The Wake Forest Demon Deacons took care of business today against the hapless visiting Rice Owls, getting out to a huge halftime lead en route to a 56-24 victory.
In what was a much-needed win for the Deacs, Sam Hartman to Greg Dortch worked all day, there was sizable improvement on defense, and now the non-conference schedule is completed with Wake improving to 3-2.
The game started a little slowly, as both teams punted on their first possession. However, it was encouraging to see Wake’s defense forcing a three-and-out with good coverage early on.
On the next drive, QB Sam Hartman found WR Greg Dortch wide open, cutting down the seam as they connected on a 54-yard TD pass. We’ve seen Coach Clawson complain about the lack of explosive plays on offense on a couple occasions this season, and Dortch’s TD reception is now the longest play from scrimmage of the season for the Deacs.
Wake Forest needs to be able to take advantage of the explosiveness at WR as they move into the heart of ACC play.
On the following possession, the Demon Deacons changed up the approach and drove the ball downfield almost exclusively on the ground. The drive culminated in a one-yard TD run by Cade Carney, his third this season to put Wake Forest up 14-0.
The Deacs then continued their good work on defense by forcing another third-and-out.
On offense, the Demon Deacons sustained a long drive with Hartman making great decisions off of the RPO. When given the proper protection, the freshman quarterback has been incredible this season. The Deacs then capped off their drive with another Dortch TD grab, this time around it was a 10-yard pass off of a Hartman scramble to go up 21-0.
On defense, S Luke Masterson got an easy interception after CB Essang Bassey tipped the ball off the hands of Rice’s TE Jaeger Bull. Masterson then returned the ball down to Rice’s 18-yard line. This was Masterson’s first career interception.
After going for it on a fourth and short, the Deacs punched it in once again with Carney on another one-yard touchdown. This marked Carney’s second game with more than one touchdown in his college career and Wake Forest led 28-0.
On the ensuing defensive drive, the Demon Deacons allowed two big runs by the Owls and a huge 3rd down conversion. The drive culminated on Rice’s first points in the game on a 39-yard FG.
From there, Hartman found Dortch on another big play down the middle, in what seemed to be the same play replaying in an infinite loop. Dortch had 3 TDs and 134 yards midway through the second quarter.
DT Zeek Rodney then forced a fumble, which was returned 50 yards downfield by Bassey for his second career touchdown to put Wake Forest up 42-3 with 5:25 still to play in the second quarter. Rodney has been one of the few bright spots on defense for the Deacs this season.
Wake Forest led 42-3 at the half in a dominating start to the game.
Rice forced a three-and-out on defense to start the second half and followed it up with a 72-yard drive in only three plays to score their first touchdown of the game. Most of the yards came on a 47-yard run by RB Austin Waters. I don’t know if it was due to the huge lead or just bad tackling angles, but Wake’s defense showed a lack of effort on the play.
On Wake’s following offensive possession, Hartman found Dortch for another touchdown, tying his personal, and school, record of four touchdowns receptions in a game. Dortch finished the game with 11 receptions for 163 yards and 4 touchdowns. It’s crazy how productive Dortch has been for Wake Forest. This was only his 13th college game and he already has 98 receptions, 1,277 yards, and 16 total touchdowns. Hartman finished the game with 15 out of 17 passes completed for 241 yards and 4 TDs.
On defense, Chuck Wade got his first career defensive touchdown with a 60-yard pick-six on a bobbled pass to put the Deacs up 56-10.
Despite generating a lot of turnovers, this Wake Forest defense also allowed, once again, a lot of big plays, especially through the ground during the second half. They allowed three touchdowns to a Rice offense that looked lost during the first half.
Garbage time officially started on the fourth quarter, as second and third-stringers took over the field. WR/QB Kendall Hinton took over quarterback duties for the Deacs as the backup. QB Jamie Newman apparently got injured (ankle) against Notre Dame and was held out of the game for precautionary reasons.
Overall, it was a good win for Wake Forest. The offense played lights out as expected against a weak Rice defense. On defense, some of the big play issues were still present, especially during the third quarter. However, this was a much-needed confidence booster for a defensive unit that has been picked apart over the past two weeks.
Linebackers DJ Taylor and Demetrius Kemp had huge games. Hartman had a big improvement with his RPO reads and only decided to run with the ball twice the whole game. Dortch and Hartman were really clicking today. It will be crucial to see that connection against Clemson if Wake Forest has any aspirations of winning next week’s game. For now, let’s just savor this one.