WFU falls in shootout to NC State

WFU falls in shootout to NC State

Wake Forest’s offense came to play last Saturday night, but defensive struggles proliferated, and the Wolfpack came away with the victory, 45-42.

From the whistle, the Demon Deacon defense was on their heels. It took less than two minutes and only five plays for the Wolfpack to march 75-yards down the field and find the endzone on their first drive. And after a quick four-and-out, NC State’s offense was back on the field. Their next drive: nine plays, 82 yards and a touchdown.

Down 14-0, redshirt sophomore Sam Hartman and the Wake Forest offense found their groove without a second to spare. Following the four-and-out, an impressive 75-yard drive was capped off by a short touchdown pass hauled in by the leaping Jaquarri Roberson, a redshirt junior.

Throughout the rest of the first half, both offenses continued to roll, and both defenses continued to flounder. Wake Forest scored two touchdowns on the ground on their ensuing drives, the first from redshirt-junior Christian Beal-Smith and the second from sophomore Kenneth Walker III.

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The successful run game was a welcoming sight to Head Coach Dave Clawson, who had stressed the importance of finding the ground game early and often after logging a whopping total of 37 yards on 34 carries last weekend against the Clemson Tigers. The improvement was noticeable: Beal-Smith and Walker worked effectively as a one-two punch, combining for a total of 40 carries, good for 170 yards and four touchdowns.

“He’s really a complete back,” Clawson said of Walker, during his post-game press conference. “We didn’t have any balance last week, so we came out intentionally and tried to run the ball. He got those tough yards when we needed it, and that’s something to build off of.”

Hartman concurred, calling both of the backs “prolific.”

In the first half of the game, redshirt freshmen Taylor Morin continued to build on last week’s success. Morin caught three passes for over 50 yards in the first two quarters (before failing to reel-in either of the two balls thrown his way during the second half of the game), one of which was a 27-yard reception on a fourth-and-ten. That catch-and-run set up an 11-yard run by Beal-Smith for a touchdown on the very next play. Walker added another touchdown before half to bring the Demon Deacons level with the Wolfpack, 21-21.

In the second half, Wake Forest again fell behind early. While the Deac’s first three possessions ended with punts, the Wolfpack scored touchdowns on their first two drives to take a 35-21 lead. The lead was cut to seven when senior Ja’Sir Taylor returned a 45-yard interception for a touchdown. The pick was Taylor’s third in his past five games.

Wake Forest scored a touchdown on their next drive when Walker found his gap and darted untouched into the endzone from 13-yards out, again bringing the game level, 35-35. But when Beal-Smith fumbled the ball late in the third quarter in Demon Deacon territory, the Wolfpack kicked a field goal which ended up being the different in the game.

Both offenses scored touchdowns on their following drives before Wake’s offense stalled late in the fourth quarter. A turnover on downs followed up by a poorly executed two-minute drill saw the Deacons fall to 0-2, both overall and in ACC-play.

A dejected-looking Hartman made it clear that he understands the importance of putting up points at the end of the game as he fielded questions during the press conference. “We’ve got to win those two-minute drills and that starts with me. I’ve got to hit my throws,” Hartman said. “[Otherwise], it’s the same old-same old: Wake Forest quarterbacks missing throws and losing games. Can’t really do anything about it.”

The blame for the late game struggles cannot fall solely on the shoulders of the quarterback, however. “[We gave up] two sacks in the two-minute drill, usually you can’t overcome one,” Clawson said. “When it’s a three-man rush, the protection needs to hold up a little bit, and we didn’t hold up enough to allow our guys to get open.”

Dropped balls, which were a major problem last weekend, again plagued the Demon Deacon’s. But despite the limited help he received, Saturday’s overall performance was another step in the right direction for Hartman, who completed almost 64% of his passes and racked up 236 passing yards on 36 attempts.

“When [Hartman] got into a rhythm [we looked similar to last year’s offense], but we need [our receivers] to make plays on the outside. We’ve dropped five or six deep balls now in two weeks. [Making those big-time plays is] the next step our younger receivers have to take,” Clawson said.

By the end of the game, Hartman had completed passes to eight different receivers. Besides Roberson and Morin, the graduate student Donald Stewart was a prime target, roping in five completions for over 40 yards.

Defensively, the Demon Deacon’s unquestionably need to shore up their game. On Saturday, the Wolfpack racked up 270 rushing yards, almost 200 passing yards and six total touchdowns.

“I’m very concerned,” Clawson said of his defense. “NC State’s ability to run the football was the difference in this game. When we had to, we didn’t get off the field enough. This is problem number one that we’ve got to get fixed.”

Thankfully, the Demon Deacons will have some time to address these issues, as the contest slated for next weekend against Notre Dame was cancelled Tuesday after seven of the Fighting Irish players tested positive for COVID-19. The break is a lucky one, considering that through two games this season, ND has beat opponents by a 66-point margin.

The following weekend is the Demon Deacon’s bye-week, so the next scheduled game is at 8 p.m. on Oct. 9 against Campbell at Truist Stadium. The players are confident that between now and then, time spent on the practice-field and in the film-room will have the team prepared to pick up the season’s first win.

“We have flashes where everyone is cooking on all cylinders, so we know we can do it,”Taylor said.

Hartman echoed a similar sentiment: “We know what we’re doing, we just have to trust each other.”

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