Duke vs. Wake Forest: Ask a Demon Deacons beat writer

Posted by Laura Keeley on November 20, 2013 

Jela Duncan and the Blue Devils will bring their run game to BB&T field Saturday.


Each week, I’ll (hopefully) talk to a beat writer who covers Duke’s opponent. Today we have the venerable Dan Collins, who has been with the Winston-Salem Journal since 1978 and has covered Wake Forest since 1992. Links to Dan’s work can be found here, and his blogs and stories are tweeted our from @MyTakeOnWakeWSJ.

Sidenote, Dan also recently wrote a nice book, the ACC Basketball Book of Fame. For those of us who haven’t been around for the duration of the ACC, it’s a nice history lesson on the greatest basketball players in the greatest conference there ever has been.

Back to football!

1. How drastically is the offense affected by the loss of WR Michael Campanero?

When your gone-to guy is gone, so is your offense. Campanaro was already the best receiver in school history, but by the time he broke his collarbone at Syracuse, he was the one weapon Coach Jim Grobe and his staff had built their offense around. His loss is incalculable. With him, I could see Wake beating Duke. Without him, I don't see how.

2. I remember some early season experimentation with the read-option (and early season losses to Boston College and Louisiana Monroe). Has that all gone by the wayside, or is that still how the Deacs are running the ball?

The reason Campanaro was the weapon Wake had built its offense around is that Plan A, the read option, had for the most part been shelved. Quarterback Tanner Price carries the ball well enough, but he had trouble reading the defense and making snap decisions at the point of attack. The offense Wake had spent the spring and preseason developing never really worked, so Wake resorted to a variation of last season's offense which relied mostly on the possession passing game featuring Campanaro.

3. Speaking of the read-option, how has Wake faired against dual-threat quarterbacks?

Other than the Clemson debacle, Wake's defense has remained stout against pretty much every offense. Yes, FSU did stomp the Deacons 59-3, but that had more to do with the seven turnovers and the points and field position they produced. The Seminoles gained 296 yards, by far their lowest output of the season. This may be the best Wake defense I've seen in my 20-plus years of being on the beat. It's experienced, fast and aggressive.

4. Has anyone been able to bottle up NG Nikita Whitlock?

Wake has two special players, two of the best to ever play at Wake. One is Campanaro, the other Whitlock. Whitlock made second-team All-ACC last year on one good ankle. This season he has remained healthy, and the results have been something to see. He's only 5-11, 200 pounds but his motor stays revved from the opening kickoff until the final horn. Teams have double and triple teamed him all season, but he never stopped making plays. I'm gong to miss watching Nikita Whitlock play football.

5. And a bigger picture thought—with Duke's success this year, more than a few people have brought up Wake Forest's 2006 run to the Orange Bowl. I'm sure you could write a novel on this, but why don't you think the Deacs were able to at least come close to matching that level of success? There were bowl trips in 2007 and 2008 but then just in 2011 since.

The stars aligned for Wake in 2006, the same as they appear to be for Duke this season. But the Deacons' recruiting classes of 2008, 2009 and 2010 didn't come close to cashing in on the success of 2006 and the coaching staff, for the first time in Grobe's stay at Wake, had some substantial turnover. Wake was good in 2007 and 2008 but eventually the weight of a small private school competing in a conference dominated by much larger state institutions proved too much of a load, just as it had for the 40 years before Grobe arrived. Levitation is hard to attain, and even harder to sustain.

Bonus -- for any Duke fans making the drive over to Winston-Salem, where would be a good spot to grab breakfast and food and a beverage after the game?

I love the breakfast at Jimmy the Greeks, just across University Parkway from Joel Coliseum. And Burke Street Pizza down on Burke Street has the best pizza in town, and cold beer as well. Better yet, Vel Indica, one of my favorite local bands, is opening for Easter Island and Suitcase Saturday night down at the Garage, my home bar at the corner of 7th and Trade.

Thanks to Dan for his time. Be sure to check back for more Duke football news this week.

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