will likely have more responsibility on his shoulders than Skinner will have operating the Deacs' offense. That gives Wake Forest a tiny edge at this very unpredictable position.
EDGE: Slight Wake Forest
Roof could only shake his head at his press conference earlier this week when asked about the health of running backs Justin Boyle and Ronnie Drummer. The thought entering the 2006 season was that Duke was deep at running back and equipped to go through all the bumps and bruises that would come during the season. Roof sounded like all that talk might have jinxed his team. "Next year don't anybody ask me any questions about depth at certain positions," Roof said. "I'm not doing that next year. I don't care what you guys ask me, I'm not doing it. I'm not going there." If Drummer and Boyle can't play against Wake, a scenario Roof has admitted this week is likely, then the Blue Devils are certainly shorthanded. Without those two, Duke loses its best power back (Boyle) and its best big play threat (Drummer). What's left is a couple of serviceable backs in Requan Boyette and Clifford Harris, but neither has shown an ability to carry the ball 15 to 20 times a game. On the other side of the ball, Wake has Micah Andrews and De'Angelo Bryant, two strong runners who combined for more than 200 yards against Syracuse. Duke can't match that proven production.
EDGE: Large Wake Forest
Like most positions, Wake Forest has a significant experience edge at wideout, with its top four pass catchers all at least redshirt juniors. Against Syracuse, the passing attack wasn't needed very much. Mauk threw for 105 yards until he got hurt. When Skinner entered the game, he threw only one pass the rest of the way. Willie Idlette and Kenneth Moore will likely start the game split wide. Duke counters with some good weapons of its own but neither Jomar Wright or Eron Riley got on track last week against Richmond. Wright made seven catches but none were for big yardage and his first quarter fumble stands out like a sore thumb. Were it not for Raphael Chestnut's seven catch effort, there would have been nothing to be excited about at all. From a strictly talent standpoint, this position battle is probably pretty even. However, the veterans on the field for Wake Forest and the slow start to the season for Wright and Riley give a small edge to the Deacs.
EDGE: Slight Wake Forest
Wake Forest has made a habit out of gashing Duke's defense up front with a talented, experienced, and big offensive line. The Deacs will try to do the same again this year with a line anchored by fifth year senior right tackle Steve Vallos. The only player who hasn't been in the program for at least three years is right guard Chris DeGeare. Considering he is 6-4, 360 though, he's not exactly a weak link. Duke's line had a predictably tough time against Richmond, struggling to protect the passer and open consistent running lanes. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the scales of this matchup tip decidedly in Wake's favor.
EDGE: Large Wake Forest
Defensive end Bryan Andrews had a terrific season opener against Syracuse, recording a pair of sacks. He was joined by the rest of his linemates in shutting down punchless Syracuse, who managed just three yards per carry on the ground and had no passing attack at all. However, Wake Forest will still be missing injured defensive end Matt Robinson, a potential game breaker who also sat out the Syracuse game. This is one area where Duke isn't too much outmatched in the experience department. Wake Forest will start two juniors and two seniors up front, but Duke has some veterans of its own in Eli Nichols, Casey Camero, and Patrick Bailey. While Vince Oghobaase may only be a redshirt freshman, he sure doesn't play like one. If both lines stay healthy throughout the game, this will probably be a pretty close battle.
Duke's linebackers had a solid opening game, with Mike Tauiliili and Jeramy Edwards playing very well and Codey Lowe had six tackles of his own. However, the unit's mediocre side to side speed hurt them some on outside runs against Richmond. Wake Forest has its own version of Tauiliili in the middle, junior Jon Abbate. Abbate's presence in the middle gives the defense a rock to back up the front four against the run. Stanley Arnoux and Aaron Curry provide excellent balance as both are strong in pass coverage but big enough to be effective against the run as well. Wake has a bit more speed at this position, but other than that, Duke's linebackers will match up quite well.
EDGE: Slight Wake Forest
Both teams got off to strong starts against the pass, allowing less than 50 percent completion percentage. Duke's secondary will have to be aware of a lot more than just the pass this week though. Wake Forest makes opposing defensive backs make tackles against the run, and it's definitely possible Duke will creep a safety into the box to try and slow the ground game. The Devils would love to get a big play from cornerback John Talley when the Deacs throw the ball. A defensive score would give Duke the kind of shot in the arm it needs to fully put last week's loss behind them. Wake is solid at all four positions, particularly at safety where fifth year seniors Josh Gattis and Patrick Ghee have 44 career starts between them. Both teams have a lot to like about its secondary.
Duke was a disaster in special teams last week. That has been well documented on this site already and needs no more repeating. Not only does Duke need to kick the ball better, it also could use a big play out of its return units. A big kick or punt return may be mandatory if Duke wants to win the battle on special teams, because Wake Forest do everything kicker Sam Swank will probably be a key weapon for the Deacs. One of only eight kickers in division 1-A to handle punts, field goals, and kickoffs, Swank got off to a good start last week. Joe Surgan is certainly a talented kicker, but he didn't show it last week, and punter Alex Feinberg has to be more productive. Duke can hold its own with an improved performance, but the Devils will have to prove they are up to that challenge when the game kicks off.
EDGE: Medium Wake Forest
Duke's run defense will hold up much better than it did year ago, but Wake Forest will put some points up on the board because the Deacs take care of the ball and stick to a game plan that has been proven effective over time. Does Duke's offense have enough firepower to keep the Devils within striking distance? Based on last week, the answer is no. We expect a game effort from the Devils and a better offensive output, but beating Wake on the road is just too much to ask.