DURHAM — When your defense's biggest problem is giving up big plays, it's not the moment you want to see Wake Forest come up next on the schedule. Especially if you're Duke, and you lost to the Deacons last year in a game that had enough big plays to set an ACC record for points scored.
Stopping the big play would have been a point of emphasis for Duke in practice this week anyway, after Florida State had three passes that went for 50 or more yards in the first quarter alone Saturday. But after what happened last year, no one needs a further reminder: The two teams combined for more than 100 points in a 54-48 Wake Forest win, the Deacons' 11th straight over Duke.
And that wasn't a good year for Wake Forest. This year's version is far more dangerous, now 4-2 with a win over the same Florida State team that repeatedly beat Duke deep last weekend.
"It doesn't take but one time, just one play," Duke coach David Cutcliffe said. "You don't sit there and say we played awful. We played awful 10 plays of the game. That's the bottom line."
There won't be any more margin for error against Wake Forest than there was against Florida State, which means Duke is going to have to get a lot better in practice this week.
With a big play threat on the outside in Chris Givens, a trick-play specialist in Michael Campanaro - who has thrown for as many touchdowns as he has caught, two - and the quarterback to get them the ball in Tanner Price, Wake threatens to score at any time. Givens leads the ACC at 123.2 receiving yards per game, averaging more than 18 per catch with six touchdowns.
For a Duke team that struggled to contain Florida State's explosiveness, it's not exactly the ideal opponent.
"They have a lot of speed on the outside," Duke cornerback Ross Cockrell said. "One of their guys, No. 2 (Givens), is a very fast receiver, and we know that going into the game, so we're going to play him a little differently than we would play other people who are slower or bigger."
The Deacons have an additional weapon that Florida State didn't: An arsenal of trick plays Wake Forest isn't afraid to use, as N.C. State found out the hard way. Wide receiver Danny Dembry scored against the Wolfpack on a reverse, and Campanaro threw a touchdown pass on another.
"We know they're going to try it," Cutcliffe said. "They made a bunch of big ones against us last year. They threw it over our head, trick plays and otherwise."
For Duke, the solution may be found on offense, not defense. While Donovan Varner is nursing a hamstring injury, the Blue Devils still have the offensive weapons to match Wake Forest in quarterback Sean Renfree, tight end Cooper Helfet and wide receiver Conner Vernon.
If the Blue Devils end up in another shootout with the Deacons, they'd like to think that this time, at home, they'll score last. That may be what determines the victor.
"I want to see one of those special games again that we can have at Duke in our offense," Cutcliffe said. "I'd love to see us explode this week. It'd be a nice timing thing."
The 3-3 Blue Devils need to win three of their final six games to become bowl eligible. There may not be a realistic scenario that doesn't include a win over Wake Forest. What happens with the big plays may determine whether this is a big win or a big loss for Duke.