As the coaches would say, Wake Forest went 1-0 this week. In an early season battle of unbeaten teams, Wake Forest beat Indiana on the road, 33-28.
Wake won the coin toss and deferred to the second half, opting to put their best unit out first and play defense. In white shirts, white pants, and shiny gold helmets, Wake's defense took the field against Devine Redding, the B1G's leading rusher coming into the game. Keying in on the runner, Wake's defense completely fell for the play action from quarterback Richard Lagow and the first play of the game went for a quick six for the Hoosiers.
With Kendall Hinton and Cade Carney out injured, John Wolford led the Deacs out on the field with Matt Colburn at the running back position, each coming off a strong week against Delaware. Wolford's play action on the first play did not go for a touchdown--instead it fell incomplete through Colburn's hands. Play action was completed on the second play of the game, but Cortez Lewis fumbled stretching for a first down, and an Indiana offsides negated the whole thing. Colburn was bottled up on the second and medium, but Wolford picked up the first down with his legs on third down. Wake couldn't move the chains again and punted shy of midfield. With Dom Maggio struggling with leg fatigue, Mike Weaver took over punting duties, and an excellent punt inside the Indiana 5 yard line was negated with a 28 yard return.
After an exciting opening few minutes, Indiana marched down the field with relative ease, and in less than two minutes were back in a 1st and goal. The drive was aided by some nice throws, a pass interference call on Jesse Bates III, and a few short runs from Redding. Bates then redeemed himself and saved the Deacons from going down two scores with a huge interception off a tip in the end zone, returning it back thirty yards.
Wake capitalized on the turnover and momentum through Matt Colburn catching passes out of the backfield and running between the tackles. The Deacs kept the ball on the ground in order to move the chains, considering everything past midfield four down territory. What looked like conservative playcalling with five straight runs inside proved workable to pick up consecutive first downs. Wolford then completed two darts and moved the Deacs into the red zone with Chuck Wade breaking tackles. As the clock ticked under four and Indiana stacking the box, Wake handed off to Colburn on 2nd and short, and then Wolford snuck to bring up first and goal. He then kept with a great play fake and trotted in to even the score.
The teams traded punts after the Deacon score, and the first quarter came to a close. On balance, Wake was lucky to be tied. Indiana moved the ball better, their quarterback had plenty of time int eh backfield, and the Deacs struggled to complete passes downfield.
Indiana started the second quarter off near midfield and Jaboree Williams bull rushed up the middle and picked up a sack. Indiana still picked up the first down and their tempo kept Wake from substituting or catching their breath. Indiana turned the ball over on downs, though, after a 4th and 1 direct snap to 270 pound Tyler Natee was stopped short, and Wake took over on their own 26. Wake quickly went three and out though as Wolford failed to make a play with open men downfield on 3rd and 8. He showed happy feet for much of the first half and generally looked uncomfortable behind his line, though when he did set his feet, his throws were typically accurate.
Jesse Bates picked up his second interception of the afternoon on the ensuing Indiana drive, this time returning the pick for a touchdown, and Wake took the lead, 14-7. On the ensuing Indiana drive, just as Wake looked ready to force another punt, Brad Watson was called for defensive holding for a tug on his man's jersey, and the drive was allowed to continue. Watson then intercepted the pass on the following play after Lagow took a massive hit.
Tyler Bell came in for the Deacs as the running back after the third interception of the half, but the Deacs weren't able to pick up a first down, and the offense was unable to give the defense much of a rest. Mike Weaver had an impressive half punting in Dom Maggio's pace, and Wake flipped the field position battle back in their favor as the second quarter clock ticked under seven minutes.
Indiana moved the ball again well against the Deacs, quickly moving past midfield. Lagow's confidence did not waver at all after his third pick, completing tough passes in traffic. Worryingly, Marquel Lee went down hurt on the drive, but walked off the field slowly under his own power. After Lee went off, Indiana picked up back to back first downs and moved into the red zone. Then a few plays later, Duke Ejiofor walked off slowly, clearly shaken up. Indiana's strong drive threatened to stall after a holding call, but the Hoosiers picked up positive yardage on 3rd and 16, and settled for a field goal attempt. Brad Watson got in the backfield and blocked the field goal, and Wake held on to their touchdown lead.
Wake took over with less than three minutes to go in the half and picked up a first down on three straight runs, with Matt Colburn finally breaking a big gain out to midfield. After a couple short plays, John Wolford released a gorgeous touchdown throw to Chuck Wade who caught and held on as he crashed into the field goal upright, and Wake took the 21-7 lead into halftime.
Turnovers told the story of the first half. Wolford passed for just 87 yards and a touchdown, but also rushed for 16 and a score. The entire offense was held to 168 total yards. Indiana on the other hand had just under 300 total yards of offense in the half. Wake's defense also held Devine Redding to 2.1 yards per carry, 10 carries for 21 yards.
Wake took over in the second half after a touchback from Steven Claude from their own 25 yard line. Matt Colburn took a big hit after a 16 yard run and was forced to exit the ballgame. Tyler Bell took his place on the following play, catching a screen pass for no gain. A corner blitz and a house blitz stopped the Deacon drive after just a minute, and Indiana took over after another Weaver punt inside the Indiana 20. As shadows started to stretch across the field, and Indiana looked to get back in the game, Lagow threw his fourth interception of the game, directly into zone coverage where three awaiting Deacs closed in, and Grant Dawson picked off the throw. The replay showed yet another tip at the line as well.
With great field position, and after a short drive, Mike Weaver came on for a 46 yard attempt and nailed it giving Wake a 3 score lead. Wake's offense struggled to take much time off the clock, but the defense looked up for it all game. Still, Brad Watson got exposed in one on one coverage downfield on the first play after the field goal, and Indiana quickly found the end zone on the next play, bringing the game back to 24-14. Yet again, Nick Westbrook burned the Deacs for the big catch and score.
Wake picked up two first downs on the ensuing drive and gave Indiana a taste of their own medicine with some tempo offense of their own. Eventually though, Wake's drive stalled after a third and long false start moved the Deacs out of field goal territory. Wake punted from the Indiana 35 yard line and downed it on the Indiana 12. Wake's defense then held from there and forced a punt with great pressure on third and short.
Tabari Hines made John Wolford look good with a tremendous catch on the sidelines on first down. Two plays later, on third and long as Wolford was inches from being sacked, he pitched to Matt Colburn with the presence of mind to pick up the first down. Justin Herron stayed down after the play, though, the third Deacon of the game to go off with injury. (All three came back in and played.) This drive felt pivotal for the Deacs--clock ticked away, and the momentum hung in the balance. Wake's drive ended at the Indiana 18, culminating with a 30 yard field goal for Mike Weaver.
Indiana took over down 27-14 with just over two minutes to play in the 3rd quarter. Within two plays, Indiana was back in first and goal as they picked on Wake's secondary yet again. Two plays after that, Tyler Natee found the end zone for the Hoosiers, bringing it back to 27-21.
Wake's offense got the ball back with 39 seconds to go in the third quarter. Wolford dangerously underthrew a pass to Cam Serigne who had a pass interference claim ignored on first down. Serigne caught on second down, and the Indiana defense gave Wake Forest a lift with a facemask penalty adding to the catch yards as the third quarter expired. Indiana started the quarter out with a huge sack, but another facemask gave the Deacons a second consecutive first down. Wake got sacked again on the following play, and the offense really showed signs of breaking down.
Wake was bailed out again on third and long, though, where Cortez Lewis battled with his man and drew a defensive holding call. Lewis went out injured on the play though. 45 yards of penalties kept the drive going, and Wake drove all the way down to first and goal. Wolford foolishly failed to throw the ball away and lost yards, and committed another error running out of bounds. He made up for it on the next play with an 11 yard run up the middle for the score, putting Wake up 33-21. The Deacs opted to go for 2, but failed in the 5 wide look to convert on a fade to Cortez Lewis.
With less than ten minutes to go in the game, Indiana took over on their own 20 yard line, but Ryan Janvion intercepted Lagow on third down at midfield for the fifth interception of the game. Wake's task from there on offense was to run clock, but they only managed to take it down to 8 minutes and change before punting just beyond midfield. Where the offense disappointed, Mike Weaver did not pinning Indiana to its own 5 yard line.
Indiana did themselves no favors with another penalty after Lagow was upset with a no-call and earned himself an unsportsmanlike call. This humble reporter thinks that five interceptions earns you no special treatment with referees. Wake Forest took over near midfield again, this time with seven minutes to go. Indiana took a timeout quickly after first, second, and third downs, opting not to save them for potential scoring drives later. The logic behind this made sense. When Indiana did score on offense, the drives were very quick, so stopping the clock while the Deacs had the ball was of the utmost importance. Three and out for Wake near midfield was not the result Coach Clawson was looking for.
Indiana took over again, this time from their own 24 with 6:34 left in the ball game. Wake consistently rushed just three on the drive, seemingly happy to let Indiana get short yardage with none of their timeouts left. The plan was working, and Indiana fans seemed not to recognize their fortune with Ejiofor going down again, booing though the result was stopping the clock and taking Wake's best player off the field. The clock went under five to play and the Hoosiers picked up a first down in Wake territory, knocking on the door again. Though Natee picked up a big first down on 4th and 1, the play was called back for a holding call, and Indiana could not convert on 4th and long.
With no timeouts left, the Deacs were able to run the clock down from 3:14 when they took over to under a minute three plays later when they punted. Indiana scored an a complete fluke of a deflection, a Hail Mary with two Deacs underneath it. With :11 to go, (who else but) Jesse Bates recovered the onside kick, and Wake took a knee from there to seal the victory.
This was Wake Forest's first win against a Power 5 non-conference opponent on the road since 2010. The Deacs gave up almost 500 yards in the air and 115 on the ground. They never looked particularly strong offensively, they were the beneficiaries of some bad turnovers and penalties, and most importantly of all, they won the game.
Indiana's best starting field position of the day was their own 35 yard line, and it was this kind of statistic that kept Wake in the ball game. The offense was never particularly threatening, but did just enough all game protecting the ball and not committing too many penalties. A win like this on the road is huge for the program, bringing the Deacs to 4-0 on the season as they begin conference play in full. With winnable games ahead against NC State and Syracuse (and UVA and BC still to come), the path to a bowl seems possible for the first time in Dave Clawson's tenure as head coach. The Deacs have looked far from perfect this season, but opportunism and a soft schedule aside, 4-0 is an excellent start to the season.