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Third and goal: Stopping Wake Forest's mesh offense of key importance to Duke football's defensive efforts

Quarterback Riley Leonard winds up for a throw against Pittsburgh.
Quarterback Riley Leonard winds up for a throw against Pittsburgh.

Duke faces a formidable foe in its final regular-season game of the year against Wake Forest at home Saturday afternoon. The Blue Zone is here with three keys to a Blue Devil victory:

Defensive discipline

Wake Forest is known for its ‘slow-mesh’ offense, which is essentially an extremely delayed RPO (run-pass option). Demon Deacons quarterback Sam Hartman holds the ball in the running back’s chest for roughly 2.5 seconds waiting to see what the defense gives up. This scheme keeps the defense on its heels, and has been a large part of Wake Forest’s recent transformation into an offensive juggernaut. If the secondary keeps its eyes in the backfield even for a split second, Hartman has the ability to torch defenses. One solution to this problem is to cause disruption in the backfield, minimizing the running game and not allowing Hartman to have time. However, it will still be important for the secondary and the linebackers to maintain their discipline and minimize big plays. If the Blue Devils can do this, they can limit the damage of the Demon Deacons’ deadly mesh offense. 

Focus on turnovers

Although Wake Forest has a high powered offense, it can be prone to turnovers. Hartman threw three interceptions each in the Demon Deacons’ losses to Louisville and N.C. State. Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, Hartman appears to be finding his stride again, throwing eight touchdowns and only one interception in the last two games. Nevertheless, the Demon Deacons have given up 17 turnovers on the season, ranking near the bottom of the league. On the flip side, Duke is third in the country in turnover margin and eighth in total turnovers gained. The Blue Devil defense has prided itself on turnovers even though it can be susceptible to giving up chunks of yards. This is a recipe for success against Wake Forest, who will almost certainly gain yards on offense, but Duke can limit its scoring by keeping the Demon Deacons out of the end zone. 

Let it fly

Just as Wake Forest will have the opportunity to throw it downfield, Duke should certainly take advantage of the Demon Deacons’ pass defense. Wake Forest is giving up 262.1 passing yards per game, ahead of only North Carolina in the ACC. The Blue Devils have a very balanced offense, and they should by no means abandon the run Saturday. However, there will be opportunities for quarterback Riley Leonard to take shots downfield and exploit the Demon Deacons’ secondary. Wide receivers Jalon Calhoun and Jordan Moore were both recipients of deep touchdown throws last week, and look for Duke to try more of the same. Leonard has thrown for over 250 yards in each of the last two contests, and will have the opportunity for a similar performance against a struggling Wake Forest secondary in the final game of the regular season. 

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