First Look: Wake Forest

One day removed from the opening game of the 2020 college football season fans can now take a collective sigh of relief, knowing that the plan is without question to attempt to get a season in.

With that in mind, we will now turn our attention fully towards the Clemson season and the revamped schedule. First up, is the Wake Forest Demon Deacons, as the Tigers will head to Winston Salem on September 12 as a 32.5 point favorite.

Wake is coming off of an eight win season that saw them go 4-4 in ACC play. They were thought to be one of the league’s better teams until injuries decimated the team, and just in time for their late season matchup with the Tigers in Death Valley, a game Clemson won 59-3.

The Deacs did a lot of good things on offense last season that they are hoping to build off of heading into 2020. They led the ACC in third down conversions (47%), was second in the league in passing offense, and were actually 15th in the country in total offense.

Whatever they do will have to be done without quarterback Jamie Newman though. He is now in Athens looking to the lead one of the SEC’s better teams.

All is not lost however, as the Deacs still have Sam Hartman. He showed in 2018 that he can play, but this year all the pressure is on him, as Wake has basically nothing but inexperience behind him on the depth chart.

Hartman will be without his most potent weapon though, as receiver Sage Surratt has chosen to opt out and will not play this season. There is a lot of size among the Wake group of receivers, but there isn’t a ton of experience. With Surratt out, their second leading returning receiver is Donavon Green, who had just 13 catches last season.

The running game is a question. Cade Carney, their leading rusher from last season, is no longer there and Newman was a big part of the rushing game as well, totaling well over 500 yards. Sophomore Kenneth Walker, a 200-pound back, will be one of the main ball carriers, and junior Christian Beal-Smith will have opportunities too. Look for Hartman to also try and make plays with his legs.

The Deacs did lose left tackle Justin Herron, but outside of that return the entire interior of the offensive line. Terrance Davis transferred in from Maryland and will provide immediate help too.

On defense, Wake returns nine starters, however the two guys that aren’t back are big losses. Both starting corners are gone, but their backups were able to see plenty of time last season.

With the entire front four back, the one guy to keep an eye on is All-ACC player Carlos Basham. The 6-foot-5, 275 pound defensive end had 11 sacks and 18 TFL last season and should only be better this season. He is now more of a known commodity, and opposing teams will be scheming with him in mind.

Regardless, Wake isn’t trying to suffocate teams on defense to begin with. Their goal on that side of the ball is basically to try and get some stops here and there and give their efficient offense a chance to go to work.

The biggest key for Wake Forest this season is keeping that offense on the field, and that means moving the chains. Over the last four seasons, they are 17-3 when converting 47% of its third down attempts, and was 17-1 before the final two games of 2019.

The question then becomes can they do that against Clemson. From what we have seen in recent seasons, the answer is a resounding no. Last season Clemson held the Demon Deacons to just 105 total yards, and only five first downs. As far as third downs go, the Deacs were just 2-13 against a Clemson defense with a far less aggressive defensive front than they will see this season.

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