"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

'Covers the campus like the magnolias'
"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

Kennedy: Football’s struggles are not as bad as they seem

Reflection is necessary to understand Wake Forest’s shortcomings
Running+back+Justice+Ellison+is+on+the+road+to+a+career+season%2C+with+250+yards+rushing+through+three+games.
Evan Harris
Running back Justice Ellison is on the road to a career season, with 250 yards rushing through three games.

Through the first four weeks of the season, fans of Wake Forest football have learned a lot about the state of the ACC and a lot about themselves.

The Atlantic Coast Conference is much different than it was when the Demon Deacons made the conference championship two years ago. The Atlantic and Coastal divisions are no more; there is a new frontrunner — Florida State — and Sam Hartman is no longer a Demon Deacon or in the ACC. Despite the chaotic nature of this year, Wake Forest fans must reflect on the good and the bad of the first few games.

A major talking point among Demon Deacon fans has been the play of redshirt sophomore Mitch Griffis. 

Griffis has been inconsistent, but at his best, he has been a top quarterback in the ACC. A number of throws have been highlight-reel material, including throws to wideout Jahmal Banks, who himself has three touchdowns on the season so far. Griffis has been able to throw for 999 yards and nine touchdowns through four games at the helm of the offense.

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However, it hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows for Griffis. He committed a measure of errors in his last outing against Georgia Tech, including a calamitous, game-clinching interception in the late stages of the game. Additionally, he’s been subject to pressure in the pocket and has found himself on the wrong side of sacks. Ultimately, Griffis’ struggles represent growing pains that are needed for the Demon Deacons to learn and flourish. No player is perfect, and every player battles adversity in one way or another. 

If there is any lesson to be learned for the Demon Deacon fanbase, it’s not to jump to conclusions too early, after both wins and losses. It’s not the end of the world after losing unexpectedly to Georgia Tech, just as we were not national champions after beating Vanderbilt or Old Dominion.

Former Demon Deacon quarterback John Wolford had 10 interceptions within his first five starts. Riley Skinner only had two touchdowns in his first five starts. Each ended up etching their names into program history, and the latter was inducted into the Wake Forest Sports Hall of Fame in 2021.

Nonetheless, a spotlight should continue to be cast upon the Demon Deacons running game, which ran for 224 yards against Georgia Tech, including a career-high 137 rush yards from Justice Ellison. His 5.7 yards/carry ranks fifth in the ACC this season, a testament to the newfound ability to run the ball effectively. 

Ellison’s performance two weeks ago also marks three different rushers who have had over 100 rushing yards in a game this season — along with Claiborne and Tate Carney against Vanderbilt. The running game’s effectiveness has added an extra layer to a previously pass-heavy offense under Hartman.

Despite the offensive struggles against Old Dominion and Georgia Tech, the Demon Deacons are not appreciably worse than they were last year when it comes to total yardage. Wake Forest’s average total yards per play is only down 0.3 yards in comparison to 2022 (5.9 total yds/play), per SportsReference. 

On another good note, the Demon Deacons had a bye week to work out problems. In the past, bye weeks have come later in the season, splitting the season into two halves. Although the bye week occurs earlier this year, it does come at a great time, before some major tests.

The Demon Deacons have multiple big matchups in the latter half of their schedule, including away games at No. 10 Notre Dame, No. 19 Duke and Clemson, whom they have not beat on the road in a quarter century. They also face the aforementioned No. 5 Florida State at home. Each of the matchups could go awry, and the Demon Deacons need confidence and stability to weather through the tough schedule.

“These are the games that force you to be better,” Head Coach Dave Clawson said on Tuesday. 

If there is any lesson to be learned for the Demon Deacon fanbase, it’s not to jump to conclusions too early, after both wins and losses. It’s not the end of the world after losing unexpectedly to Georgia Tech, just as we were not national champions after beating Vanderbilt or Old Dominion. After all, as the great Hartman used to say:

 “Water always finds its level.”

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About the Contributor
Sean Kennedy, Sports Editor
Sean is a junior from Long Island, NY majoring in communication and minoring in journalism and film studies. Outside of the OGB, he is the president of the Sports Analytics Club and a member of Wake Radio. In his free time, you can find him following all levels of professional sports and supporting his favorite teams — the Celtics, Jets, Yankees and Islanders.

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