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Five observations from Duke football's first half against Wake Forest

Wake Forest dominated Duke in every phase of the game during the first half.
Wake Forest dominated Duke in every phase of the game during the first half.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C.—Undefeated No. 13 Wake Forest came out of the gates fast, taking a 28-0 lead to halftime. Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman flexed his muscles and showed off all of his skills, including big plays on the ground. We have five observations and more from the first half:

Five observations:

Sam Hartman’s deep corps of receivers prevails: Within 91 seconds, Wake Forest’s offense drove 75 yards down the field and capped off the productive drive with a 38-yard touchdown connection between the redshirt sophomore quarterback and his favorite receiver. Jaquarii Roberson tallied 179 yards in the Demon Deacons’ offensive explosion last week, and he looks primed for another big afternoon. But it was AT Perry, Ke’Shawn Williams and Donald Stewart who starred in the first half, hauling in seemingly every pass thrown their way. The Demon Deacons found its receivers—open or not—for first downs and some. Hartman stands at 255 yards on 17-of-28 passing thus far.

Falling behind: After the first-drive score for the Demon Deacons, Duke went down to start the game for the fourth straight week—with the Blue Devils falling in each of the three. Additionally, in each of those games, Duke has fallen behind at least 14-0, setting up long afternoons and big holes for the Blue Devil offense to dig out of. Duke has notably struggled when behind, having not assembled bigger than a seven-point comeback to win a game this season. Wake Forest is not a team Duke could afford to fall behind to, as the high-flying offense can and will really pile it on.

Holmberg off beat: After his worst performance of the year against Virginia, in which he only passed for 134 yards and was picked off twice, the graduate student looked to be pushing the offense down the field until he left with a hand injury. Freshman Riley Leonard entered the game for two plays, and Holmberg re-entered for the next offensive drive. He made a few pinpoint throws to Jarret Garner and Jake Bobo to advance the ball, but two fourth down throws proved futile as Duke failed to score. The rhythm that got Duke to the opposing side of the field was all but lost by halftime. Despite playmaking support from running back Mataeo Durant, Holmberg only manufactured a mediocre 6-of-12, 91-yard half.

No defensive pressure: Hartman has been able to succeed in throwing the ball in part due to the time he has had with little pressure coming his way. He has only been sacked nine times in the Deacons’ seven games this year, and the Wake Forest offensive line has continued to stand tall against the Duke front. From the Duke 26-yard line, with the pocket collapsing, Hartman still found a way out and instead of finding a receiver, he darted through a porous Blue Devil defense for a score. Hartman found the end zone with his legs to make it 21-0 as part of his monster half. The Blue Devils have, simply put, no answers for the Wake offense.

Ball security: It seemed obvious that Duke needed to hold onto the ball and run some clock, as Wake Forest was up 21-0 after shoving another dagger to the backs of the Blue Devils. Although Holmberg hasn’t gotten into trouble himself, it was Mataeo Durant who added to his fumble parade when he was stripped after a huge run. Just 2:07 after the fumble, Hartman had another touchdown in the books. Just goes to show how important the fundamentals are.

By the numbers:

  1. 72 rushing yards for Hartman: The pass-heavy offense found a hole and exploited it for the first 30 minutes. He has had all day to make decisions in the pocket, and has dashed out of it with tremendous speed no one on the Duke defense could contain. His two scores on the ground have been nails in the coffin to the Blue Devils’ already-struggling defense.
  2. 103 yards for Durant: Mataeo Durant capped off another high-volume half in which he eclipsed the century mark for the fifth time this season. But even though he ran the length of a football field and some during the half, Duke still couldn’t change the number on the scoreboard off of a glaring zero.
  3. Five Wake Forest receivers with over 30 yards: It’s been a different number called each play for Wake Forest, and with Duke’s slim secondary, the Blue Devils have been no match for a group of playmaking receivers—resembling its poor showing matching up against Virginia’s wideouts two weeks ago.

A play that mattered:

Down 14-0 and in need of a stop, the Blue Devils found themselves defending a third-and-three, Hartman found himself stepping out of the pocket looking for a receiver deep. Instead, having already shown off his speed, he took off to the right and dashed through open turf to the Duke six-yard line prior to punching in the Demon Deacons’ third score of the game. Even a sneak peek at his rushing ability wasn’t enough for Duke to set up a contain on the star quarterback, making for an even larger deficit.


Micah Hurewitz | Sports Managing Editor

Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity junior and a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.


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