WINSTON-SALEM—It was a downpour at BB&T Field.
At first, it was just rain, an omnipresent duo alongside the fall chill in Winston-Salem. Then, it was Jamie Newman, Wake Forest's quarterback. He poked and prodded Duke's defensive line before launching deep bombs. The matchup and bowl game hopes were slipping away from the Blue Devils. They had to go big or go home.
Yet with water, water everywhere, they could only dunk and dink. Duke failed to convert on the vast majority of its deep attempts and the Demon Deacons steamrolled the Blue Devil defense, as Duke fell 39-27 to Wake Forest Saturday evening.
"Defensively, we can’t tackle like that, man," head coach David Cutcliffe said. "That’s how you give up 600 yards. We missed our big long play. People [were] open—[we] didn’t get it done. They hit theirs."
Slick turf altered both teams' game plans, forcing them to take to the ground from the get-go. Duke's offense looked anything but slick in the first half. Blue Devil receivers could not haul in quarterback Quentin Harris' passes, so Duke turned to the run—but that didn't work either. The Blue Devils (4-7, 2-5 in the ACC) totaled just 127 rushing yards, while Wake Forest (8-3, 4-3) notched 334 yards on the ground.
"We practice [rainy conditions] somewhat," Harris said. "Wet ball Sundays, we call them—just kind of practicing handling the wet ball. We felt pretty comfortable in the conditions. I really didn't think it was much of an issue there."
The offense did not accomplish everything it would have liked to, but the special teams unit gave Duke a boost in both halves. Redshirt sophomore Damond Philyaw-Johnson returned a kickoff 97 yards untouched for the Blue Devils’ first score—the first overall touchdown of Philyaw-Johnson’s career. Philyaw-Johnson did it again in the second half, bringing back a kickoff 98 yards for another score.
It's only the second time someone returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in ACC history and a first in Duke history.
"[On the first touchdown,] I saw a pancake block by one of my one of my teammates," Philyaw-Johnson said. "On the second one, I saw another pancake block by Javon Jackson."
Additionally, Duke stymied a Demon Deacon passing offense weakened by the loss of its top two receivers. Newman completed just six of his 12 attempts for 74 yards in the first half. However, he ran for 88 yards over the first two quarters, much of which came from a 42-yard touchdown scamper. Newman ran for more yards than the entire Blue Devil backfield in the first half.
Newman stepped up his domination in the second half, though, gashing Duke through the air and on the ground. A 62-yard bomb to Kendall Hilton scored a touchdown on Wake Forest’s opening drive in the third quarter, while a 57-yard slant route set up the Demon Deacons inside the Blue Devil red zone for another touchdown in the fourth quarter.
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Newman totaled 144 yards on the ground, surprising Duke on quarterback draws and option plays. He was just part of a dominant rushing performance on the part of the Demon Deacons.
"I'm disappointed with them because they fall," Cutcliffe said. "I didn't tell them anything after the game other than [that] I was proud of them for their fight, [but] I feel a burden of responsibility when you don't tackle well and you don't convert third downs.
The loss means the likely death of the Blue Devils’ bowl game hopes. Duke has not missed a bowl game since 2016. While six means is the typical number a team needs to secure bowl eligibility, the Blue Devils could reach a bowl game with a victory next weekend if their Academic Progress Rate beats out most other five-win programs.
Duke’s next game is the last of the season, a home matchup against Miami next Saturday. A positive note might be the best it can hope for.
"We have a great opportunity against Miami at home to send our seniors out on a high note, including myself, but obviously recognize that we still can be in a bowl game if we come out with the win next Saturday," Harris said. "I'm very much looking forward to getting back into the tape seeing what we did wrong, how to correct things and looking to put together a win next week."