In anticipation of Duke football's first game since a 48-0 loss to Virginia and subsequent bye week, the Blue Zone brings some film analysis to preview its upcoming trip to Winston-Salem, N.C., to take on Wake Forest:
Coming out of a bye week to face the ACC’s last unbeaten team in No. 13 Wake Forest, the Blue Devils have quite the challenge awaiting them Saturday on the road. There’s little margin for error, however, as Duke is still seeking its first conference win after dropping its third straight contest last time out.
Duke’s most recent torment came at the hands of Virginia, as Brennan Armstrong, the FBS leader in passing yards, torched the Blue Devils in the rain en route to a sound 48-0 victory. It would seem that head coach David Cutcliffe’s team would not have to face such a talented, imposing passer every week, but it looks as if they will have to wait a bit longer: Demon Deacons quarterback Sam Hartman has taken a huge step forward in his redshirt sophomore season and is now a consensus choice among the ACC’s best at the position.
Hartman, whose collegiate career was delayed due to injury, has truly come into his own during Wake Forest’s 7-0 start. The Charlotte native tossed for a career-high 458 yards to go along with six total touchdowns in his team’s 70-56 triumph over Army Saturday, piloting the Wake Forest offense to a prolific day. Hartman excels at so much on the football field, but his poise and accuracy regularly seem to elevate him above the competition. Watch how comfortable Hartman looks on this play, shuffling forward in a collapsing pocket to throw this strike into traffic for an effortless completion:
Hartman will surely be a challenge for the Blue Devils, but the Wake Forest offense as a whole poses a unique obstacle to a struggling defensive unit. The Demon Deacons were hyper-efficient Saturday, scoring ten touchdowns in just 17 total minutes of possession. The pace of play shouldn’t faze the Blue Devils too much—Cutcliffe noted in his Monday presser that Duke’s own fast-paced offense has the defense well-prepared—but Hartman and Wake Forest’s propensity for explosive plays might. Hartman is tied for the FBS lead in touchdown passes of 30 or more yards, and it shows. Take a look at this well-timed scoring toss against the Black Knights:
Unfortunately for Duke, one of the team’s main defensive vulnerabilities has been in the big-play department. The Blue Devils have struggled in the secondary all season long, ranking dead-last in the ACC in passing defense as opposing receivers have had their way deep in the third level. The best example of this perhaps comes from Duke’s season opener at Charlotte, where 49ers wideout Grant DuBois broke through a pair of Blue Devil defensive backs for a long score:
Containing Wake Forest’s explosive tendencies will no doubt be a point of emphasis for the Blue Devils come Saturday, as it should be. Whether they are successful in doing so should go a long way towards establishing if the road team can be competitive against the heavily-favored Demon Deacons.
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Jonathan Levitan is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.