A late-season matchup with Wake Forest is all that stands between Duke and an already-achieved postseason bowl appearance.

So how much does this game matter? More than you would think. 

Plenty is on the line Saturday when the Blue Devils make the short trip to Winston-Salem, N.C., to face the Demon Deacons at 12:30 p.m. at BB&T Field. With a win, Duke can ensure a winning season and improve its standing ahead of bowl selections. More importantly, the Blue Devils want to prove that they are still hungry with a win this weekend. 

“You can’t get complacent and say now that we have six wins we can let the season go,” center Matt Skura said. “I don’t think we have done that this year at all. We want to strive for more and understand that we are a better team than how we are playing. To get that seventh win is huge."

A seventh win is especially important when looking at where the Blue Devils will play in their postseason bowl game. A victory against the Demon Deacons Saturday could make Duke (6-5, 3-4 in the ACC)  an attractive selection for the Military Bowl or the Pinstripe Bowl, which are closer to the program’s East Coast fan base. A loss could result in a trip to other ACC bowl tie-ins such as the Independence Bowl in Shreveport, La., or the Quick Lane Bowl in Detroit.

During a four-game losing streak in which seemingly nothing has gone right for the Blue Devils, coaches and team leaders are doing everything they can to lead the squad back to its winning ways in the regular season finale. Skura called a players-only meeting, noting that he challenged the squad’s seniors to cement their legacy with a victory.

“This is our one last chance to be together as a team before we go to a bowl game,” he said. “Seniors have to think about what our legacy is going to be, leaving a place better than we found it.”

But at least one of those critical leaders will be absent from the field of play during the first half against Wake Forest. All-America strike safety Jeremy Cash—who is expected to be high round pick in April’s NFL Draft—will miss the opening half after being called for targeting on quarterback Matt Johns in last weekend’s 42-34 loss to Virginia.

Redshirt junior Corbin McCarthy—who has four starts and plenty of playing time under his belt—will slide into Cash's starting role Saturday, and redshirt sophomore Phillip Carter will also see action in the first half.

A struggling Blue Devil defense is surely going to miss Cash’s presence in the first half.  After giving up just 56 points during a six-game span in which Duke went 5-1, defensive coordinator Jim Knowles’ defense has allowed 212 points in the last five contests, only one of which was a Blue Devil win.

The secondary, with or without Cash continues to be a cause for concern. Johns had a career day against the Blue Devils in Charlottesville, throwing for 344 yards and two touchdowns. This week, the defense will face a less explosive but very capable quarterback in John Wolford. Although the Jacksonville, Fla., native was hampered by a nagging ankle injury earlier in the season, he has still managed to throw for 1,453 yards and seven touchdowns.

Wolford will look to spark a Wake Forest offense that has struggled this season, especially on the ground where it only averages 104.5 yards per game. The Demon Deacons (3-8, 1-6) only score 17.1 points per contest, a reflection of their inability to move the ball on the ground and reliance on the passing game. 

Despite the numbers, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe is not taking Wake Forest lightly, as the Demon Deacons will come out with a similar edge to the Blue Devils, trying to end their current five-game losing streak. 

“They are well taught in every phase,” Cutcliffe said. “They know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it, typical of a Dave Clawson-coached team.”

Another question for Duke is who will play quarterback Saturday in Winston-Salem. Redshirt junior Thomas Sirk has been the clear-cut starter for most of the season, but has been plagued by an upper body injury he suffered in a 66-31 loss to North Carolina Nov. 7. Redshirt sophomore Parker Boehme started the team’s next game against Pittsburgh, but Sirk returned Saturday against Virginia.

The Glen Saint Mary, Fla., native struggled to get the offense going against the Cavaliers, turning the ball over and missing deep throws. Boehme came in during the second half and nearly erased a 22-point deficit.

Cutcliffe said he expects to see both quarterbacks play this week if Sirk, who is still dealing with the upper body injury, is healthy enough to play. Because both signal-callers have similar playing styles, the offense does not have make major adjustments based on who is in the game.

Whoever is under center Saturday for Duke will face a tough Wake Forest pass defense that is ranked 33rd in the nation, allowing 195.5 yards per game. Junior defensive back Brad Watson leads the secondary with two interceptions and 10 pass breakups. 

“Both of them are playing pretty well,” Cutcliffe said of his quarterbacks. “You are going to see Parker play. I do believe that there [are] times when you go with a hot hand.” 

Regardless of the quarterback situation, the sense of urgency will be high for the Blue Devils on Saturday. Duke does not have a lot of momentum on its side right now, but a win would carry some positive momentum into postseason practices instead of leaving a sour taste in the Blue Devils’ mouths for almost a month until bowl season begins.

“You come down to November, these are games to remember,” Cutcliffe said.