I’ve been waiting 8 desperately long months to write these 3 words...
It. Is. Gameday.
Your back-to-back bowl winning Wake Forest Demon Deacons will officially play in a real life football game later this evening, as the Deacs take on Tulane down in New Orleans. The programs have met just 3 times in history, with Wake taking the most recent matchup 7-3 in Week 1 of the 2016 season. A lot has changed since that most recent encounter, however, with both teams now featuring a lot more offensive firepower that should yield a more entertaining, high-scoring contest this time around. Our BSD team released predictions for the game just yesterday morning, and I assure you there isn’t one scoreline even close to that tally from two seasons ago, fortunately.
The Green Wave went 5-7 (3-5 in AAC) last season, but were essentially a play away (and literal inches) from being bowl eligible. In a moment that would likely give Wake fans nightmares for years if the roles were reversed, Tulane’s QB Jonathan Banks had a bowl-clinching TD in the final seconds against SMU controversially called short on the last play of the season. The clock ran out, Tulane lost by 3, and the Green Wave fell to 5-7 on the year without postseason eligibility. It’s painful to watch and seems like a low point only Boston College fans would be able to realistically relate to.
In Bill Connelly’s 2018 FBS Team Rankings, he placed Tulane 88th in the FBS, while his advanced and well-respected metric system S&P+ has them at 98th. Despite the lower rankings, Tulane was competitive in almost every game they played last season, with 7 of the 12 matchups finishing within one possession. The Green Wave also have some legitimate weapons on offense that are worth watching out for: Jonathan Banks, a more than capable QB who racked up 1,800 yards in the air, 600 on the ground and 19 TDs last year in his first season as a starter, and Terren Encalade, a Senior WR who had 730 receiving yards and 5 scores in a breakout 2017.
The main area where Wake should have an advantage is in the trenches. Few teams in the entire NCAA can match up well against Wake’s O-Line that features 115+ combined starts, multiple NFL prospects, and All-ACC caliber talent across the board. This should open up plenty of holes for veteran RB’s Colburn/Carney to run through early on in the game, and provide some much-needed time in the pocket to Freshman QB Sam Hartman in his first collegiate start.
Add that in with the fact that Tulane lost much of its D-Line to graduation as well as top LB/leading tackler Rae Juan Marbley and you have a scenario that should favor Wake heavily. There’s also no clear answer for how Tulane will defend Greg Dortch in his long-awaited return to the field, but that’s more of a problem every team will have to deal with this season and is certainly not exclusive to Willie Fritz’ squad.
Depending on who starts at right guard (Patrick Osterhage or Nate Gilliam), the Deacs will have 128 or 118 combined starts on the offensive line. The 1st string Tulane defensive line has 14 combined career starts. (earlier tweet incorrectly had Jake Benzinger listed at RG)— Les Johns (@Les_Johns) August 29, 2018
All this being said, I do feel like this game is going to be closer than some may think. Vegas has dropped the line down to -6 WF, and the forecast is currently slated for rain and 90 degree weather down in New Orleans. This feels like the type of game where Wake should pound what they know early and often (Colburn/Carney/Dortch) until Tulane can prove they can stop it. The last thing you want to do is mix things up in the 1st half, get behind on a few mistakes, and have to rely on a Freshman QB to throw you back into the game on the road in Week 1. With all the momentum this program has and the fanbase as excited as ever, there’s no denying that this game is absolutely critical to set the tone for the 2018 season. After all, there’s never a better time to go “1-0 Every Week” than right now.