Opponent Analysis: Wake Forest Demon Deacons — 2021 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 September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team opponent preview each week over the summer. This week, we’re previewing Syracuse’s matchup with Wake Forest on Oct. 9 with three major storylines.

Can Wake Forest’s Offense Make The Leap?

Wake Forest’s offense hummed for most of the 2020 season. The Demon Deacons finished 24th overall in points per game (36.0) and its aerial attack led by quarterback Sam Hartman passed for 281.4 yards per game (26th).

The Deacons return most of their major contributors on offense, and are looking to take a leap into one of the elite offenses in the country.

Look no further than Jaquarii Roberson, who will be on everyone’s preseason All-ACC teams. The senior was absolutely dominant over the second half of the season, hauling in 100 yards or more five times in the final six games of the season, including eight receptions for 131 yards and three touchdowns in a loss to Wisconsin in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl.

Running backs Christian Beal-Smith and Kenneth Walker III formed a nice tandem in the backfield, averaging 163 yards per game, but Walker entered the transfer portal and will be suiting up for Michigan State in the fall. And then there is the offensive line, who returns all of its starters, though they also surrendered three sacks a game.

Moving On From Boogie

Wake Forest will certainly miss defensive lineman and second round NFL Draft pick Boogie Basham, now with the Buffalo Bills.

But the defensive line still has plenty of intriguing options. DE JaCorey Johns returns to steady the offensive line, and Jasheen Davis, a top recruit in 2020, was the talk of spring practice. He’ll challenge Rondell Bothroyd for the second defensive end spot, while freshman Kendron Wayman flashed plenty of potential in spring, as well.

Leading tackler LB Ja’Cquez Williams entered the transfer portal, but Wake Forest also returns Chase Jones, Chase Monroe, and Ryan Smenda Jr. Look out for the emergence of Jaylen Hudson, a three-star linebacker and former top 100 recruit as his position in the class of 2019. He appeared in eight games as a redshirt freshman and will push Smenda for playing time.

» Related: Previewing Syracuse’s ACC opener against Florida State

Deacons Add Talented Transfers

Like many schools, it was an interesting offseason in the transfer portal for the Deacons.

Wake Forest plucked a pair of players from Michigan, with defensive lineman Luiji Vilain and running back Christian Turner coming over from the Wolverines. Vilain is a tantalizing prospect, a former four-star recruit and top 50 player in his class whose career has been derailed by two consecutive season-ending surgeries. Turner’s arrival should also make up for the lass of Walker.

Offensive lineman Terrance Davis could be the most impactful arrival to Winston-Salem. As I mentioned above, Wake Forest returns all of its starters from 2020, but the unit still struggled at times. Davis, who started four games at Maryland last year before suffering a knee injury, started 31 games at guard and could help steady the line.

Another transfer to keep an eye on is defensive back Isaiah Wingfield, who arrives from Harvard. With the Crimson, Wingfield recorded 40 tackles, five pass breakups and an INT, and was selected awarded a First Team All-Ivy League selection before the Ivy League canceled its 2020 season because of the pandemic.

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About Wes Cheng 2907 Articles
Wes has worked for Rivals.com covering the New York Knicks, as well as for Scout.com covering Syracuse athletics. Wes has also been a contributing writer for the South China Morning Post (Hong Kong), for SportsNet New York (SNY) as a news desk writer covering all of New York professional sports, 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 with a degree in journalism. Contact him at wes[at]sujuiceonline.com.