Instead of a nationally relevant matchup between a 4-1 Syracuse Orange football squad and a 5-0 Wake Forest Demon Deacons team, we’re getting a 3-2 Syracuse desperately trying to avoid a two-game losing streak. Still, no matter who’s ranked and who isn’t, Wake-Syracuse remains a supremely weird series, as both sides are distinctly aware of by now.
Since we’re not Demon Deacons fans, we went ahead and asked one about what to expect from Wake Forest on Saturday. Blogger So Dear’s Cameron Lemons Debro provides responses to our questions below. We provide some answers over there too, which you can check out here.
Who’s the team to beat in the ACC this year? Still Clemson, or is their reign of terror (at least temporarily) over?
Right now it’s just whoever loses least. Clemson is still the betting favorite, and according to Draftkings, still has the highest chance of any ACC team to make the playoffs. With all due respect to Kenny Pickett and Pitt, the ACC will more than likely run through the Atlantic and I’ll cop out and say it’s a three-team race right now: Wake, NC State, and Clemson. I’d probably give NC State the nod as they already have the Clemson win, while Wake’s last 4 games are UNC/State/Clemson/BC.
After years of improvement, things looked a little less certain for Wake Forest — yet it’s all back on track in 2021. What’s been the biggest difference for the Deacons compared to last fall?
Not having COVID and not running out of defensive backs. Former walk-on Nick Andersen has been a great story but mostly got his start because Wake quite literally ran out of people to play back there. Wake’s best safety Nasir Greer had to play corner for the first time ever, against Clemson week 1. He obviously made the most of his opportunity, but if anyone said they’d expect a walk-on true freshman to come in and play mid-season, you’re lying to yourself. Now they’re operating with 7-8 safeties, when healthy, for 2 1/2 positions(I say half because the ROVER will split time with the third CB as well) which is much more appropriate depth. Having COVID outbreak massively hurt this team. Not only were they down bodies for the year, they came off a heartbreaking loss to UNC and then couldn’t practice for a month before taking on Louisville. It was a season everyone wants to just bury.
Where would you rank Dave Clawson among Power Five coaches? How about in the ACC?
Clawson is a top 25 coach in the P5. Look up and down every FBS school and ask yourselves who could recruit at WAKE FOREST with the academic standards, non-NFL offense, smallest P5 school, and still take a team to 5 straight bowl games with a sixth one win away. That list is extremely small, and what Clawson has done is downright impressive, and he continues to do it at every stop. I don’t think it’s too bullish to say he’s second right now given how this season has progressed? Dabo is Dabo and while Clemson is down you cant discount that track record of Championships and sending guys to the league.
After that... Mack Brown hasn’t lived up to on-field expectations yet, Doeren finally got a good win but has historically struggled in big games with a wealth of talent, Hafley isn’t experienced enough, I think Dave has a good argument for that second spot in the ACC.
Even without the gaudiest numbers, Sam Hartman’s always managed to be pretty effective at quarterback. What’s the best aspect of his game? Any glaring weaknesses?
He’s not afraid of anything. He’s always been a gunslinger and thinks he can make any throw, which at times is a detriment, but you need that out of yourr quarterback. If they’re afraid to pull the trigger, you’re late, you think too much and throw more interceptions, and that irrational confidence makes a quarterback better. He’s actually gotten a lot better of while thinking he can make any throw, a) not letting a bad throw demoralize him like it did in the Mayo Bowl last year and b) taking off and running when it’s not there.
One of my biggest criticisms of the offense last year was that absolutely no one respected the RPO because Hartman never pulled the ball and ran himself, and through five games it’s been a wild difference. This year he has had a slight issue underthrowing the ball. A large majority of them still have been caught, but he’s had fair amount of throws that if he just gets it a little further and doesn’t loft it, the receiver doesn’t have to adjust and go up for it and instead are waltzing into the end zone. Minor thing this year, but still something I’m keeping an eye on.
So Wake’s passing defense hasn’t been great. Is that a product of teams trying to mount comebacks, or glaring issues with the secondary? (or something else)
Well they’ve played two of the most prolific offenses in the ACC in UVA, who is one of the best passing offenses in the country, and Louisville. UVA got down fast and didn’t have much of a run game anyways, which resulted in Brennan Armstrong throwing the ball FIFTY-NINE TIMES. Against Louisville, Wake got a little thin in the back and it showed. Nasir Greer is out until after the bye week, Coby Davis is out for the season, true freshman Evan Slocum was hurt in the UVA game, and it didn’t help that just by looking at snap counts transfers Malik Mustapha and Chelen Garnes were “break glass in case of emergency” in terms of their availability.
All that depth that’s been helpful the first 4 games suddenly was gone and then they had to face a dynamic Malik Cunningham. I don’t think there’s a glaring issue if they can get some of those guys back, but it does raise an eyebrow. We also had a random just bad day from Ja’Sir Taylor and Caelen Carson who have been fantastic the last year and a half.
This is potentially one of the ACC’s most interesting annual series. What makes Syracuse-Wake so decidedly weird and/or compelling?
I blame the Carrier Dome. This will be the THIRD straight game there and that place never seems to be the same whether it’s the LED lights and no fans, or looking like a house of horrors while Wake is limping their way to the finish line. It just seems some divine being said this game cannot be a normal game SOMETHING has to happen, as I’m reminded of 2016 when Wake and Cuse played in a monsoon on family weekend.
Who scores more points in this battle of arguably the top two kickers in the ACC?
I hope Nick Sciba? I don’t know why it’s fitting that these two teams have the best kickers in the ACC, but it just feels right. If this game goes to triple overtime, please dear God do not listen to that one, we should honestly just have a kick-off and just see who misses first. Sounds like a good plan?
Any unsung Wake Forest player that Syracuse fans should get a little more familiar with?
Offensively, I’d get a little more acquainted with the other 2 backs in Wake’s three-headed monster: Justice Ellison and Christian Turner. Turner is a transfer from Michigan and has earned some really tough yards for the team this year. Ellison was the guy who essentially ended the Louisville game for Wake, going on run after run, and teaching the Cards a lesson in what will happen when you don’t set the edge. Defensively, it feels weird to say a guy who’s tied for the league lead in sacks, but I’m going with Luiji Vilain. He’s technically the backup Drop End behind JaCorey Johns, but the former Michigan transfer has just found new life when coming to Winston-Salem. He’s been able to stay healthy and has been a productive member of the team. Portal works both ways, guys!
Which Syracuse player are you most concerned about stopping going into this game?
The easy answer is Sean Tucker, but I’m going with Garrett Shrader. Dual-Threat quarterbacks have continually hurt Wake the last few years and watching Shrader against FSU was a bit unsettling, even if FSU just blatantly gave up contain a few times. It shows that even if his accuracy downfield isn’t great, he can keep the train moving with his legs and just add a dimension DeVito couldn’t.
Prediction time: Who wins this one and why?
With all that being said Wake 35, Cuse 24. Sean Tucker is a hoss, and while Wake’s run defense has been very good, I think he’ll get his, and I’m sure Shrader will get his as well on a long run. However, Wake has a habit of being successful against one-dimensional teams. Syracuse being nightmarish when it comes to deep throws will allow Wake to just stack the box and trust their corners as they did against FSU and UVA. I don’t think Syracuse is well equipped for a track meet on the scoreboard, and I think Wake will force them into one.