Photo: Nasir Green celebrates his TD
DURHAM, N.C. – The past decade or so has seen ACC schools top to bottom invest in their football programs. That means seeking out the right coach and properly funding recruiting while building state-of-the-art facilities.
Duke and Wake Forest are two developmental programs that have climbed out of the bottom with such investments and coaches that make the most of their talent, but that doesn’t mean they can post a graph line that consistently climbs without a jagged drop here and there.
The two schools met to prove the point on a rainy Saturday afternoon that resulted in Wake Forest surprisingly routing Duke 59-7 at Wallace Wade Stadium.
With the victory, Wake Forest (6-6, 3-5 ACC Atlantic) maintained bowl consistency with a win it had to have to clinch eligibility a third straight year. Wake Forest was 8-5 last season after a 7-6 mark in 2016 that ended a five-year bowl drought.
But for Duke (7-5, 3-5 ACC Coastal), the loss means the Blue Devils failed for a third straight year to get back to the 8-win-or-better mark they had posted three straight seasons in 2013 (10-4), 2014 (9-4) and 2015 (8-5).
Of winning in today’s ACC, fifth-year Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson says:
“Every game, if you don't show up, you don't have a shot. I went through our losses this year and five of the six losses were to teams that were, at one point, nationally ranked and the sixth one was at Florida State. We have played the No. 2 team (Clemson) in the country, the No. 3 team (Notre Dame) and we have played the Coastal Division champions (Pitt). We lost to a 9-3 Syracuse team and a nationally-ranked team (Boston College).”
Although Notre Dame football is an independent, the Irish play five ACC opponents a year as part of an arrangement that provides ACC membership to the rest of its men’s and women’s athletic teams.
“This league is a grind and if we ever don't show up with more energy than our opponent, we don't have a shot,” Clawson said. “Today, I thought our energy level was great. Our kids played today like we really wanted to be here. The big reward is being able to spend another month together.”
Two seasons ago, Wake began its rebuilding climb to credibility with a 24-14 win over Duke at Wallace Wade. Cam Carney made the difference running for 108 yards and three touchdowns.
That was only the second game of the season, but it was a turning point in Clawson’s rebuilding program, providing confidence and momentum toward a 7-6 record that ended a five-season bowl drought.
The Demon Deacons needed more of the same in 2018 from Carney, and he provided that and more. The junior ran 31 times for 223 yards and two touchdowns to lift his team to bowl eligibility for a third straight year.
Clawson, who arrived in Winston-Salem from success at Bowling Green in the Mid-American Conference, has now reached 27 wins faster than any Demon Deacons coach.
“I thank God every day that I get to coach at a place like this and lead young men like the way we have,” he said. “Every time our back was against the wall this year, we responded. We went to Louisville and had to get that one and N.C. State as well. It just seems like, every time we are in that position, we knew what was at stake.
“We made it like a playoff game. We had to get this one to continue our season and we probably played our best game of the year. I couldn't be prouder. The turnovers were huge. Jamie (Newman) played well, as did Cade (Carney) and the offensive line. The defense had their best game of the year. Our kids rose up and did what they had to do when they had to do it. It is a very satisfying win for us.”
Newman, a 6-foo4, 230-pound redshirt sophomore from Graham, completed 18-of-23 passes for 177 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions. He also ran 13 times for 59 yards.
His leading receiver was Greg Dortch with 10 receptions for 124 yards and a TD.
Duke, meanwhile, turned a performance Blue Devils’ coach David Cutcliffe considered one of his most disappointing in 43 years of coaching spanning his career as an assistant as well as seven as a head coach at Ole Miss and now his 11th at Duke.
The Blue Devils are bowl bound for the sixth time in seven years, but more was expected than 7-5 after they were 4-0 and 5-1; they lost four their last six.
“When you lose a game like this after playing as well as we’ve been playing all year we all have to accept personal responsibility,” Cutcliffe said. “I certainly take mine as the biggest part. Everybody in the program has to take the same approach. This doesn’t happen if you’re doing everything you’re supposed to be doing in a program.”
Seven season-ending injuries and other injuries have had a lot to do with the Blue Devils’ up-and-down play.
Duke also was without linebackers Joe Giles-Harris and Ben Humphreys, the nerve-center of the team that has played so well side by side the last three seasons. Giles-Harris has been sidelined the last three games; Humphreys tried to play against Wake Forest after being injured at Clemson, but he left the game without recording a tackle.
Quarterback Daniel Jones also was hobbled in the Clemson loss a week ago and had to have his ankle taped up after a series in the Wake Forest game. Jones was only 17-of-36 passing for 145 yards and one touchdown with one interception before he left the game in the fourth quarter. He was sacked 12 times for a minus-9 yards on an official nine carries.
“I think their quarterback is hurt a little bit,” Clawson said. “When he is one-hundred percent and is at full speed and can run, they are a much different offense. I think he got hurt last week and then aggravated his ankle again.
“When we saw him come out there all taped up, we knew we were going to be defending a different offense. That really took the quarterback run out of it, which is a really big part of what they do.”
Jones' intercepted was a Pick Six that true freshman Nasir Green, a backup, returned 20 yards for a touchdown and a 28-7 lead.
"We may not get the top recruits, but we'll outwork y'all," he said. "We like to grind for our wins. None of our wins are going to come easy in the ACC. We take pride in grinding out our wins, working hard and outworking other teams."
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