Wake Forest: Small School, Big Season?

Wake Forest: Small School, Big Season?
Reading Time: 5 minutes.

At 411 Deacon Boulevard, NC 27105, sits BB&T Field. With a 31,500 capacity, it’s the smallest stadium in the Atlantic Coast Conference. That should come as no surprise when you consider that Wake Forest are the smallest school, by undergraduate enrolment, in the whole of the Power 5. Right now, however, the Demon Deacons are one of the biggest surprises of 2019.

In a town, Winston-Salem, more famous for tobacco than football, Wake Forest are smoking the opposition on the field. In the latest AP Poll, they moved in to the Top 25 for the first time since 2008. That year, they climbed as high as 16th under Jim Grobe, before ending the season 8-5. This season, they are one of only 18 teams left undefeated.

It’s the first time the Demon Deacons have been 5-0 in a season since 2006. That year was a particularly important one for the program, marking the second and last time that Wake Forest won the ACC Championship. It might be a stretch for Dave Clawson’s team to reach those heights, but there can be no doubting that they’re turning heads this year.

The Season So Far…

They started the season off with a bang by surprising Utah State on opening weekend. The Aggies were the obvious favourite with star QB Jordan Love under center. Despite taking a first quarter lead, Wake Forest were behind for most of the game, until Jamie Newman found Kendall Hilton for a 2 yard touchdown with just 1:08 on the clock. 38-35 Wake Forest.

No last minute heroics were required in Week 2. Rice is one of only 5 programs smaller than Wake Forest and a considerable minnow in footballing terms. The Demon Deacons ran out comfortable winners, 41-21, as Jamie Newman once again showed his ability.

Week 3 saw a Friday night matchup between two unbeaten teams, as UNC travelled to Winston-Salem. It was a clash between two brothers as Chazz Surratt of UNC faced off against Sage Surratt of Wake Forest. Despite a second half fightback, UNC couldn’t overcome the Demon Deacons.

Elon were ruthlessly swept aside in week 4, before a trip to Boston College in week 5. Despite the Eagles outgaining Wake Forest 533 yards to 440, the Demon Deacons took better care of the ball, and Jamie Newman excelled on 3rd down plays, to give Wake Forest a 27-24 in-conference win.

Jamie Newman has excelled all year…

Wake Forest
Photo Credit: 247 Sports

Wake Forest have gotten to 5-0 on the back of Jamie Newman. The junior quarterback has been outstanding for the Demon Deacons so far in 2019. It could have been very different for the team, and for Newman.

He was thrust in to the limelight last season. In the game against Syracuse, starting QB Sam Hartman suffered a broken leg. In his first start, Newman engineered a two minute drill for a touchdown and come from behind win over North Carolina State, then ranked 14th. Newman finished 2018 with a 3-1 record and is now undefeated in 7 straight games.

A 3* recruit out of Graham High School, Newman was ranked the #16 dual threat QB in the nation. He’s showing off that skill set this year. Through the air he has 1521 yards, 14 touchdowns, and just 3 interceptions, with an impressive 69.6% completion percentage. He also has 262 rushing yards, on 78 rushes, with 3 touchdowns. His rushing yardage is higher than running backs Cade Carney and Christian Beal.

Newman leads the ACC in completions, passing yards, yards per attempt, touchdowns, total yards, and touchdowns responsible for. All this, in a conference that boasts Trevor Lawrence.

Twin threat in the Twin City…

Wake Forest
Photo Credit: 247 Sports

Back in 1913, the towns of Winston and Salem were combined to create one thriving town. In 2019, two wide receivers are being combined to create one thriving offense. Coach Clawson’s philosophy is to use your best talent, as often as possible, to maximise success.

With Sage Surratt and Scotty Washington, he is certainly doing that.

The pair account for 12 of Newman’s 14 touchdowns this year with 6 a piece. Washington, in his senior year, has 470 yards off 27 receptions.

Surratt leads the ACC in receiving yards with 515 off 34 receptions. Whilst both are a legitimate receiving threat, Surratt has been the more impressive. At 6’3, he has good size for a wide receiver and has shown good speed too. With more reliable hands than Washington, he has also shown that he can go up and get the ball to make big plays. Where Greg Dortch left off in 2018, Surratt is continuing in 2019.

Demon Deacon Defense…

Wake Forest
Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports

Whilst Newman, Washington, and Surratt have the offense motoring at over 500 yards and 35 points per game, the defense also deserves some credit.

Linebacker Justin Strnad leads the team in total tackles. He’s also added 2 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, and 1 interception so far this season. Strnad is on the Senior Bowl watch list with cornerback Amari Henderson, who has 2 interceptions so far this year. He forms part of a formidable secondary which includes Essang bassey.

Although Strnad leads the team in tackles, Carlos Basham Jr is the true leader on the defense and he’s displaying that this season. The junior defensive lineman has 6.5 tackles for loss, 1 forced fumbles, and 4.5 sacks. His sack total so far this season already equals his total sacks from 2018.

How far can this Wake Forest team go?

Can they remain unbeaten? Can they win the ACC?

Both seem unlikely. They’ll certainly remain unbeaten through week 6 as they’re on a bye week. The schedule for the 3 weeks after the bye is fairly kind. Louisville, FSU, and NC State all have to travel to Winston-Salem. None of those teams have had seasons to get overly excited by so far. Then the Demon Deacons travel to Virginia Tech to face a Hokies team that has been far from impressive.

Saturday 16th November is a date that could answer both questions. Wake Forest travel to Clemson who are in the ACC driving seat. Before the season it would have seemed impossible that the Tigers could be tamed in the conference. However, they’ve looked far from convincing.

The last time Wake Forest were ranked in the Top 25, in 2008, they beat Clemson 12-7. A result like that would leave them in the driving seat for the ACC Championship.

Now that would be a big season for a small school.

Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports

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