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Scouting the opponent: Wake Forest's high-flying offense presents challenge for Duke football on Senior Day

What is Duke football up against in its regular-season finale against Wake Forest?
What is Duke football up against in its regular-season finale against Wake Forest?

Last Saturday was a rough one for Duke. The Blue Devils struggled to convert on the several chances they had to pull ahead of Pittsburgh, and as a result lost a winnable game by a two-point margin to the Panthers. This week, Duke will return to Wallace Wade Stadium for Senior Day to take on Wake Forest in the regular-season finale. The Demon Deacons have been a strong team all year, so let’s see what they will have in store for Duke when they come to Durham Saturday.

The main offensive weapon for Wake Forest all year has been redshirt junior quarterback Sam Hartman, who, while not being an especially significant threat with his legs, has been an excellent passer this year. Hartman has averaged 304.7 yards through the air per game, good enough for 10th-best in FBS this season. On top of that, he has maintained an impressive 161.38 passer rating and thrown just 10 interceptions on 350 pass attempts this year. Hartman will likely be the focal point of Wake Forest’s offense again Saturday, coming off of an impressive game against Syracuse in which he threw four touchdowns and no interceptions while completing 69.8% of his pass attempts.

“Offensively, certainly one of if not the best quarterback in this conference. [Hartman] and Drake Maye will certainly go head-to-head for all of those honors at the end of the season,” said Duke head coach Mike Elko during his Monday media availability, “Sam just plays at an extremely high level. He sees the field really well and can make every throw. He throws the ball all over the place and has been doing it for years and is just a tough, gritty competitor that finds ways to will that team to win.”

The Demon Deacon receiving corps has been a big part of that offensive success, too. Headlined by 6-foot-5 redshirt junior wideout A.T. Perry, who has averaged 81.2 yards receiving per game, this is a group that has the potential to punish the Duke secondary. Duke’s defense will need to limit big plays and lock down those receivers to have a chance in this one. 

“They are extremely talented on the outside,” Elko said. “A lot of big, tall, talented wide receivers who have been extremely productive. Two dynamic slots that go out there and can really make plays.”

The Demon Deacon rushing attack has not been as strong, but is still solid. It has averaged 135.6 yards per game, sharing the ball relatively evenly between its two top backs, Justice Ellison and Christian Turner. The pair has averaged 54.6 and 44.7 yards per game, respectively. 

On defense, there is more room to breathe. The Demon Deacons have been fine, but not especially impressive, on this side of the ball. They have allowed 28.8 points per game, relying mostly on offensive production and outscoring their opponents to win games. Wake Forest has also allowed 139.5 rushing yards per game, so if the Blue Devils can get their ground attack going, they could look to make it a long game for the Demon Deacon defense. 

Wake Forest is a tough opponent, arguably tougher than Pittsburgh was Saturday. The key to this game will mostly be on the defensive side of the ball. The Blue Devils need to put pressure on Hartman and limit the offensive capabilities of the Wake Forest receiving corps. If the offense can produce with more consistency than it did against Pittsburgh and the defense can just slow down Hartman and company, this is—at the very least—a winnable game. If Duke fails to limit the Wake Forest offense and spends its day allowing the secondary to get picked apart by Hartman, it will be a rough afternoon for Elko’s Blue Devils. 

“It is going to be really important that we come out and play the way we are capable of,” said Elko. “We are trying to send our seniors out the right way in what is going to be a very special day for our seniors at Brooks Field at Wallace Wade Stadium.”


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