Wake Forest entered the home matchup against No. 19 Syracuse with a 4-4 record and needing to win to increase their chances of playing in December. Syracuse (6-2), on the other hand, was coming off clinching bowl eligibility after a 51-41 win against NC State the previous week.
Both teams started the game with three-and-outs. On Wake’s second offensive possession the Deacs found themselves facing a 4th and 6 at Syracuse’s 29-yard line. QB Sam Hart found WR Greg Dortch on an out route for a 24 yards gain. Two plays later, RB Cade Carney bulldozed his way into the end zone for the Deacs’ first touchdown of the game. That was Carney’s sixth TD in 2018. The Deacs strike first.
Following the scoring drive, the Demon Deacons got two more defensive stop after forcing a pair of TFLs and allowing no completions by Syracuse. CB Essang Bassey played well in coverage in both drives. That was the start that Wake Forest was hoping for on defense.
Unfortunately, the Deacs did not capitalize on two short field occasions on offense. After receiving the ball twice on Syracuse’s side of the field, the Deacs only managed to get a FG out of it.
Syracuse wasted no time to get back in the game. On a 3rd and 6 at their own 39-yard line, QB Eric Dungey found Orange receiver Jamal Curtis on a 33-yard pass. It gave Syracuse all the momentum they needed. Four plays later, the Orange capitalized on seven plays 75-yard drive with a touchdown on their own. Syracuse trimmed the lead, 10-7 for the Deacs.
On the ensuing possession, the Deacs continued a bad offensive sequence with a fumble by Hartman as he was arching his arm back to throw. The Orange recovered the fumble at the Wake Forest 10. Syracuse took advantage of the short field to score another rushing touchdown and take a 14-10 lead at the end of the first quarter.
Wake Forest had control of the game early but failed to capitalize on the momentum that they had. The Syracuse pass rush started to get home and the QB looked visibly bothered inside the pocket. Hartman was sacked six times in the first half. Some of it was the pressure, but in a few occasion Hartman decided to leave the pocket too early and ended up walking himself into a Syracuse defender. The fumble was also solely on him, as he lost hold of the ball all by himself. Shaky start for the freshman QB.
The Deacs continue to struggle to get points on the board to start the second half. On defense, Wake held its own on a 4th and 1 stop in what was shaping up to be a scoring drive for Syracuse. Yet, Deacs do not take advantage of the turnover on downs and leave the field on another three-and-out on offense. Wake Forest’s rushing game was not producing many yards and Hartman looked off on passes longer than five yards. Not the recipe for success to beat a ranked team.
On defense, the Deacs gave up 30 yards in penalties with a pass interference and a roughing the passer play by Luke Masterson. Deacs overall had problems to keep their discipline during the first half. They committed a total of seven penalties for 70 yards. Having a short field after the penalties, the Orange once again capitalized on the Deacs’ mistakes with Jarveon Howard’s second rushing touchdown of the day. Syracuse with a 21-10 lead going into halftime.
Aside from the first few offensive drives that saw the Deacs jump to a 10-point lead early, the offense has been nonexistent in the first half. Hartman did not have much time to work with and the pressure deeply affected his rhythm and throw accuracy. This has generated a lot of 3rd and long for the Deacs, who converted only 2/11 on third down attempts in the first half.
“The last three games I think we have been very inconsistent in the O-line,” said Head Coach Dave Clawson. “[On offense] we did not play well on the first half. We gave up a lot of pressure. There were times that we had guys open and Sam [Hartman] didn’t have time.”
On the bright side, despite allowing 21 points, the defense played well and was one of the reasons why the game was still within reach to start the second half. The only area they really struggled with was keeping Dungey in contain.
This was exactly what Syracuse exploited at the beginning of the second half. Dungey rushed four times for 39 yards on a 65-yard drive and the Orange scored another touchdown to go up 28-10.
Wake Forest answered right back with a touchdown on their own. Hartman finally got the passing game going with four-straight completions to Dortch and WR Scotty Washington. He finished the drive finding Washington on a broken deep coverage for an easy 20-yard touchdown reception.
However, Dungey continued to smoke the Wake Forest defense through the ground. The Deacs continued to struggle against QB Draws by Dungey and Syracuse made that the focus of their offense to start the second half. Dungey broke two 19+ runs, including a 26-yard touchdown run in which LB Ryan Smenda whiffed his coverage on Dungey as the spy. Dungey is definitely a threat on the running game, but those yards seemed more a product of the Deacs’ poor tackling than Dungey’s athletic skills. Dungey finished the game with 135 rushing yards and a touchdown.
On the ensuing offensive drive, Dortch put on a show offensively with an incredible 11-yard one-handed snag to build some momentum. The Deacs then marched 75 yards downfield and finished the drive on an eight-yard touchdown reception by Dortch to pull within two possessions of Syracuse. Dortch finished the game leading all receivers with 95 yards and one touchdown.
The Deacs were building some momentum on offense, having scored touchdowns on two straight drives. However, on their following offensive possession, Hartman fumbled the ball on a poor RPO hand-off to RB Matt Colburn II. Syracuse kicked a 28-yard FG to be up by 14 at the beginning of the fourth quarter.
On the following drive, the Demon Deacons turned it over on downs at their 31-yard line, after a pass intended for Dortch was batted-down on a 4th and 4. The Deacon Defense held Syracuse to only a field goal attempt, but the FG gave the Orange a 17-point lead with only seven minutes remaining in the game.
The Deacs stormed right back on offense with three-straight completions to WR Alex Bachman, including receptions of 15 and 23 yards. However, on a 1st and 10 inside the Syracuse red zone, Hartman tries a fade to Washington on the left side of the end zone, but the throw is a little too short and ends up intercepted by CB Christopher Fredrick effectively putting an end to Wake’s hope of coming back in the game. Hartman finished the game with 275 passing yards, two touchdowns, an interception, and two fumbles while completing 21 out his 37 passes.
One of the key stats leading up to today’s matchup was turnover differential. Wake Forest needed to win the turnover battle against a superior Syracuse squad if they hoped to have any chance in this game. Instead, the Deacs ended up turning the ball over three times against Syracuse.
“When you lose the turnover battle 3-0 you’ll not going to win,” said Clawson.
The Deacs now fall to 4-5 (1-4 in the ACC) and now have a tough challenge ahead of them, having to win 2 out of 3 on the remaining schedule at NC State, Pittsburgh, and at Duke. Wake Forest will also have to the challenge of having to play on a short week, as they travel to Raleigh to face the Wolfpack Thursday at 7:30 pm. Coach Clawson expressed his concerns with having to play twice this season on a short week and the fact that the team is having trouble to stay healthy, especially at the linebacker position were the only healthy starter at the moment is Justin Strnad.
“I think [playing on a Thursday twice] is crazy. after 9 games in the season, in November, we’re going to play one of our rivals games in a short week. We’re having a hard time recovering on seven-days rest,” said Clawson. “I don’t see how this is good for the players and their health.”
The Deacs will be facing an uphill battle against a strong NC State squad on the road. After the loss to Syracuse, the margin for error is even narrower as the Deacs will now have to win at least one game on the road to keep the dream of a bowl berth alive.
“We need to win six games. We got last week [against Louisville] which helped, obviously, this was one that was important to us that we wanted to get,” said Clawson. “Now, we gotta find a way to get a game on Thursday and we’ll do that.”