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Syracuse football 2021 opponent preview: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Our annual weird series writes yet another chapter this fall.

North Carolina State v Wake Forest Photo by Jacob Kupferman/Getty Images

We’re three months from Syracuse Orange football kickoff and we even started “Get to Know” pieces this week. So the start of the 2021 season is getting closer. In the time still to go until things get started, we’re counting down by previewing everything you need to know about the team. That’s included very early looks at all 12 opponents on this year’s schedule. Last week, we talked Florida State. This time out, it’s week six opponent:

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

School: Wake Forest University

Mascot: Demon Deacons

#BRAND Slogan(s): #GoDeacs

Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: “Quit Deacon Around” OR “NOT-Located-in-Wake-Forest University”

Recommended Blog: Blogger So Dear

Conference: ACC

History vs. Syracuse: This series has been relatively even in its brief and weird history. Wake’s 4-6 against the Orange, with all of those games taking place since 2006. The Deacons won the first time around, with ‘Cuse causing the injury that helped propel Wake Forest to the ACC title. Syracuse won the next four, then lost two straight, then won another two straight (including this insane game) before last year’s hapless 38-14 loss.

Syracuse v Wake Forest Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images

Coach: Dave Clawson, eighth season. The New York native played defensive back at Williams College before a couple years at Albany and then his first staff job at Buffalo from 1991-92. He worked at Lehigh through 1995, and ran Villanova’s offense through 1998 before getting his first head coaching gig coaching Fordham. He went 29-29 in five seasons, which was enough to get the Richmond job, where he went 29-20 before getting hired as Tennessee’s OC for a year. Clawson went 32-31 at Bowling Green after that, before taking the Wake job. He’s gone 40-45 in seven seasons, including five straight bowl appearances — though no top-25 finishes, and no season with more than eight wins.

2020 Record: (4-5) (3-4)

Recapping Last Season

It was a strange season for Wake, even when considering everything else going on. The Demon Deacons lost the first two (to Clemson and NC State) then reeled off four straight wins mid-season before dropping the final three contests, including a 42-28 Duke’s Mayo Bowl loss to Wisconsin. Due to various COVID issues around the ACC, the Deacs played just one game in November. They finished 10th in last year’s expanded conference standings.

While inconsistent, Wake Forest’s offense wasn’t half-bad last year. The team finished 28th in total offense per game (444.4 yards, in a direct violation of trademark law) and was 19th in scoring at 36 points per game — though that was heavily influenced by scoring 53 vs. UNC and 66 against Campbell. Sam Hartman led an effective air attack with 2,224 yards and 13 touchdowns (five picks) through the air on 58% passing. The Deacons also had a nice two-man rushing attack of Christian Beal-Smith and Kenneth Walker III combine for over 1,300 yards on the ground. Jaquarii Roberson was a breakout receiver, catching 62 passes for 926 yards and eight scores.

The Wake Forest defense, on the other hand, had its major struggles. The Deacons were 90th in yards allowed per game (435.7) and 91st in scoring defense at 32.8 points allowed per. They didn’t necessarily rush the passer well, with just 17 sacks on the year, though Wake did force 17 turnovers on the season (32nd overall). Freshman Nick Andersen led the team in INTs with four, while Carlos Basham recorded five sacks in just seven games. Miles Fox led the team in tackles for loss, with 10.5 on the year.

Duke’s Mayo Bowl - Wake Forest v Wisconsin Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

2021 Season Outlook

While Wake Forest did make another bowl game last year, and that’s ultimately what matters, the team certainly took some steps back on defense and still finished with a sub-.500 record. This year’s schedule features tough road trips at both Clemson and North Carolina (a non-conference game because reasons), and you’ll likely know a lot about the Deacs after the first six games. Following easier machups vs. Old Dominion and Norfolk State, Wake hosts Florida State, travels to Virginia, faces Louisville at home, then goes back on the road to face the Orange.

Hartman’s back under center, though there have been some slight shifts around him. Walker (579 rushing yards last year) transferred to Michigan State, but Beal-Smith’s back and will be joined by Michigan transfer Christian Turner. The team’s top six receivers are all back, and Roberson seems poised to get some all-conference looks. Wake’s line largely returns as well — which may or may not be a good thing after they allowed 27 sacks last season in just nine games.

Defensively, Basham is gone after being picked by the Bills in the second round of the NFL Draft, as is leading tackler Ja’Cquez Williams, who left for UL-Monroe. Beyond Williams and Basham, 10 of the top 12 tacklers from last season are back for the defense. They’ve also added some transfers of their own, including UL-Monroe’s Kevin Pointer (7.5 TFLs last year). Other additions and subtractions happened in the transfer portal further down the depth chart. But Wake potentially won’t need to call upon the new players a ton given the experience they return — though that doesn’t completely erase the absence of the top two players from a defense that struggled mightily with them at times last year.

Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, October 9

Location: Carrier Dome, Syracuse, N.Y.

Odds of Orange Victory: 55%

Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:

Hartman was a capable starter, even if no game-changer, which could be enough depending on what the Orange offense can do in this matchup. Wake’s defense will be a work in progress, and getting them in the first half of the year could be a good stroke of luck, especially since SU’s the fourth game in a tougher conference string. The difference ultimately winds up being the Orange’s better D and an offense that’s more capable and healthy than last year’s futile attack. That doesn’t mean a big win. But the home boost gives Syracuse a minor advantage.