Wake Forest Demon Deacons — 2019 Syracuse Football preview

Syracuse running back Dontae Strickland
Syracuse running back Dontae Strickland (4) rushes against Wake Forest. Mandatory Photo Credit: Kicia Sears, The Juice Online.

As we countdown to kickoff in August, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team preview each week over the summer. SU will finish its regular season when it hosts Wake Forest at the Carrier Dome on Nov. 30.

QB BATTLE TAKE TWO

Wake Forest has a familiar theme heading into 2019 at quarterback.

It’s the same quarterback battle between the same two candidates. But while some things are the same, other things are vastly different.

Flash back one year to 2018. Wake Forest had just announced that quarterback Kendall Hinton had been suspended for the first three games of the season, leaving two inexperienced quarterbacks – freshman Sam Hartman and sophomore Jamie Newman – to battle for the starting job.

Hartman had never taken a snap at the college level, while Newman had thrown only four passes in his freshman year. It wasn’t the ideal situation to replace four-year starter John Wolford.

“I mean, a year ago we were here, our four-year starter graduated, our starter just got suspended,” Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson said at ACC Kickoff. “I would certainly rather be in this position than the position a year ago.”

Hartman and Newman are again in a tussle to see who will line up under center come opening day, but this time, Clawson knows much more about his two young quarterbacks.

On the one side is Sam Hartman, who as a freshman threw for 1,984 yards and 16 touchdowns during the team’s first nine games. But Hartman suffered a broken leg during its 41-24 home loss to Syracuse, dropping the Demon Deacons record to 4-5.

He was replaced in the final four games of the season by then-sophomore Jamie Newman, who threw for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns in his place, winning three of the last four games for Wake Forest, including a dramatic 37-34 win over Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl.

“Right now, I don’t know who our starting quarterback is going to be,” Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson said. “I think the good thing is we have two quarterbacks who have proven they can win games in the ACC, win games at Wake Forest. It’s a good problem.”

And with the offense having had the chance to work with both of them in game situations, the team has expressed confidence in whoever starts.

» Related: Previewing Syracuse’s matchup with the Louisville Cardinals

“The team trusts both of them,” senior running back Cade Carney said. “I think we’re really excited for whoever ends up being named the starter.”

Carney also pointed out that both will likely end up playing at some point.

“Since I’ve been here, we’ve had to rely on two quarterbacks,” he said. It’s a great thing this year we feel very confident with that. We don’t have to be worried as far as whatever could happen throughout the midst of a season, since I’ve been here, we’ve relied on two. I feel really good about the two that we’re going into camp with.”

WHO TO WATCH FOR

Wide receiver Greg Dortch left early for the NFL, and now plays for the New York Jets. That should open up more opportunities for sophomore Sage Surratt, who caught 41 passes for 581 yards and four touchdowns in 2018.

“Sage has all those intangible qualities that we love in a Wake Forest football player: he’s smart, humble, he has a great work ethic,” Clawson said. “I think what we’re looking forward to in year two with him is just consistently playing at that high level that he would know he’s capable of.”

After returning from suspension, Hinton was moved from quarterback over to receiver, though he struggled in his new position and caught only six passes. But he showed plenty of shiftiness at quarterback, and this may be the year he cashes in on it.

At running back, Carney rushed for 1,005 yards and eight touchdowns, and he’ll be backed up by Christian Beal-Smith, who showed promise as a redshirt freshman (231 rushing yards).

The offensive line will be another looming question mark heading into 2019. While there is some experience on the line with Jake Benzinger and Justin Herron, Clawson needs to replace three starters, and will have an open competition at left guard.

“Looking for that left guard,” Carney  said. “Got really good competition, which is a great problem to have.”

On defense, Wake Forest is still searching for its identity. The unit hasn’t looked the same since defensive coordinator Mike Elko left for Notre Dame in 2017.

Clawson fired Jay Sawvel after Clemson clobbered Wake Forest 63-3 in week four and handed the position to assistants Dave Cohen and Lyle Hemphill. The results were better, with the Deacons allowing only 14.4 points in its last three games, though it did give up 34 points in its bowl game.

“Decisions like that are never easy to make,” Clawson said. “Coach Hemphill and Coach Cohen took over a very difficult situation. I think giving the timing of it, that’s never ideal. They did a really good job. We improved, got better, became more fundamentally sound.”

The main task will be to try to replace three key defensive linemen (Zeek Rodney, Willie Yarbary, and Chris Calhoun). They’ll need more production from returning starters Sulaiman Kamara and Carlos Basham Jr., and may get a push from true freshman Shamar McCollum, who started in spring practice.

The secondary is returning plenty of depth and experience, with starting cornerbacks Amari Henderson and Essang Bassey back for another year.

PREDICTION

Now in his sixth year, Clawson has provided stability to a program that had not gone to three straight bowl games since 2006-08. The Deacons certainly have a chance to make it to bowl season for a fourth straight year, something that hasn’t happened in program history. Don’t place a bet on a Syracuse football game without checking out BetQL to find the most updated college football lines, spreads, and expert picks.

To get there, they’ll need to overcome a schedule that has Wake Forest opening against a Utah State team that won 11 games last year, and finishes with three of four games on the road, including the regular season finale at Syracuse, which I predict will be a 42-31 win for the Orange.

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Wes Cheng
About Wes Cheng 2477 Articles
Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also worked for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong) and reported on the NBA and MLB for the New York Sportscene. A native of Long Island, New York, Wes graduated from Syracuse University in 2005. Follow him on Twitter @ChengWes.