Duke QB situation in flux as Wake Forest visits

Field Level Media

November 02, 2023 at 9:26 pm.

Duke has been put in several situations to showcase its overall improvements this season.

Now comes a game against visiting Wake Forest where getting back on track will be the main storyline.

Having lost three of their last four, the Blue Devils will face the Demon Deacons in Atlantic Coast Conference play on Thursday in Durham, N.C., with a quarterback making his debut as a starter.

“I have to put these guys in better positions to be successful because we don’t have much time,” Duke coach Mike Elko said. “I believe that we will respond.”

Duke (5-3, 2-2 ACC) has fallen out of the national rankings after holding spots in the polls since conquering Clemson in its first game of the season. More recently, the Blue Devils have dropped games to nationally ranked Notre Dame, Florida State and Louisville — with that trio now all in the top 15 nationally.

And they will have to make their late-season push without starting quarterback Riley Leonard, who is suffering from a toe injury that ESPN reported Thursday will keep him out for an “extended” period.

Freshman Grayson Loftis, who has thrown just five college passes in relief, will start against Wake Forest.

Wake Forest (4-4, 1-4) has lost four of its past five games, the exception being a comeback to upend Pitt in the final seconds two games ago.

“The fight is always going to be there,” Wake Forest defensive back Malik Mustapha said.

For a team that reached the 2021 ACC championship game and was expected to contend last year, there has been a drop-off for the Demon Deacons.

“We have a lot of hard work to do to get back to that level,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said.

Clawson said the Demon Deacons wouldn’t dwell on Saturday’s 41-16 home loss to Florida State.

“We have to get past this one and get ready for a game against an in-state rival on the road,” he said.

Duke’s offense has been out of sorts since an ankle injury to Leonard suffered in the loss to Notre Dame. He started the past two games after missing a win against North Carolina State but injured his toe against Louisville last weekend.

The No. 2 quarterback, Henry Belin IV, started against NC State, but has an upper-body injury, opening the door for Loftis.

Wake Forest has had injuries at quarterback as well. Mitch Griffis returned to action against the Seminoles after sitting out the Pitt game.

Elko is a former defensive coordinator from 2014-16 under Clawson at Wake Forest. His first Duke team beat the Demon Deacons a year ago.

This year’s matchup between in-state rivals is in Durham for the second season in a row after a reconfiguration of the conference schedule when the league nixed a divisional set-up. Duke won 34-31 last year in the regular-season finale for both teams.

This is Duke’s only home game amid a five-game stretch.