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Extra point vs. Wake Forest: Duke football loses fifth straight, jeopardizes bowl game eligibility

Damond Philyaw-Johnson returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, just the 25th occurrence of the feat in NCAA history
Damond Philyaw-Johnson returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, just the 25th occurrence of the feat in NCAA history

By sweeping its three main instate rivals—Duke, N.C. State and North Carolina—this season, Wake Forest won the Big Four title for the first time since 2007 in its 100th matchup against the Blue Devils. In the 39-27 loss, Duke likely lost its chance of playing in a third consecutive bowl game. The Blue Zone gives three key takeaways, stats and looks forward for the Blue Devils:

Three key takeaways:

1. History repeats itself

On Nov. 24, 2018, Wake Forest defeated Duke in an ugly contest with a final score of 59-7. On Nov. 23, 2019, the Demon Deacons once again defeated the Blue Devils, this time by a score of 39-27. Don’t be fooled by the second score, though—the game was not as close as it indicates. Two of Duke’s touchdowns on Saturday can be accredited to the special teams unit, specifically Damond Philyaw-Johnson. Nevertheless, both matchups exposed the weaknesses of Duke’s offense at the hands of the Wake Forest defense. The Blue Devils will hope the wrongs can be righted in time for next year’s matchup between the two teams.

2. Duke defense is keeping the ship afloat

How many times have we seen the Blue Devils go three-and-out this season? In the past five games? Against Wake Forest? It’s an important question to ask because three-and-outs are capable of hurting defenses more than opposing teams can. Oftentimes, a three-and-out implies the offense was unable to gain 10 yards, which means that the opposing team will receive a punt already in good field position. This puts the defense in a tough situation. 

Additionally, three-and-outs usually happen in the span of a minute or two, which means that defenses are staying on the field for long periods of time, accumulating fatigue. Neither of these scenarios are even close to ideal, and it happens to the Duke defense often. The Blue Devils were somehow able to come up with three sacks and seven tackles for loss in the game. One can only imagine how those numbers would look if the defense was well-rested and not constantly under pressure.

3. Duke football won’t go bowling

It’s rare to see a five-win team play in a bowl game. It’s really rare to see a five-win team play in a bowl game despite being an FBS team for decades. It’s extremely rare to see a five-win team play in a bowl game despite being an FBS team for decades and playing an FCS team during the regular season. Keep in mind this is Duke’s best-case scenario for this season, with a win against Miami being a prerequisite. The only thing the Blue Devils have going for them is their Academic Progress Rate (APR), of which they rank third in the nation. Not-so-fun fact: the APR is the very last consideration when selecting teams to play in bowl games.

Three key stats:

1. Damond Philyaw-Johnson with 251 kick return yards

The brightest parts of Duke’s performance today were Damond Philyaw-Johnson’s electric kick returns. The redshirt sophomore specialist took two kickoffs to the house (a Duke record), and averaged just over 50 yards per return. His only crime was not demanding to be utilized on offense.

2. Duke: 290 yards of offense. Jamie Newman: 428 yards of offense

The Blue Devils could not contain Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman. The redshirt junior outpassed and outran the Duke offense, with 284 yards through the air and 144 yards on the ground. The rain did not seem to be an issue for Newman, who was able to make accurate passes and run the ball without turning it over. 

3. Duke: 290 total yards. Wake Forest: 618 total yards.

Allow me to reframe the previous stat to give you the full picture. Wake Forest had over double the yards, double the number of first downs and just under double the time of possession Duke had. Saturday’s game was basically just two Demon Deacons playing Monkey in the Middle with a Blue Devil. After the game, Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson stated that had the Demon Deacons covered well on special teams, the game wouldn’t have been as close as it was. We agree, Dave. We agree.

Looking forward:

Duke will play its Senior Day game against Miami (FL) next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The contest will likely be the seniors’ last game as Blue Devils. A win at Wallace Wade Stadium to end the season would be a pleasant send-off to the veteran Duke players.