As we countdown to kickoff in September, we’re going to be doing a team-by-team opponent preview each week over the spring/summer. This week, we’re previewing Syracuse’s matchup with Wake Forest on Nov. 19 with their major storylines.
Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson has finally taken Wake Forest to the next tier. After the Demon Deacons had four straight seasons of seven or eight wins (scratch the 2020 pandemic shortened season where they went 4-4 and lost in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl), Wake Forest finally broke out in 2021.
The Deacons finished in the top 15 after going 11-3, winning the Atlantic Division and the Gator Bowl.
Wake Forest did it by having one of the most explosive offenses in the country averaging 41.0 ppg (tied for 22nd in the nation), blending a passing game that threw for 307.4 ypg (12th) and rushed for 160.5 ypg (70th).
And there’s no reason to think that Wake Forest can’t do it again in 2022. They return many of the key players from last year’s team, and should once again challenge for the Atlantic Division title.
HARTMAN LEADS AN EXPLOSIVE OFFENSE
Fifth year senior Sam Hartman had a standout year in 2021 and was named Second Team All-ACC after throwing for 4,228 yards and 39 touchdowns, both in the top 10 in the FBS. And he returns his favorite weapon in A.T. Perry.
The fourth-year receiver exploded on the scene last year, finishing with 71 catches for 1,293 yards and 15 touchdowns after mostly toiling in obscurity his first two seasons in Winston-Salem. He finished off the season with 10 catches for 127 yards and a score against Rutgers, which was more yardage than his entire freshman year (62).
The Deacons did lose their top rusher from 2021 after Christian Beal-Smith transferred to South Carolina. But Clawson has always used a running-back-by-committee approach, and he’ll likely turn to Christian Turner and Justice Ellison to shoulder the bulk of the running load.
They’ll be protected by one of the most experienced offensive lines in all of college football. Tackle Je’Vionte Nash is now a seventh year senior and All-ACC Third Team guard Sean Maginn is one of the key returning pieces of a line that has a combined for 90 career starts.
LAMBERT LOOKS TO IMPROVE THE DEFENSE
Wake Forest’s offense was enough to overcome its relatively leaky defense. The Demon Deacons gave up 30.3 points per game, 94th in the FBS.
That led to Clawson making some changes in his defensive coaching staff, bringing back Brad Lambert from Purdue to be the defensive coordinator, while adding two other defensive assistants.
One of his first tasks has been revamping a defensive line that lost Miles Fox and Sulaiman Kamara. Wake Forest is hoping that Tyler Williams can stay healthy, and that one of its biggest transfer portal wins, FCS All American defensive tackle Kobie Turner, is as good as advertised.
At linebacker, the Deacons will need to replace Luke Masterson and are hoping that Chase Jones (47 tackles) can take a step forward. Ryan Smenda Jr. (83 tackles) will also be a key part of the LB core.