Demon Deacons dominate Syracuse

The Wake Forest football team rolled into the Carrier Dome and routed the Orange 38-14

Essex Thayer, Staff Writer

Remember when Head Coach Dave Clawson said he “didn’t know this team as well” after that Sept. 19 loss against NC State? Following the 38-14 drubbing of Syracuse on Saturday, it’s safe to say Clawson and Deacons fans alike can say they know what they have in this Demon Deacon Football team. For the first time in their strange 2020 campaign, Wake Forest traveled outside the state of North Carolina, flew north, and returned home to Winston-Salem with their first 4-0 record in October since 2007. 

The Demon Deacons once again proved that wins come in all shapes and sizes. “This is a team that is capable of finding different ways to win,” Clawson said in a press conference after the game. “We are winning collectively as a team right now.”

Saturday marked the most lopsided victory in the short series between the teams. The Wake Forest offense owned all facets of the game, including total yards (438-221), first downs (26-13), and time of possession (36:14-23:46). 

“Offensively, I thought the play of the offensive line has been great for us. We ran the ball for almost 200 yards, and we threw the ball well,” Clawson said. “Jaquarii Roberson had a big game for us, Kenneth Walker III played well and I thought Sam Hartman played really well … I’m really happy with how we’re developing on offense with nine new starters.”

In Wake Forest’s game-opening drive, redshirt junior Christian Beal-Smith led the offense with six carries for 38 yards, yet the possession stalled in the red zone and ended with a 33-yard field goal off the foot of junior Nick Sciba. Of the first drive, Clawson said, “Syracuse came out a little bit different against us; they usually bring blitzes. I think their plan against us, at least initially, was to bend but don’t break.”

On their next drive — after a quick Syracuse three-and-out — the Demon Deacons were propelled by the other running-back of their prolific duo: Walker. On 1st-and-10 from the 11, Walker turned what appeared to be a broken play into a tone-shifting run, churning forward to the one-yard-line despite the plethora of orange dragging him backwards. From there, Walker punched in his first of three touchdowns on the day, his third hat-trick of the season.

With his three touchdowns on Saturday, Walker now has 11 on the season, putting him at No. 6 in terms of most rushing touchdowns in a season in Wake Forest history. Brian Piccolo (1964) and Larry Russell (1971) are tied for the record, with 15 touchdowns. If Wake Forest does reach a bowl game, Walker would have six more games to break the school record. 

The Orange found their first points of the game in the only sequence of the day where the Demon Deacons did not appear to be in control. Following a 3rd-and-1 run that stuffed Walker at the line, an Ivan Mora punt was returned by Syracuse for 26 yards. Four plays later, quarterback Rex Culpepper found Nykeim Johnson for a 21-yard touchdown. Clawson explained, “I thought the seven we gave them was a result of … an awful sequence for us that started by not converting.”

After punts from both teams, Walker notched his second touchdown of the afternoon on a 20-yard run, giving the Demon Deacons a 17-7 lead. 

The second half started with a bang for the Wake Forest offense. On a 3rd-and-5, redshirt sophomore Sam Hartman evaded a collapsing pocket and targeted Roberson, streaking down the left sideline wide open, for an 80-yard touchdown.

After the kickoff, the ensuing play was a pick-six by freshman cornerback Gavin Holmes, vaulting Wake Forest to a 31-7 lead. The interception was one of three turnovers forced by the Demon Deacons on the day, drawing their turnover margin to +14, good enough for the best differential in both the ACC and the nation as a whole. 

Clawson recognized the quality play from his defense, “Winning the turnover margin took this from a close game to not a close game.” 

Wake Forest’s fourth straight win leads them into another bye week at 4-2. On Nov. 14, the Demon Deacons will make the short drive on I-40 to Chapel Hill to take on North Carolina. Wake Forest ends their season with a slate that consists of North Carolina, Duke, No. 11 Miami, Louisville and No. 4 Notre Dame. Two more wins would take the Demon Deacons to the bowl game threshold, and an undefeated second half of the season leaves the door open to an ACC Championship appearance. It might sound like a long-shot, but don’t forget, it’s 2020 — anything can happen.