Favored Duke not likely to let down against rival Deacs

Nov. 20, 2013 @ 06:35 PM

It wasn’t that long ago — just 13 months — that the Duke-Wake Forest football series was as one-sided as a hammer against a nail.

Beginning in 2000, Wake Forest reeled off 12 consecutive wins over Duke and had Blue Devils fans dreading their annual meeting.

But last season, Duke walked off BB&T Field in Winston-Salem with a 34-27 win that was part of a 6-2 start that propelled the Blue Devils to their first bowl appearance in 18 years.

And, oh, how things have continued to trend in Duke’s direction ever since.

The Blue Devils will play Wake Forest on Saturday (noon, ESPN2) ranked No. 25 in the country and needing two wins to clinch the ACC Coastal Division championship.

Duke (8-2, 4-2 in the ACC) has won six consecutive games and owns its most wins in one season since 1994. A win Saturday would bring Duke its first nine-win season since 1941.

The Blue Devils close the regular season Nov. 30 at Chapel Hill against North Carolina, but they consider Saturday’s game an important rivalry match as well.

“It’s just natural for us and Wake,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. “We played very hard and lost all of them but one as we’ve played these guys. We know it’s a war. We’ve got to go be the best Duke we can be. That’s the bottom line.”

Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe, in his 13th season with the Demon Deacons, had never lost to Duke prior to last season. This week, his Deacons (4-6, 2-5) find themselves an underdog — by five points — even though the game is in Winston-Salem for the second consecutive year.

Grobe said Wednesday that he never considered the series to be one-sided, despite Wake’s winning streak.

“I think we both­­, you know, since I’ve been here, have been very competitive,” Grobe said. “I think both teams have gone after each other, and I really believe some of the years that we won, the games were so close, it was just a bounce here or a bounce there that determined the game.

“And so, you know, we have never felt like this was a series that we had the upper hand in. We always felt like playing Duke, that we had to play our best football to win, and you know, most of the games that we played were nail­biters.”

Grobe knows what Cutcliffe is going through. In 2006 he led Wake Forest to the ACC championship and an Orange Bowl appearance. It was Wake Forest’s second ACC championship and its first since 1970.

In 2006, Grobe said, the task was to keep his players mentally sharp without letting them get ahead of themselves.

“I think what we tried to do,” Grobe said, “as much as anything as coaches, is just continue to do the things that had gotten us to a chance late in the season and try not to, you know, invent anything. We just wanted to keep things kind of on an even keel and try to remain the same emotionally as you had throughout the course of the season. When things are going well, you just want to try to keep it on an even keel.”

Cutcliffe keeps saying that he wants his players to enjoy this magical ride they are on while, at the same time, continuing to put in the good practice work that they have all season.

He’s taking time to enjoy the special season as well.

“You know, I’m smiling more than I normally would at this time of year,” Cutcliffe said. “I wouldn’t lie to you about that. I’m wanting our players to enjoy this. I certainly want our staff to enjoy this. These years don’t always fall in place no matter where you are. I think I’ve learned that as I’ve gotten older.

“I’m not going to go around getting grumpier. I’ve heard people describe coaches. The only thing worse with this coach when he’s losing is this coach when he’s winning. I don’t want to be that guy, so I’m trying not to be that guy.”