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Syracuse football 2019 opponent preview: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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Seems strange for a season finale, but it’ll work.

NCAA Football: Army at Wake Forest Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

Last week, we previewed a rebuilding Louisville team, which will be better post-Bobby Petrino implosion, but could still struggle quite a bit in Scott Satterfield’s first season at the helm. Lucky for us, “better” could still mean just four or five wins, though.

We’ve been running through these opponent previews for months now, and we’ve officially reached the end. The Syracuse Orange face plenty of challenges on this year’s schedule if they want to repeat 2018’s 10-win campaign, but some of those foes are more difficult than others. Today, we take a look at SU’s final opponent:

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

School: Wake Forest University

Mascot: Demon Deacons

#BRAND Slogan(s): #GoDeacs

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: #DeaconAround OR #YourDefenseIsClawfensive

Recommended Blog: Blogger So Dear

Conference: ACC

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Coach: Dave Clawson, 6th year. Clawson’s become known for rebuilds, with Wake Forest being his fourth stop as a head coach. Following his playing career at Williams, he spent time at Albany, Buffalo, Lehigh and Villanova before earning his first head gig with Fordham. By year four with the Rams, they went from 0-11 to a top-15 FCS squad, and he left one year later to Richmond. The Spiders were a top-10 team by year two, and made the FCS Semifinals in year four, leading him to Bowling Green — where he won eight games in year four and the MAC title in year five. He engineered a similar rebuild at Wake, winning just six games combined in his first two seasons, then 22 over the last three. The Deacs have yet to finish higher than a tie for third in the Atlantic, however.

2018 Record: (7-6) (3-5)

Recapping Last Season:

Wake Forest hit reset at quarterback last season, and despite dealing with injuries, they still wound up finishing in the top half of the country in passing offense (at 236 yards per game). Unlike many recent Deacons teams of late, the strength of the attack was actually the run game, however, which ranked 26th in the country in yards per game. That production was largely due to the one-two punch of Matt Colburn and Cade Carney, who teamed up for nearly 1,800 yards and 13 touchdowns. They also ran well from the quarterback position, with Sam Hartman, Jamie Newman and Kendal Hinton combining for almost 700 yards on the ground.

The Deacons’ defense, on the other hand, took some steps back, and struggled against better competition. Wake Forest allowed 33.3 points per game (101st in the country) and 458.6 yards per game (116th) — both obviously among the worst marks in the Power Five. They were a group that aimed for big plays, though only had marginal success doing so. Wake tallied 25 sacks on the year and forced 16 turnovers. Not terrible numbers, but not amazing either.

Overall, it was an up-and-down season that saw Clawson’s team win most of the games there were supposed to, and lose the ones they were supposed to as well. Though they scored 50 points or more in four different wins (over Towson, Rice, Louisville and Duke), the Deacons allowed 50-plus to both Clemson and Notre Dame, and 40 or more to Syracuse and BC. Injuries derailed some of the season, but there were also no major winning or losing streaks during the year. Wake never lost or won more than two in a row.

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Duke James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

2019 Season Outlook:

Once again, Wake will be hitting reset in a lot of spots. On the offensive side, Colburn’s gone at running back, as is do-it-all weapon Greg Dortch (1,078 yards receiving last year) and three of five starters on the offensive line. Two of four top receiving targets — Sage Surratt and Scotty Washington — are back, and Hinton has moved to wideout to catch passes from Newman or Hartman (likely Newman). That Deacons’ passing attack certainly takes a step back without Dortch, though it could be a bigger one if the line struggles and/or Carney and Christian Beal-Smith can’t make up the difference on the ground in Colburn’s absence.

The defense also says goodbye to a lot of talent, though it may not be a bad thing given last year’s struggles. Carlos Basham is the only returning starter on the defensive line, though they’ll add Old Dominion transfer Miles Fox at tackle (five sacks when he last played for the Monarchs). Linebacker Justin Strnad should lead the defense again, and is an All-ACC caliber player who tallied 105 tackles last season. He’ll have his work cut out for him with fellow LB DJ Taylor out for the year. Cornerback Essang Bassey is most notable returning player in the secondary, with Cameron Glenn and Chuck Wade leaving. Bassey had 15 pass break-ups in 2018.

Like most ACC teams, Wake’s schedule features quite a few toss-ups, plus the likely loss at Clemson. Though the early part of the Deacons’ schedule provide simpler opportunities for wins over Utah State, Rice, UNC and Elon, the most winnable games left on the slate are also early: Boston College and Louisville. Wake Forest closes with road games at Clemson, Virginia Tech and Syracuse, plus home dates vs. FSU, NC State and Duke. They’ll likely need to go 5-1 early to feel better about a bowl bid given the late schedule.

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, November 30

Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.

Odds of Orange Victory: 65 percent

Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:

Syracuse ran right through Wake Forest’s defense down in Winston-Salem last season, and with several of the best players gone from that group this time around, it could be more of the same. The Orange should be able to apply ample pressure in the trenches, and will be able to test the greener secondary. One potential advantage for the Deacs, however, is that it’s the last game of the season and inexperience doesn’t necessarily count for as much by that point. Still, I’d expect SU to close out the year with a win here.