BREAKING NEWS: the 3-0, 8th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish football team has agreed to play yet another football game, this time traveling to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, to battle the 2-1 Wake Forest Demon Deacons on their home turf at BB&T Field on Saturday.
Now I’m not sure about you guys, but after last week’s close call against the
Vanderbilt Commodores Jay Cutler U Fighting Jay Cutlers, I want to be sure I head into this weekend armed with as much knowledge about the Irish’s latest opponent as humanly possible.
So, in order to educate you all as well, I’ve spoken to a number of people about the Demon Deacons football team. First, I interviewed Cam Lemons Debro of the Wake Forest SB Nation site, Blogger So Dear, to get his views on important things like QB Sam Hartman, the best names on the Demon Deacon roster, what Wake can do to pull off the upset, and more.
Then, I also reached out to a couple Wake Forest alumni friends, Peter Gauss and Brian Lauer, to get their perspectives on the Demon Deacon defense, Dave Clawson crushing karaoke, what the hell a Demon Deacon even is, etc.
Finally, I briefly spoke to my Official Panel of College Football Fans (AKA my friends I talk to in a GroupMe chat) to gather their extensive insight going into this match-up, so be sure to look out for that nonsense below as well.
So, let’s not belabor the point any further. Here’s everything you need to know about Wake Forest, from the mouths of Demon Deacons themselves (and Hux).
It doesn’t appear to have been the most ideal start to the season for the Demon Deacons, what with a narrow win over Tulane in the opener and then picking up the first loss of the year last weekend against BC. How are Wake fans feeling about the team and how do you think the rest of the season will go?
Cam Lemons Debro: Saying it hasn’t been ideal has been an understatement. The team has lost 7 players to ACL tears including Justin Herron, who’s one of the best Pass Blockers in the ACC, if not nation, and Coby Davis, who had become a fixture in the secondary.
With that being said, injuries happen and it’s about how you move past it and try to become a better football team. I think the fan base is at a weird place with the team and the season. Frankly, they didn’t look dominant in the Towson game until late, when they should have the entire game. Tulane is tough, yet there were a lot of mistakes made in that game. BC was a very winnable game but too many big plays were given up.
We’re all under the impression that if the mistakes are cleaned up, this could be a special season. But with that being said, there are big things to fix: Interceptions and secondary play. Too many big plays have been given up due to miscommunication in the secondary and Hartman has thrown at least 1 pick in every game. Those two things cannot happen the rest of the year. I think Wake turns it around, but I’m optimistic.
Peter Gauss: I’d actually push back on this. Wake lost several playmakers, including quarterback John Wolford and key members of the defense to graduation, and as the smallest power conference school, Dave Clawson doesn’t exactly have the ability to just slot in guys and reload, so lots of young guys are getting playing time early.
Clawson has been great throughout his career at developing talent, so I think 2-1 is about where Wake fans would expect to be. BC certainly exposed some gaping holes, but I think BC is more than likely a 8-9 win team that will make some noise in the ACC Atlantic. I actually expect this team to improve throughout the season given Clawson’s ability to develop players into roles, and outside of Clemson, the ACC Atlantic appears to be down (see Florida State and Louisville), so realistically 7 wins and a bowl game would be a reasonable expectation.
What are your thoughts on new QB Sam Hartman, who seems to be struggling a bit in the early going this season?
Cam Lemons Debro: I’m on the less favorable side of the new QB. He has thrown for 834 yards and 6 touchdowns in 3 games. Great numbers from your freshman QB.
On the flip side, he’s thrown 5 interceptions including a couple of bad ones. He’s also completing only 55.3% of his passes (the same % as Brandon Wimbush, actually, who has thrown a little over half as many passes). He’s thrown 123 passes, which is normal for the offense, but when you look at who else has similar stats as a QB, you come across a QB for an 0-4 team. He has to throw better and smarter passes because 55% is just not going to cut it the rest of the way.
I understand completion percentage isn’t the end all be all with drops, very good defensive play, etc. but it would be idiotic to say you’d be fine with your starting QB being 119th in the FBS out of 147 qualified passers. So, a bit of good, a bit of bad, but he’s also 19 and has room to grow.
Peter Gauss: Sam Hartman is the second straight QB 1-star to sign with the Deacs. As a true freshman, I’d again argue that Wake fans are extremely excited about what they’ve seen from Hartman thus far.
As any freshman outside of Tua Tagovailoa is prone to do, he has tried to make too much happen or has been somewhat careless with the ball, which has led to turnovers, but his arm strength and athleticism are perfect for Clawson’s RPO offense. Again, he’s an 18-year-old kid, but the Charlotte native could easily be a four-year starter, displacing presumptive starter Kendall Hinton who just finished serving a three-game suspension.
You could see Hinton get some snaps, but I think Hartman has shown the poise to earn the starting job and Wake fans are excited to watch Hartman grow moving forward.
We all know Greg Dortch is an All-ACC caliber receiver, but who else on this Demon Deacon offense could give the Irish defense trouble on Saturday?
Cam Lemons Debro: I’ll give you 2 answers and a non-answer.
1st, Alex Bachman. What a game this guy had last year and has parlayed it into starting off hot even with missing last week’s game. You can’t single cover this guy and he has made some absurd catches. I look for him to get going early and often in this game.
On the other side, Sage Surratt has emerged with the injury to Scotty Washington. Sage has also caught just about every 50/50 ball that comes to him including one against BC that I thought for sure was going to be a pick, but he turned nothing into something. With a lot of attention being put on Dortch in the slot probably, it’s nice to see Wake has two VERY reliable options on the outside that will make defenses pay.
The non-answer: whatever running back is hot. I lean towards Cade Carney as he’s been running very well recently, then you watch the games and will just see Matt Colburn or Christian Beal-Smith break a few runs. While Colburn is the starter, it’s a true hot hand position, which is fine, except I wouldn’t put my money on guessing which one.
Peter Gauss: Before I talk about other threats, it should be stated how great Greg Dortch really is. Wake really has true game breakers, but Dortch is probably the most lethal offensive weapon ND has faced thus far. Clawson does a great job of getting Dortch into space, and I think comparisons to Darren Sproles are apt. He’s also a threat in the return game, which Michigan exposed against ND earlier this season.
Outside of Dortch, the rest of the receiving corps has taken a big step forward. Sage Surratt and Alex Bachman each have had great starts to the season, and Scotty Washington is a veteran receiver recovering from injury who provides even more depth. This group is definitely the strength of Wake’s offense, with running backs Matt Colburn and Cade Carney providing nice balance at the running back position.
Brian Lauer: Cade Carney — think Christian McCaffrey, then remove the speed, elusiveness, and pass catching ability and you’ve got it. Also if Michael Campanaro comes in for a cameo appearance, you’ll be in trouble
Walk me through the Wake Forest defense - what are its strengths and weaknesses and who are the key players whose performances are crucial to consistently stopping a very inconsistent ND offense?
Cam Lemons Debro: There are a few players that stick out to me that have played well all year: Zeek Rody and Willie Yarbary on the line alongside Justin Strnad and DJ Taylor in the linebacker positions. Those 4 have been consistent in terms of what they’ve been asked to do.
However, there are two big things that just haven’t happened: consistent pressure and giving up big plays. The two really feed into each other a lot. If you aren’t getting pressure, the QB has a lot of time to survey the field and make a big play happen. On the flip side, if you’re allowing a lot of big plays in the secondary then you’ll rush less in order to help contain.
Someone like Boogie Basham on the end has to start getting pressure and getting to the QB. Someone like Cameron Glenn has to help make sure everyone is in the right place and make sure these explosive plays aren’t happening behind him and the rest of the secondary.
If the secondary comes to play like they have in years past I really like Wake’s chances in this against a QB who I think we can all agree has struggled a bit, forcing him to have to make a perfect throw rather than just survive and find a wide open receiver. If the secondary of this year pops up again, this could get ugly.
Peter Gauss: The best way to describe Wake’s defense is non-existent. Actually, that’s unfair to the front seven, who contained BC star running back AJ Dillon after an opening possession 45-yard touchdown. That’s the only nice thing I have to say about this defense.
The secondary looks completely lost in coverage, and pressure off the edge is not something Wake seems to be concerned about producing. Granted, Brandon Wimbush isn’t the most gifted passer of all-time, but Wake’s secondary blows assignments so egregiously that I’d expect at least two 50-yard+ receptions during this game.
Essang Bassey (candidate for best name on roster) has been a bright spot in the secondary, but at this point, it would be better to put out 11 guys who were born in South Florida since Wimbush likely has PTSD from last year in Miami.
What must happen for Wake to have a shot at the upset? How confident are you that might happen?
Cam Lemons Debro: Dave Clawson has been very vocal in this and I’m 100% with him. We can’t turn the ball over and the secondary has to play better. If you’re turning the ball over, even once or twice instead of scoring, you’re putting your defense in a bad position and I don’t care how good your defense is.
On the flip side, if you’re telling the offense they need to put up 50 points to win, you’re going to be in a world of trouble. Wake’s offense is built to score and score fast, which I think they will do in this game, but Sam Hartman cannot keep continuing to throw some of the passes he has been and this secondary can’t keep getting roasted.
Peter Gauss: I’m a Wake alumnus and the Deacs are my team, but I feel I should state here I grew up a big ND fan and have watched all three games this season, and have followed the Brian Kelly era closely, and I think honestly ND’s style of play will keep Wake in this game much longer than the talent gap between the rosters should allow.
Kelly’s teams seem to play up or down to their opponents’ abilities far too often, and given the potential matchup of top-10 teams against Stanford the following week, I could see the Irish sleep walking into Winston-Salem for a third straight week. Notre Dame’s defense has looked stout, but hasn’t really faced any significant talent to date. I’d go so far as to say that Wake’s receiving corps is the deepest and most well-rounded that the Irish have faced this year, and Dortch will easily be the most explosive player the Irish have come up against.
To have a real shot at the upset, Wake will have to limit the big plays the defense has given up routinely so far this season. Notre Dame is just too athletic to get into a true track meet, so the secondary will have to make a big leap this week for Wake to have a chance to pull off the upset.
WE INTERRUPT THIS VERY GOOD Q&A FOR SOMETHING INCREDIBLY STUPID: TIME FOR A WORD FROM PAT’S PERSONAL PANEL OF COLLEGE FOOTBALL FANS, AKA SOME BUDDIES OF HIS
Hux: @PatRick I just looked up things on Wake Forest football and the only remotely interesting tidbit is that Brian Piccolo went there and Brian’s Song was the first movie to ever make me cry not named The Lion King.
And that was talking Wake Forest football with Hux!
Now back to our regularly scheduled Q&A...
Notre Dame has a freshman running back named C’Borius Flemister. What are the best names on the Wake Forest roster, and do any of them top my guy C’Bo?
Cam Lemons Debro: Always love this question. I’m a big fan of Carlos “Boogie” Basham at DE and linebacker LaRonde’ Liverpool. But I think the best name on the team, and I don’t think it quite gets up to C’Borius, would be Ja’Sir Taylor, one of our DBs. I wish Gelo Orange still played for Wake because that would be the easy answer.
Peter Gauss: C’Bo is gonna be hard to beat, but Wake has a few guys who can challenge for the crown. Announcers will talk about Punter Dom Maggio ad nauseam, so get ready for LOTS of baseball references to the Yankees legend.
Ja’Sir Taylor and Ja’Cquez Williams can discuss the utility of names with apostrophes with C’Bo postgame, but that argument will be settled by offensive lineman Je’Vionte’ Nash. I’ll have to do more research as to whether it’s a second apostrophe after the e, or if the second part of his first name is actually a quotation.
Brian Lauer: Ja’sir Taylor might put up a fight against C’Bo, you have to respect the politeness in his name as well. Just a class act all around.
Brian Kelly vs. Dave Clawson in a karaoke battle. What song(s) does each coach sing, comment on their stage presence/charisma/how they connect with the crowd, and pick a winner.
Cam Lemons Debro: Dave Clawson is the easy one. He’s been noted as a big Talking Heads fan, so he’d definitely go along the lines of “Burning Down The House.” I can see him having a Shawn Michaels-esque charisma with the crowd and they go wild
Brian Kelly would more than likely go “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen. Great song, but I just don’t feel as if Kelly would be able to grab the crowd’s attention even with the song choice and fall just short to Clawson (precursor to Saturday?).
Peter Gauss: Clawson wins this karaoke matchup in a landslide. The silver fox is a veteran at turning around programs, so since he’s so good at picking himself up off the mat, I have him singing Chumbawamba’s classic “Tubthumping.”
Honestly, the guy is a perfect fit for Wake. He gives off the cheesy dad vibe, but it’s clear that his players love him and he has embraced Wake Forest 110%, so given that this karaoke battle would likely take place at Last Resort (a student favorite on Thursday nights), he’ll play to his crowd.
It doesn’t hurt that Brian Kelly has the charisma of a stump, so he’ll probably riff about CHAOS! and how practicing with soccer balls makes sense before turning purple and yelling at the student judges for another unforced coaching error.
You have to pick two Wake Forest athletes from any sport and from any era to compete on Legends of the Hidden Temple. Who do you choose and why?
Cam Lemons Debro: While recent, Jessie Bates and Greg Dortch seem like pretty good options. Both have the smarts and athleticism in order to get through all of the weird stuff and poorly marked objectives. 27% (!!) of kids actually got through it, what an absurd show if you think about it.
Peter Gauss: Oh boy... I mean I think one pick has to go to Arnold Palmer (RIP). Back in his heyday, Arnie would have completed the temple run with ease with a cigarette in his mouth and an army of supporters behind him.
It’s a tossup between Tim Duncan and Chris Paul to round out the team, but the temple favors agility and speed, and Timmy’s height would be quite the obstacle. In fact, out of all of ND’s opponents on the schedule, I’d love to hear a more formidable Legends of the Hidden Temple pair than Arnold Palmer and Chris Paul. Ratings through the roof and a new temple record.
Brian Lauer: I mean the first choice has to be Arnold Palmer — he has the agility, craftiness and experience (plus an unlimited amount of his signature drink when the team gets parched).
A deacon is an ordained minister, but a demon is an evil spirit or devil. So is a Demon Deacon an evil being? A possessed clergyman? Does that makes this match-up that of a leprechaun vs. a possessed deacon? Who would win that fight?
Cam Lemons Debro: So the name came about after Wake beat Duke (then Trinity University) in football and a school newspaper referred to the team as Demon Deacons due to their “devilish play and fighting spirit.”
So, I wouldn’t say possessed, but I would definitely say that this Deacon has a lot of fight in him. In terms of an actual match-up, speed-wise the leprechaun definitely has the Deacon beat, but I think just the raw size and power over the Leprechaun gives it a slight edge — but it is very close.
Peter Gauss: Wake has its roots in the Baptist Convention, so the story holds that in 1923, Wake’s football team knocked off Duke, and the student newspaper referred to the team as “demon deacons” due to their “devilish” play (which is funny since we out-deviled the Blue Devils on that day).
Wake loves its unique nickname, though our mascot has been known to unintentionally scare children. On family weekend, his wife comes out (same mascot, sans top hat, but with a nice little handkerchief on her head). He doesn’t seem to be terribly mean off the field, so I think he’s a clergyman who becomes possessed by the spirits of deacons past during competition.
The Leprechaun would have a massive youth advantage, but I had to personally verbally encourage (assault) the Leprechaun at the 2015 monsoon game at Clemson, so his low energy give the Demon Deacon a fighting chance against that spunky ginger.
Anything else Notre Dame fans should know about Wake’s team, program, fans, traditions, history, etc., or any other thoughts on this game?
Cam Lemons Debro: I always love this fact that Wake is the smallest power 5 school, and yet can still hang with the big boys, AKA beating Texas A&M, a team full of 4- and 5-star recruits. The Wake Forest faithful are a rowdy bunch. Hopefully there will be a bunch of students singing the alma mater after a win and screaming “Mother So Dear.”
Peter Gauss: BB&T field isn’t the most intimidating venue, both as it holds a mere 27,500 fans (remember Wake has an undergraduate population of 4,500), and I’d be willing to bet the majority of fans in attendance are wearing Blue and Gold (or green or whatever Under Armor pays you guys to wear), rather than Old Gold and Black.
However, expect traditional southern hospitality at tailgates, with students choosing to stay and imbibe over entering the stadium. For fans making the trip, I’d encourage to you to take a walk around campus, which is a nice southern contrast to Notre Dame’s campus.
Enjoy Foothills Brewery, Tate’s Cocktail Bar, and numerous other downtown watering holes, but be sure to stop by Putters pre- or postgame for cheap pitchers, fantastic bar food, and overall friendly people. Expect to see a Wake legend ride out on a motorcycle because what program doesn’t have cheesy “traditions now” and in the event Wake wins, the students will “roll” the quad with the terrible single ply toilet paper we were forced to endure in the dorms.
Don’t expect the passion or scale of a Saturday in South Bend, but Wake has plenty of charm.
Prediction time: who wins, what’s the final score, and why do you think that?
Cam Lemons Debro: The spread is 7.5 in favor of ND, the O/U is 55.5. The over plays into Wake’s strengths and I do think the game goes over — a 34-27 game seems very reasonable.
I’m going 34-31 Notre Dame. I’m optimistic about Wake’s chances in this given the last couple of ND’s games. I think this offense still clicks and clicks well, but I just have too many questions defensively about Wake to confidently say they win. But I do think this will be much closer than people see.
Peter Gauss: At the very least, Wake is the king of the backdoor cover. It appears that Notre Dame is opening as a 7.5 favorite, so it would be very typical for Wake to hang around until the very end, just to lose in heartbreaking fashion.
However, I think Saturday is a perfect storm of events in which Wake pulls off potentially its biggest upset since at least 2007 when it won the ACC. Though BB&T Field is no comparison to ND’s next road trip to Lane Stadium, it is Notre Dame’s first road game of the season, and the noon kickoff could see Notre Dame literally sleepwalk through the first half.
Wake’s biggest weakness is its passing defense, and Wimbush hasn’t shown the consistency to throw the ball down the field potently, despite Kelly continuing to ignore the fact that running between the tackles is allowed in football. I think Notre Dame will be playing not to lose and its conservative style through three games in the season will finally catch up to them.
This is the week Greg Dortch becomes a national presence, and the Irish get caught looking ahead on the schedule a week. Wake is a more dangerous opponent than their reputation leads on, and Clawson gets his statement win. 27-24 Deacons.
I want to give a big-time shout out to Cam, Peter, and Brian for answering my questions so thoroughly and thoughtfully. You guys rock, plain and simple.
For any and all Wake Forest updates heading into the game, please be sure to check out Cam and the rest of the team at the Blogger So Dear site (especially for my answers to their Q&A, coming later this week), as well as their Twitter @BloggerSoDear.
Finally, a special thanks goes out to our go-to sports fan, Hux, who, per usual, delivered incredibly useful and lengthy content for this game. Our College Football Fan Panel is truly an asset to us all.
See you in my Game Preview on Friday — Go Irish!