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Syracuse football 2020 opponent preview: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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Dave Clawson’s built something that seems sustainable, even without Jamie Newman under center this year.

NCAA Football: Belk Bowl-Wake Forest vs Texas A&M Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a feeling the 2020 college football season could actually happen for the Syracuse Orange and other teams around the country. What we don’t know is whether it’ll go off as scheduled or with some adjustments. But until we’re told otherwise, we’re going through the 2020 schedule like everything is happening according to plan.

Previously, we got reacquainted with Georgia Tech after seven years of not playing one another. This time around, we’re learning more about the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. When we last saw the Deacs, we were taking home a rare, nine-point overtime win to close out the 2019 season. While we’re not rivals with the Deacs at all, these games are at least entertaining most years, and could very well be once again this fall.

If you think it’s presumptuous to be talking about upcoming opponents right now, that’s fair. But whether we’re coming off a five-win season or a 10-win season, I’m personally excited to see what 2020 turns into for the Orange. And since I run this place, we’re already diving into the coming year’s opponents. Next:

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

School: Wake Forest

Mascot: Demon Deacons

#BRAND Slogan(s): #GoDeacs

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: #ExtremelyClawffensive OR #NoDEACline

Recommended Blog: Blogger So Dear

Conference: ACC

Coach: Dave Clawson, seventh season.

Yes, really, Dave Clawson has been at the helm for well over half-a-decade now and despite all of that, he’s still in Winston-Salem and Wake is now a consistently solid program. Before his time at Wake, Clawson was a DB at Williams in the mid-1980s, then spent a lot of time in the Northeast coaching circuit. He was at Albany (1989-90), Buffalo (1991-92), Lehigh (1993-95) and Villanova (1996-98) before his first head coaching job at Fordham. Clawson took the Rams from 0-11 in year one to a 10-3 record in year four, then won nine in year five before heading off to Richmond.

At Richmond, he had the Spiders in the FCS quarterfinals in year two, then an FCS semifinals loss in year four before jumping to Tennessee to be offensive coordinator for a year. He was back as a head coach the next season at Bowling Green, earning a MAC title and a 10-win campaign by year five. That earned him the Wake job. Following two 3-9 seasons, he’s alternated between seven and eight wins the last four years, and took home three bowl victories in four tries while compiling a 36-40 record overall.

2019 Record: (8-5) (4-4)

Recapping Last Season:

One of the keys to the Deacons’ big season was a breakout effort from quarterback Jamie Newman. The junior had 2,868 passing yards and 26 touchdowns, plus another 574 yards and six scores on the ground to lead a top-15 offense in terms of yards per game (top 25 in passing as well). While the traditional rushing attack did enough, Newman’s mobility paired with dynamic receivers Sage Surratt and Kendall Hinton made for an impressive aerial attack. Those two wideouts and Scotty Washington all had at least 600 receiving yards on the year.

Things weren’t as great on the defensive end for Wake, as they ranked 84th in yards allowed per game (416.5) and 76th in points per game allowed (29.1). Some of that was due to allowing 50 or more to both Louisville and Clemson, but just three opponents were held under 20 points all year.

In an approach that should be familiar to Orange fans, Wake employed a bend-but-don’t-break philosophy, turning opponents overly frequently (25 takeaways were 12th in the country) and applying a good deal of pressure (87 tackles for loss on the year). Obviously that’s a lot more enjoyable to watch when the offense is scoring points as quickly as the Deacs were able to last season.

2020 Season Outlook:

The non-conference slate gets tougher this year, as Wake Forest hosts Appalachian State, and also plays Notre Dame in Charlotte — both in September. Florida State and Louisville could both prove to be difficult road games, and a November close of Syracuse, at Louisville, Clemson and Boston College could be a tough stretch if they’re not already bowl-eligible by that point.

Most notably on offense, Newman is gone for greener pastures, and could potentially be Georgia’s starting QB this fall. Lucky for the Deacs, Sam Hartman’s a pretty capable replacement who threw for 830 yards and four TDs in 2019 (350 yards and two scores vs. Syracuse alone). Though Hinton, Washington and tight end Jack Freudenthal have departed, Surratt returns healthy and dangerous, and the team is likely to see more from Donavon Greene (249 yards in four games last year). The rushing attack also has some upside as Kenneth Walker III looks to improve upon last year’s 579 yards, and he’ll likely split carries with Christian Beal-Smith (304 yards in 2019). Wake’s line is younger but experienced, and obviously having the skill position experience elsewhere helps.

Lyle Hemphill returns as defensive coordinator, and he’ll have seven of his top 10 tacklers back as well. Replacing Justin Strnad, Essang Bassey and Amari Henderson won’t be easy players to fill in for, but the Deacons also appeared to develop some depth in those spots. Bringing back 18 tackles for loss, Carlos Basham should lead the way for the defense, and make them a force up front from the defensive end position. Of the players that recorded a sack last year, Strnad (two) is the only one no longer with the team. That could mean big things for a group that got to opposing QBs 31 times in 2019.

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, November 7

Location: BB&T Field, Winston-Salem, N.C.

Odds of Orange Victory: 40 percent

Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:

On the one hand, I think Syracuse should be improved from what we saw when these teams last faced off. But on the other, Wake loses a lot less, brings back the bulk of an aggressive defense (including an All-ACC guy like Basham) and should have the offensive play-making ability to take advantage of any rebuilding defense. Last time out, offense wasn’t the issue for either team, but I think the Orange D could be slightly worse. If that actually winds up being the case, Wake gets an edge here for the win at home.