Only two games remain in our Syracuse Orange football opponent preview series. Last time, we spotlighted the home finale against Florida State. Now we’re taking a peek at the wacky, wonderful world of Wake Forest - ya know, the school with one of the weirdest mascots known to man? The one that’s not actually in Wake Forest, NC anymore? That one.
School: Wake Forest University
Mascot: Demon Deacons
#BRAND Slogans: #GoDeacs, “Welcome to Deactown”
Alternate #BRAND Slogan Suggestions: #SpeedDeacons or “Athletics Inspired by Ebenezer Scrooge”
Recommended Blog: Blogger So Dear
History vs. Syracuse: The Deacs trail the overall series 6-5 to the Orange. It’s definitely a young rivalry, as the two teams played only twice before SU joined the ACC. Their most recent matchup saw Wake Forest beat Syracuse in OT 40-37 last season - a game that should’ve been decided in regulation if the Orange had a 2-point conversion play ready. The most recent SU win was in 2019, when backup QB Clayton Welch got his team to overtime on senior day. After they went up three, Trill Williams ran a fumble back 94 yards for an uplifting end to a bittersweet Syracuse season.
Coach: Dave Clawson, ninth season. Clawson was awarded a multi-year extension after tying/breaking multiple program records last season. He played for Division III Williams College before getting his start in coaching at UAlbany. After that, he was off to a few hours west of here with Buffalo, followed by Lehigh and Villanova. His first head coaching jobs were at Fordham and Richmond. After a one-year stint at Tennessee’s OC, he became Dino Babers’s predecessor at Bowling Green. Then came the Wake offer in 2014, which he accepted. After two rebuilding years, Clawson has led the Deacs to six straight bowl appearances with four victories.
2021 Record: (11-3) (7-2)
Recapping Last Season:
The Deacs stormed out of the gates, winning their first four games in convincing fashion. They held off a Louisville rally with a late field goal in game number five, then marched into the Dome and won in OT thanks to a ridiculous TD grab. Wake Forest would move to 8-0, the best start to a season in team history, before finally dropping a game to UNC via a 4th quarter collapse. They rebounded against No. 16 NC State, but the next week, the Demon Deacons were unable to win in Death Valley. One more victory at BC set up Wake’s ACC Championship matchup with Pitt. Kenny Pickett did his job, and the Pittsburgh defense was too much to handle in the 45-21 loss. The Deacs were supposed to play No. 25 Texas A&M in the Gator Bowl, but after they withdrew due to a COVID outbreak, 5-7 Rutgers joined as a replacement. WF routed them 38-10.
Sam Hartman was one of the most effective college quarterbacks last year, throwing for 4,228 yards and 39 touchdowns, while rushing for 11 more scores. He had 14 picks as well. Likewise, A.T. Perry was about as reliable as a receiver can be: 71 catches, 1,293 yards, and 15 TDS. Number 2 option Jaquarii Roberson also 71 catches for over 1,000 yards, creating the most feared WR duo in the ACC. Christian Beal-Smith, Justice Ellison, and Christian Turner all contributed meaningful numbers to the running game. The Deacons’ offense had the 12th-most yards and 5th-most points per game.
The D-Line was a point of emphasis for this unit, with Luiji Vilain, Rondell Bothroyd, and Jasheen Davis having 22.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries combined. The secondary had four players with multiple interceptions. Traveon Redd was the most notable of these with three picks, including a pick-six, two forced fumbles, and three fumble recoveries. The Deacs struggled with rush defense much more then against the pass. Nick Sciba was one of the best FBS kickers, going a perfect 62/62 on PATs and 23/25 on FGs.
2022 Season Outlook:
Wake Forest will host FCS Virginia Military Academy, Liberty, and Army in its non-conference slate. The Deacs will also travel to Nashville to take on a fellow Black and Gold squad in Vanderbilt. ACC matchups line up like this: home against Clemson, Boston College, North Carolina, and Syracuse, and away against Florida State, Louisville, NC State, and Duke.
Hartman is out indefinitely with a non-football medical emergency, and there’s no telling how Redshirt Freshman Mitch Griffis will perform in the interim. Perry will return to his spot on the outside in what’s almost certainly his last year before entering the NFL Draft. Roberson is gone; fortunately, Donavon Greene, who started as a true freshman, can make up production now after being redshirted with an injury last year. Beal-Smith transferred to South Carolina, leaving Ellison and Turner as RBs 1 and 2.
Vilan was signed by the Vikings, and Redd’s college time is up. The bulk of the defense is back though. Sophomores Malik Mustapha and Caelen Carson are candidates to take over two-deep duties.
Syracuse Game Date: Saturday, November 19
Location: Truist Field, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Odds of Orange Victory: 34%
Very Early Outlook vs. Syracuse:
To me, this boils down to whether Hartman is back in action or not. Rivalry aside, I sincerely hope his football career wasn’t cut short. If he is still out, then you can probably bump SU’s odds up about 10%. Garrett Williams and Duce Chestnut will have their work cut out for them regardless facing some prime receivers. Depending on SU’s bowl status at this point, they could be fighting fiercely if they are near elimination. If they add a little extra physicality to their playstyle this week and Sean Tucker does what he does best, the Orange can get this upset.