Every week throughout the football season, the Blue Zone will break down a player on each team who could be the difference-maker in the upcoming contest. In their curtain call at Wallace Wade Stadium, Duke’s seniors look to knock off in-state rival Wake Forest for the second straight year and secure a Tier 1 bowl selection. Here is our Shane Smith's X-Factor for the contest:
Duke: Linebacker Brandon Hill
Coming in to its primetime battle with Clemson, Duke was already short on linebackers. Since star Ben Humphreys suffered a non-contact injury late and is unlikely to play, the Blue Devils will have to rely on Hill, who missed the second half against the Tigers after being ejected on a targeting call. The redshirt sophomore notched three tackles in Death Valley filling in for starter Joe Giles-Harris, but he’ll have to play his best game yet if Duke wants to keep Demon Deacon running back Cade Carney at bay.
Carney missed last year’s matchup in Winston Salem after suffering an injury, but when the two schools squared off his freshman season, the Advance, N.C. native had himself a game with 108 yards and three scores. Carney has found success as a power back and will see most of his action between the tackles, where Hill will have to limit the rushing attack and force Wake Forest to throw the ball, as quarterback Jamie Newman is making just his third career start.
Wake Forest: Cornerback Essang Bassey
To say that the Demon Deacon secondary has had an off year would be an understatement, as they’ve been repeatedly picked apart during ACC play. Wake ranks 126th in the nation in passing defense after allowing Pittsburgh quarterback Kenny Pickett to throw for 316 yards last week. It was the first time Pickett had eclipsed even 200 yards passing for the whole season. There’s a tougher task waiting for Dave Clawson’s squad in Durham, as projected first round pick Daniel Jones will be eager to air the ball out after sticking with quick throws against Clemson. The Demon Deacons will need all members of their secondary to come ready to play, but it will be Bassey that needs to set the tone early.
The Columbus High School product has led the team in passes broken up this season with 13 and is tied for the team lead with one interception. Duke’s receivers this season have had trouble finishing catches when even a little bit of pressure is applied, so Bassey should look to contain the medium passing game but be aware that Jones will air it long. The run defense will likely have problems of their own, but expect a shootout in Wallace Wade, where one big play in the secondary could lead Wake Forest to bowl eligibility.