Although the Blue Devils eventually fell to the sheer strength of Clemson's talent up and down the roster, the Blue Devils' opening quarter against the Tigers showed a defense that, despite numerous injuries, is competent in standing up to some of the best offenses in the nation.
Unfortunately for Duke, that defense looked like it never left South Carolina.
The Blue Devils were blown out 59-7 by Wake Forest on a rainy Senior Day at Wallace Wade Stadium. Aside from displaying one of its worst defensive performances of the season with a total of 517 yards from the Demon Deacons, Duke was absolutely pitiful on offense. Dropped passes, as well as one of the Blue Devils' worst performances on the ground of 2018—against one of the ACC's weakest rushing defenses—characterized Duke's worst defeat since 1990.
"[Wake Forest] won in every area of fight and intensity," head coach David Cutcliffe said. "Our game maxims are important to us as a program, and No. 3 and No. 7 we didn’t live up to. No. 3 is, ‘If at first the game or the breaks go against you, don’t let up, put on more steam.’ We obviously didn't accomplish that. No. 7 is ‘Carry the fight to the opponent and keep it there for 60 minutes.’ We did not accomplish that.... When you lose a game like that after playing as well as we’ve played, I think we all have to recognize the personal responsibility."
From the opening whistle, the Blue Devils looked outmatched.
In the game’s first drive, Wake Forest’s run-heavy attack rammed right through Duke’s significantly weakened defense. The Demon Deacons’ Cade Carney, who ended the afternoon with a monstrous 223 rushing yards absolutely torched the Blue Devil defense, stringing together four solid runs before notching a trip to the end zone.
“He’s a pretty thick guy,” junior linebacker Koby Quansah said of Carney. “He likes to run downhill, he likes to run hard. He’s patient. I think he’s a great back with a lot of patience. He does what he needs to do to get the job done.”
Duke’s first half troubles didn’t end there, as Wake Forest’s Demetrius Kemp knocked the ball out of Deon Jackson’s hands on the Blue Devils’ second drive, setting the Demon Deacons up at the Duke 17. From there, Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman found little resistance on his trip to the end zone, giving his team a 14-point advantage just eight minutes into play.
The Demon Deacons (6-6, 3-5 in the ACC) would find one more touchdown to end the quarter—again propped up by a strong series of plays both on the ground and through the air to which the Blue Devils simply had no answer.
Although the Blue Devils (7-5, 3-5) felt a spark of hope with a strong touchdown drive capped off by a six-yard completion to Deon Jackson early in the second quarter, Duke could not gain any momentum from the play. The next seven drives for both teams would end with early punts as both the Blue Devils and the Demon Deacons stagnated.
“You get that momentum when you score and our defense had the momentum with their own three-and-out, but we kind of crapped the bed a little bit there,” redshirt senior center Zach Harmon said. “We didn’t capitalize on literally anything tonight and that’s why I’m so frustrated. I can’t tell you exactly why but we didn’t have the energy Wake Forest had.”
Unfortunately for Duke, the Blue Devils would suffer a punch to the gut late in the half when Daniel Jones threw a pick-six to Nasir Greer. Wake Forest notched a field goal to close out the half, and Duke faced a daunting 24-point deficit heading into the locker room.
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Wake Forest would notch four more touchdowns against the Blue Devils, as Duke’s defense simply did not have the mileage without senior linebacker and defensive leader Ben Humphreys as well as a bevy of other injured starters.
To make matters worse for the Blue Devils, all hopes for a strong showing from Duke vanished with an uncharacteristically weak performance from Jones. The potential first-round pick in the 2019 NFL Draft completed 17-of-36 passes for a total of 145 yards. Coupled with a completely ineffective run game against one of the weakest rushing defenses in the nation—Wake Forest ranks 99th in the nation in defending the run—Duke only generated 106 yards on the ground and the Blue Devil offense had no hope in digging Duke out of its first-half hole.
The Blue Devils will look to lick their wounds in preparation for their second-straight entry into a bowl game. Duke will find out who its postseason opponent will be Sunday when bowl bids are officially handed out.
“We know just from last year how much that final win, that confidence takes into the bowl season,” Harmon said. “We didn’t get that this year so it’s going to be really difficult, but it’s going to be really important to stick to the little things and do the little things right in this week and a half where we don’t have practice or anything, just kind of get back to Duke football.”