By AL FEATHERSTON
It's no secret that Wake Forest has beaten Duke 12 straight times in football. Blue Devil coach David Cutcliffe hasn't had to remind his players of the recent history of the series as the team prepares for Saturday's rematch in Winston-Salem.
"I don't think I have to -- I've heard them communicate it," he said. "We've got a lot of guys who have played in a lot of games against Wake Forest."
Brian Moore is one of them. Duke's fifth-year senior center was on the sidelines as a redshirt in 2008 when Duke lost 33-30 to the Deacons in overtime -- after the Devils missed a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation.
Moore was starting at right guard in 2010 when the Blue Devils lost a 54-48 shootout at Wake Forest. He was just returning from injury against the Deacons last year when Duke lost a 24-23 thriller in Wade Stadium.
Moore was asked Tuesday what he thinks about when he thinks of Wake Forest?
"Heartbreak," he answered.
"Since I've been here, we've lost to them four times -- and I think one of them got out of hand," he said, referring to Wake's 45-34 win in 2009. "For the most part, it's been an offensive-dominated game; shootouts. We've come so close. It's not for lack of want-to or anything like that. It's just going out and getting it done."
Duke's frustration with Wake Forest goes back to the arrival of Jim Grobe as the Deacon head coach after the 2000 season. At the time, Duke led the all-time record against the Deacs, 53-26-2.
But under Grobe, the school Duke once dominated has held the upper hand in the series. There have been a few lopsided Deacon victories, but eight of the 12 wins in the streak have been by a touchdown or less.
"I have great respect for Coach Grobe and respect for the program that Wake has," Cutcliffe said. "They take care of the football. They play the kicking game well. They do a lot of the little things right. They've done that for quite some time and that will win a lot of games for you. They've obviously done that better than we have."
But the Duke coach believes that his team is maturing to the point that they can play on the same level as the Deacs.
"I think this team is a different team," Cutcliffe said. "The other night, I asked everybody who had started a game at Duke to stand up and 36 people stood up. We've got a lot of people who have played meaningful football, and they know how to compete in the fourth quarter.
"I feel very comfortable about that."
So does Moore. The redshirt senior offensive lineman insisted that if this year's Wake-Duke game goes down to the wire, the Blue Devils would not be at a disadvantage.
"I don't think there's anything mental about it," he said. "It's just going out there and doing it. As soon as we get off the bus, we know what needs to be done."
THE RECEIVING STARS
This week's in Winston-Salem game will feature three of college football's finest pass receivers -- senior Conner Vernon (29 catches for 400 yards) and sophomore Jamison Crowder (29 catches for 367 yards) of Duke and Wake Forest junior Michael Campanaro (36 catches for 421 yards).
All three rank among the top five in the ACC and top 10 nationally in receptions.
Vernon, of course, is rapidly climbing both the Duke and ACC all-time receiving rankings. His 227 career receptions are already the best total in Duke history and the second-highest total in the history of the ACC. He needs just six catches this week to pass Aaron Kelly of Clemson (2005-2008) as the ACC's all-time leader.
Vernon is also closing in on the top of the record for career receiving yards. In last Saturday night's victory over Memphis, he became just the second player in Duke history and the fifth in the history of the ACC to top 3,000 receiving yards.
The Miami native will go into the Wake game with 3,075 receiving yards. He needs 45 against the Deacons to pass N.C. State's Jerricho Cotchery for fourth place on the ACC list. He's closing in on Duke record-holder Clarkston Hines (3,318 yards) and later this season should pass Florida State's Peter Warrick (3,517 yards) as the most prolific receiver in ACC history.
Vernon is the NCAA's active receiving leader (in both receptions and yards), but Wake Forest's Campanaro currently leads the ACC in both categories.
"Conner Vernon has just been terrifically consistent," Cutcliffe said. "Any route, any position you put him in, you've got a chance to be successful. Campanaro is the same guy -- he's strong, he's physical like Conner and loves to compete. He's got great hands. They use him in a lot of different ways.
"He's a dangerous guy. Whether he catches the ball on a screen or catches it across the middle, he's such a good runner with the ball -- like Conner is. They can turn something ordinary into something special. That's the biggest thing -- you'd better tackle well if you're going to tackle either one of them in space."
Vernon has had some of the best days of his career against the Deacons. As a freshman, he caught eight passes for 93 yards against Wake. As a sophomore, he hauled in eight passes for a career-high 181 yards (and two touchdowns) in Winston-Salem. Last year, he caught seven passes for 59 yards.
That means that the Duke senior has averaged almost eight catches for 111 receiving yards in his first three games against Wake Forest.
It's kind of ironic that Vernon would play so well against the Deacs, since he has said that Wake Forest was his other finalist when he was being recruited out of Gulliver Prep in Miami.
WAITING FOR THE CALL TO COME
Anthony Boone hasn't had much chance to play this season. Duke's backup quarterback got to play most of the fourth quarter at Stanford -- after the issue was decided -- but for the most part, he's had to sit on the sidelines and watch Sean Renfree carry the quarterback load.
"It's not frustrating at all," Boone said of his limited role. "I was actually hoping that Sean would have a good year, and he's having a great year so far."
Boone said his main job at the moment is to make himself ready to step in -- whether the call comes at some point this season when Renfree is hurt or slumping or next year, when the Blue Devils will have to find a new starting quarterback.
"It's a huge learning curve for me," Boone said. "I get to sit back and learn. I take a lot of mental reps during the game or during practice. When I do get in the game, I do what I can. I try to make plays; to run our offense."
Boone was the backup quarterback a year ago, but he had a larger role then. When Brandon Connette went out in the 2011 Stanford game with an injured shoulder, the 235-pound Monroe, N.C., native inherited his role as the short-yardage running quarterback.
The redshirt freshman was effective in that role, rushing 44 times for 129 yards and four touchdowns. But Connette is back this season and has re-assumed the short-yardage duties.
"Going from playing a little more last year to not playing as much this year, it's not really frustrating," Boone said. "I miss it a little bit. Running the wildcat is fun because being a quarterback, me and Brandon can run or throw, so you attack the defense differently. He might fake the run and jump back and pass. I might roll out and run.
"It was fun. The pounding wasn't that bad, but I definitely don't miss it. Nobody likes getting hit."
Boone's presence as Duke's No. 2 quarterback may signal a pretty significant shift in Cutcliffe's offensive philosophy in the future. Renowned as the QB guru who mentored Eli and Peyton Manning, Cutcliffe has almost always tutored classic drop-back, NFL-style quarterbacks. Certainly Thaddeus Lewis and Sean Renfree, his two starters in five seasons at Duke, fit that mold.
But Boone offers a different style. Although he has a strong arm and can throw (48-of-78 for 454 yards in his career so far), he's equally adept as a runner. Connette, who is also going to be in the quarterback mix next spring, is a stronger runner than a passer. And freshman Thomas Sirk, who is redshirting this season but will be in the competition for playing time next season, is also an equally effective runner and passer.
"All three of us can run," Boone said. "All three of us can throw. We all have our own running styles. I'm a little quicker in the pocket. I can evade sacks, get to passing lanes quicker."
Boone doesn't think it strange that Cutcliffe would modify his traditional offensive approach.
"That's kind of how it is around the country," he said. "There's always the pro style -- hand off to run the ball and play-action pass. But most teams are looking for athletic quarterbacks who can come out and do more things -- quarterback power, zone read, sprint out and sprint draw.
"The game's kind of evolving. The quarterback position is calling for a little more athleticism than normal. There is still obviously the pro style -- the Peyton Mannings and Eli Mannings and guys like that -- but for the most part, quarterbacks are evolving to be more athletic. A lot of coaches are taking note of that and are looking for that style of quarterback."
SPOTLIGHT ON SPECIAL TEAMS
It's amazing how often special team plays have been decisive in the recent Duke-Wake Forest series. In 2006, Duke lost 14-13 when a game-winning chip shot field goal was blocked at the gun. The Blue Devils missed a mid-range game-winning field goal in the final seconds of the 2008 overtime loss. The 2009 game in Winston-Salem turned when Duke's punter dropped a snap from center.
That's a concern for Cutcliffe heading for this year's meeting.-
So far this season, Duke's special teams have been fairly effective - with the exception of some serious breakdowns such as a 76-yard punt return allowed against Stanford and a 95-yard kickoff return allowed versus Memphis. And while freshman placekicker Ross Martin has been nearly perfect (6-of-7 on field goals; 17-of-17 on extra points), Duke has mishandled two snaps on extra point attempts.
Those are the kind of mistakes that have cost Duke so dearly in past Wake games. The Blue Devils are hoping they have fixed the problems and will be perfect in special teams.
"We've given up some big plays on special teams," senior safety Jordon Byas said. "We're still trying to find the right guys to be in right places. I think that's going to come around and we're going to step up our special teams play."
Byas, who missed three games while recovering from knee surgery, pointed out that Duke's long injury list might have contributed to some of Duke's coverage breakdowns.
"There were a lot of injured guys who were on special teams," he said. "They played a huge role. Now that we're starting to get some guys healthy, it's going to help us a lot."