Duke returns home for the first time since mid-October with the opportunity to clinch a bowl game against Wake Forest and end its two-game slide. The Chronicle's beat writers are here to offer their predictions for a cold night on the gridiron at Wallace Wade Stadium:
Andrew Long: Duke 13-7
The Blue Devils, to put it kindly, are reeling. It has been six quarters since they’ve scored, three weeks since they’ve won and more than a month since quarterback Riley Leonard has been at full strength. Last weekend’s shutout loss at Louisville struck an even more sensitive nerve, as the likes of Tre Freeman, Al Blades Jr. and experienced offensive linemen Jacob Monk and Graham Barton all either got hurt or were hurt to start. All these pieces put together, on top of the fact that the Cardinals are simply a good team, meant Duke was offensively stunted, and comes back to Durham still shy of the six-win bowl eligibility mark and having conceded 61 points in its last two outings combined.
But unlike Florida State, or even Louisville, Wake Forest is not a juggernaut of the ACC and has struggled mightily for consistency this season. In large part, that’s because Sam Hartman — the same Sam Hartman who crushed Duke dreams on a fourth-and-16 scamper for Notre Dame — is no longer the Demon Deacons’ signal caller, and the team’s various backups have proven unable to fill his gargantuan shoes. There’s an opportunity Thursday for the Blue Devils to right their keeling vessel, and even if there are still concerns about Leonard’s health and the depth of the offensive line, I think there should be just enough in Duke’s tank to squeeze out an ugly win.
Rachael Kaplan: Duke 13-10
The Duke team that took the field last Saturday was one we hadn’t seen in a long time. Leonard looked unsteady, only completing nine of his 23 passing attempts. The rushing attack was stumped behind a beat-up offensive line. While the Blue Devil defense kept up their bend-don’t-break game plan to an extent, if the offense can’t put together a drive of at least 30 yards, there’s nearly nothing the defense can do.
That being said, Wake Forest doesn’t have Jawhar Jordan. What it does have is the second-worst record in the ACC. The Demon Deacons are coming off their own blowout against the Seminoles. Wake has a turnover margin of minus-five which Duke’s defense will look to exploit. It will be low-scoring, as many of the Blue Devils’ stars still have giant question marks next to their status, but they rebound from the losses and become bowl eligible.
Ranjan Jindal: Duke 21-10
It has probably been an intense few days of practice for Duke after being blanked at Louisville, and the short turnaround is not great timing considering the flurry of injuries in the game against the Cardinals. Luckily for the Blue Devils, Wake Forest has not played great of late, only winning one of its past five games. However, the team is well coached under Dave Clawson, and has the potential to upset anyone. The mesh formation is unorthodox and sometimes throws off teams for a few plays, but I expect Duke’s defense to play much better than last week. Demon Deacon quarterback Mitch Griffis certainly has potential, but his offensive line has struggled in a massive way this season, a big advantage for the Blue Devils’ strong defensive front. If there is any game for Duke to get its passing attack going, it’s this one, as Wake Forest has one of the worst passing defenses in the league. I don’t know if it will be pretty with the cold weather and the recent subpar offensive performances, but the Blue Devils should earn bowl eligibility.
Dom Fenoglio: Duke 17-6
While defense has been the calling card for the Blue Devils all season, it will be the offense with something to prove Thursday. After failing to make a mark on the scoreboard last week against Louisville, Duke will be looking to return to form at home. However, I think that the majority of the offense’s problems remain unsolved. The health of Leonard and key offensive linemen Barton and Monk is still unknown, and even backup quarterback Henry Belin IV is dealing with a shoulder injury. On top of that, the receiving corps still has a lot to prove in terms of reducing drops and making plays. With that being said, the Blue Devils’ defensive talent should overwhelm a struggling Wake Forest team that has lost eight fumbles this season — tied for fourth-worst in the nation. I think the defense will give Duke a significant advantage in terms of time of possession and field position, and that should be enough to win comfortably.
Caleb Dudley: Duke 24-7
In all honesty, I see this game playing out very similar to the N.C. State game a few weeks ago. It’s no secret Duke has struggled on the offensive end, especially in the passing game. Despite the short week, I expect the Blue Devils to somewhat regain their rhythm in the air while reestablishing their strong run game which was nonexistent last week. As per usual, the defense will dominate, especially against a Wake Forest offense that has struggled throughout the season. While it won’t be pretty, I think Duke handles business with relative ease Thursday.
Micah Hurewitz: Duke 14-7
I see a very — very — low-scoring affair in the cards. With a tornado of questions regarding Leonard’s availability, and the freshman Grayson Loftis’ ability to step in for the junior captain, Duke’s offense is held in a state of limbo especially after putting up a donut against Louisville. But luckily for head coach Mike Elko and the Blue Devils, Wake Forest is not a great team. They might not even be considered good by some, particularly after a season in which the Demon Deacons (briefly) cracked the top 10.
Griffis, who hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in 40 days, takes a beating every time he steps onto the field. And Duke’s defense, despite dropping three of its last four, is still holding opponents to an ACC-leading 15 points per game. The Blue Devils would ideally prepare a mean pass rush Thursday. Point: Duke. We also have a matchup between two of the more sluggish passing offenses in the conference and a Blue Devil defense still awaiting word on cornerback Myles Jones’ availability. Point: neither? My goodness. It could be a funky night on the gridiron in Durham, but the Blue Devils hold an upper hand way thinner than the betting lines would suggest.
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Micah Hurewitz is a Trinity senior and was previously a sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 118th volume.
Rachael Kaplan is a Trinity junior and sports managing editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Dom Fenoglio is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Ranjan Jindal is a Trinity sophomore and an assistant Blue Zone editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.
Andrew Long is a Trinity junior and sports editor of The Chronicle's 119th volume.