If the Wake Forest Demon Deacons want to make its third straight bowl game it will have to do so on the road against the Duke Blue Devils next Saturday, as a chance to clinch eligibility at home against the Pittsburgh Panthers went awry in a 34-13 loss yesterday.
With the win the Panthers clinched the Coastal Division and will get the pleasure of playing the No. 2 Clemson Tigers. Pitt is the sixth different team in six years to win the Coastal.
The Deacs started out well on defense, forcing a three-and-out from Pitt, after the Panthers committed two penalties to put themselves on a third and long.
On offense, QB Jamie Newman found WR Sage Surratt twice, including a beautiful 30-yard connection that had Surratt going up to the fifth floor to get it. However, the Deacs got stuck on right outside of the red zone and decided to go for the field goal on a 4th and 1. Wake Forest opens up the score, 3-0 early in the first quarter.
The defense continued their good play on the following drive forcing another three-and-out. This time around, the Deacs successfully stuffed the Panthers powerful running game. Great job by the Deacon Defense containing the run.
On the ensuing offensive possession by Pittsburgh, the Panthers found some success running play-actions and bootlegs to get QB Kenny Pickett going. Yet, the Deacs managed to stop Pittsburgh forcing a turnover on downs after Pickett’s pass bounced off the hands of LB Justin Strnad for an incomplete pass. The efforts on defense were in vain, as Newman was intercepted by Pitt FS Damar Hamlin on the ensuing play. Pittsburgh took over once again at their own 45-yard line. However, the defense held their ground once again forcing the Panthers to punt for the third time in the first quarter. Exceptional defensive play by the Deacs early on.
The offense started the second quarter well with WR Greg Dortch spinning off a defender on a WR bubble screen and exploding for a 25-yard gain. However, Newman overthrew Dortch and WR Scotty Washington on two possible big plays. The Deacs did not capitalize on the good momentum and punted the ball once again, still only a field goal separating both teams at that point.
Pittsburgh had its own share of miscues offensively as well, committing their fifth penalty in the middle of the fourth quarter for a total of 30 yards lost on penalties. Yet, Despite their penalty issues, Pitt managed to march downfield thanks to a ridiculous 31-yard, one-handed grab by Pitt receiver Maurice Ffrench to set the Panthers up at Wake’s 2-yard line. RB Darrin Hall finished it off with a 3-yard TD run. DE Boggie Basham blocked the PAT to limit the damage to only six points. Pittsburgh takes a 6-3 lead with 4:03 remaining in the half.
The Deacs waste no time to answer it back. Newman puts on a great drive completing four out of 7 passes for 61 yards and a touchdown. Newman found WR Alex Bachman wide open connecting for probably the easiest touchdown throw in Newman’s college career.
Deacs were up 10-6 at halftime.
The Deacs did a great job defensively on the first half and held in check a red-hot RB duo in Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall they combined for only 39 yards in 13 carries. Pittsburgh also had a lot of discipline problems as they gave up a total of 58 yards in 8 penalties. Despite a lot of penalties, Pitt has moved the ball well, specially off Pickett’s bootlegs. As for the Deacs, the opportunites are there on offense, but Newman needs more accuracy on his medium to long passes, the redshirt Sophomore signal-caller missed some great opportunities to give the Deacs a larger lead, but overthrew his receivers in most of them. On the interception earlier, for example, it wasn’t all his fault as the ball bounced off Dortch’s hands, but if the ball was not as high, Dortch would’ve had a better chance to catch it.
The Deacs start the second half with a three-and-out on offense, after Newman overthrew Dortch once again, this time on a bubble-screen.
A couple of drives later, Pittsburgh took advantage of the match-ups on the outside to take the lead again on a 66-yard TD drive. Wake did a good job defending the run once again, but allowed too much space on the sidelines, specially on the 31-yard reception by WR Taysir Mack, who had plenty of space to run after a short throw by Pickett. Pittsburgh took the lead once again. 13-10 late in the third quarter.
The Deacs’ offense was nowhere to the be found through the third quarter. Pittsburgh started to succesfully stuff the running game and putting pressure on Newman to generate something through the air. However, the accuracy issues continued as the Deacs struggled to get even a first down.
As a consequence of not being able to generate much on offense, the defense started to slow down a little bit due to fatigue. Pickett capitalized on it with a 63-yard TD pass to Taysir Mack. A defense that looked great for most of the game, all of a sudden looked over-matched. Pittsburgh had 150 yards in the third quarter against only 47 by Wake.
The offense showed some signs of life early in the fourth quarter. Newman found TE Brandon Chapman through the middle for a 21-yard gain. The offense moved the ball well taking it all the way to Pitt’s one-yard line. However, after RB Cade Carney got stuffed on a third-and-goal, the Deacs were forced to settle down for the field goal to trim down Pittsburgh’s lead to a touchdown. In those situations Colburn is greatly missed as Carney had to shoulder all the running back duties by himself on the drive.
Pittsburgh continued to take advantage of a tired and banged-up Wake Forest defense to extend their lead with another touchdown. This time Pickett found Ffrench for 23-yard TD on a 3rd and 10. Pickett finished the game with 316 passing yards and three touchdowns.
Wake tried a late comeback but Newman ended up intercepted after Surratt slipped, leaving the corner alone to haul in the ball. The Panthers would take a 21-point lead following a touchdown run by RB Stefano Millin.
The Deacs were able to hang with Pitt and stay competitive for three quarters. But ultimately it was too much for the defense to handle. The injuries really killed their defensive depth today, but the biggest problem was the difference in time of possession. Pittsburgh ended the game with almost the double (39:31) of time of possession than Wake’s (20:29).
There’s still hope for the Deacs to clinch a bowl bid, but it will be extremely hard to beat Duke on the road having the kind of offensive performance displayed today. You cannot afford to have your defense on the field almost 40 minutes when you’re as banged up on defense as the Deacs are.
Coach Clawson has a tough choice to make next week, because whenever the Deacs are running a fast-tempo offense they get to a better rhythm and are able to exploit more mismatches, but at the same time it puts a huge stress on the defense. On the flip side, if they slow things the offense stalls and the running game is not as effective, especially now without Colburn, then it makes it hard to click offensively. Still, if Newman starts making the throws he showed he can make against NC State the Deacs should few good about their chances in Durham next week. It should make for a great game.