Wake Forest and Duke have more in common than their win-loss records.
This year’s matchup brings another element to the rivalry — strong connections among members of the coaching staffs.
The teams wrap up the regular season in Saturday’s game in Durham, N.C.
While Wake Forest (7-4, 3-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) fell short of returning to the ACC championship game, Duke (7-4, 4-3) has been the surprise of the league after failing to win a conference game last year.
“We still want to get better,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said, feeling better after a three-game skid ended last week when the Deacons beat visiting Syracuse on Senior Day.
A longtime assistant coach under Clawson, Duke’s first-year head coach Mike Elko rates as a leading candidate for ACC Coach of the Year.
Elko, a former defensive coordinator at Wake Forest, said he sees the Demon Deacons still evolving on defense under coordinator Brad Lambert, who returned to the position this year.
“I think you are starting to see them get more and more comfortable each week with how they want to play their scheme and play their system,” Elko said. “They play extremely hard and have the ability to get after you up front. I am really impressed with their defensive line.”
Clawson and Elko spent 12 seasons together with Elko on Clawson’s staffs at Fordham, Richmond, Bowling Green and Wake Forest.
Elko said he is not all that familiar with Wake Forest’s offensive scheme.
“I wasn’t really there when it was running the way it is running now,” Elko said. “We’ve spent a lot of time as a staff on it schematically and it is certainly different. It requires a lot of attention. It requires a lot of detail in terms of how we are going to have to execute to stop it.”
Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman has thrown 104 career touchdown passes, three shy of former Clemson quarterback Tahj Boyd’s ACC record.
Duke quarterback Riley Leonard has emerged as a dual threat this year.
“Sam has been in this league for a long time, and he has played a lot more football and made a lot more plays,” Elko said. “I think Riley is going to compete, he has shown that every week.”
Hartman said the Demon Deacons are aiming for a rewarding finishing stretch, saying, “It’s a lot more fun when you win and you play well.”
Duke is bound to try to expose Wake Forest’s secondary.
“When you don’t defend the deep ball well, it’s hard to breathe,” Clawson said.
Wake Forest has won three straight games in the series.
Duke will honor 32 players as part of Senior Day.
–Field Level Media