Today's Paper Latest The Article Story ideas Coronavirus Newsletters Obits Puzzles Archive iPad Core Values Weather
ADVERTISEMENT

Unbeaten Deacons an offensive force

by The Associated. Press | October 14, 2021 at 2:30 a.m.
Wake Forest offensive lineman Loic Ngassam Nya (59) and defensive lineman Isaiah Chaney (93) celebrate after a 40-37 overtime win against Syracuse in an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)

Wake Forest began this season among the large group known as "everybody else" in the Atlantic Coast Conference, the label applied to teams projected to fall in line behind perennial favorite Clemson.

Imagining a different scenario would've been a stretch this summer considering the powerhouse Tigers were coming off a sixth consecutive league title and yet another appearance in the College Football Playoff championship. Meanwhile, the Demon Deacons were looking to improve from a 4-5 showing (3-4 ACC) in a pandemic-affected season and were picked to finish fifth in the Atlantic Division.

Wake Forest has flipped that script in a big way.

The 16th-ranked Demon Deacons (6-0, 4-0) have gone from hunter to hunted as the ACC's only unbeaten school and the highest ranked team in the league during this week's bye. A daunting second half looms for Wake Forest, including a Nov. 20 meeting at Clemson.

Despite what lies ahead, the Demon Deacons and their high-scoring offense are currently the unexpected targets and potential challengers must either keep pace or find a way to slow them down.

Wake Forest has its first 4-0 start in ACC play and is 6-0 for the first time since beginning 7-0 in 1944. The Demon Deacons rank 14th nationally in scoring (38.7 points per game) and average 441.3 yards per outing (42nd in FBS).

Sophomore quarterback Sam Hartman directs this proficient attack that seems to score at will and protects the ball. Those strengths have helped earn consecutive close wins over Louisville (37-34) and Syracuse ( 40-37 in overtime ) entering the break.

Resilient as Wake Forest has been, its road to an Atlantic Division title gets tougher with Duke, the Tar Heels, No. 22 North Carolina State (Nov. 13), Clemson and Boston College still ahead.

Second-place N.C. State (4-1, 1-0) might end up holding the cards after creating this opening with a 27-21, two-overtime victory over then-No. 9 Clemson last month. That gave the Wolfpack the head-to-head tiebreaker against the Tigers, with their lone loss coming the week before in non-conference play at Mississippi State.

"That game helped us," Wolfpack Coach Dave Doeren said. "Even though we lost (at MSU), it helped us I think identify some things we can't be. And the guys took that to heart."

N.C. State still has the bulk of its ACC docket remaining but if it can run the table, a berth in the title game in Charlotte, N.C., on Dec. 4 awaits. That's a big if with Clemson steadily improving from two September losses and Wake Forest playing well in all phases.

"We often talk about Wake Forest as this sort of nice story, a scrappy team that doesn't turn the ball over and is fundamentally sound," ACC Network and ESPN analyst Roddy Jones said. "And we skip over the fact that they have really good players, too. When you put all those things together, you get a really good, experienced team."

At the same time, Jones notes that it's too soon to declare Clemson's ACC reign over. Even with losing All-Americans Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne, the Tigers are still considered to have the most talent in the conference.

And they aim to show it with the league title still within reach.

The Tigers (3-2, 2-1) visit Syracuse on Friday night after a bye to begin a four-game stretch with three road contests, which includes a visit to Coastal Division-leading Pittsburgh on Oct. 23. As it turns out, Clemson will host Wake Forest in its conference finale next month, a meeting that could decide the Atlantic Division.

Coach Dabo Swinney warned this week that while his team isn't done by any measure, they can't afford to lose ground.

"If we want to have any chance at all of staying in in the hunt, we've got to take care of business," he said. "If we were 5-0, wouldn't this be the biggest game of the year? I mean, we need to win it, right? Nothing's changed.

"This team will be judged by how we finish, and it doesn't matter if you're 5-0. ... That's just college football," Swinney said. "So, we've got a long way to go."

Sophomore quarterback Sam Hartman has helped lead Wake Forest (6-0) to a No. 16 AP Top 25 ranking and a 4-0 start in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
(AP/Adrian Kraus)
Sophomore quarterback Sam Hartman has helped lead Wake Forest (6-0) to a No. 16 AP Top 25 ranking and a 4-0 start in the Atlantic Coast Conference. (AP/Adrian Kraus)
Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei (5) avoids the tackle by Boston College defensive end Marcus Valdez (97) during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Boston College Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)
Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei (5) avoids the tackle by Boston College defensive end Marcus Valdez (97) during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Boston College Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)
North Carolina State head coach Dave Doeren disputes a penalty with officials during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Louisiana Tech in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
North Carolina State head coach Dave Doeren disputes a penalty with officials during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Louisiana Tech in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson, left, celebrates with quarterback Sam Hartman after a 40-37 overtime win against Syracuse in an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson, left, celebrates with quarterback Sam Hartman after a 40-37 overtime win against Syracuse in an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell (7) hands off to running back D.J. Jones (26) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida State in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell (7) hands off to running back D.J. Jones (26) during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Florida State in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Wake Forest defensive back Ja'Sir Taylor, left, celebrates with defensive lineman Rondell Bothroyd (40) after recovering a fumble by Syracuse running back Cooper Lutz during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
Wake Forest defensive back Ja'Sir Taylor, left, celebrates with defensive lineman Rondell Bothroyd (40) after recovering a fumble by Syracuse running back Cooper Lutz during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
Boston College offensive lineman Alec Lindstrom (72) points out the defense during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Clemson Saturday, Oct.2, 2021, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)
Boston College offensive lineman Alec Lindstrom (72) points out the defense during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Clemson Saturday, Oct.2, 2021, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)
Wake Forest wide receiver A.T. Perry, right, catches a pass for a touchdown in front of Syracuse defensive back Garrett Williams during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
Wake Forest wide receiver A.T. Perry, right, catches a pass for a touchdown in front of Syracuse defensive back Garrett Williams during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Syracuse, N.Y., Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)
Clemson linebacker James Skalski (47) celebrates after breaking up a pass play during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Boston College Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)
Clemson linebacker James Skalski (47) celebrates after breaking up a pass play during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Boston College Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Hakim Wright Sr.)
North Carolina State's Devin Carter (88) hauls in a pass in front of Louisiana Tech's Cedric Woods (11) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)
North Carolina State's Devin Carter (88) hauls in a pass in front of Louisiana Tech's Cedric Woods (11) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. (AP Photo/Karl B DeBlaker)

Print Headline: Unbeaten Deacons an offensive force

ADVERTISEMENT

Sponsor Content

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT