Basically The Entire First Half. That first half was one of the best halves of Wake Forest football I have seen in a long, long time. Sage Surratt in particular played like he would not lose, but of course it helps when you’ve got Jamie Newman serving up long bombs. Newman ended the night 14/26 for 214 yards through the air, one touchdown and one interception. On the ground he added 78 yards on 19 carries with an additional two touchdowns. The defense was also absolutely beastly, though, allowing only three first downs the entire first half, forcing a clutch fumble, and sticking every tackle like the Tar Heels owed them money. It was truly amazing to watch.
That Final Scoring Drive. Over the span of five minutes, Wake Forest drove 61 yards and forced UNC to burn all three time outs, which proved to be absolutely key. Jamie Newman was responsible for two absolutely critical plays, one a 27 yard bomb to Scotty Washington on a 2nd and 16 (after Jamie had taken a sack the play before) and the other a critical 3rd down conversion in which he took what seemed to be a for sure sack and turned it into a 4 yard gain. Without that, Wake Forest would have been at best at the edge of field goal range with UNC having all three time outs. I’d argue given the pressure on him and the heroics involved, that rush was the play of the game.
Insane Third Down Defense. For the game (including the comeback in the second half), the Tar Heels were 2-16 on third down. One of those was an absolutely inexcusable 3rd and 20. Let that sink in. The Tar Heels were one non-blown coverage away from being 6.6% on third down. That is very, very good.
Second Half Defensive Lapses. In the UNC comeback, there was a 55 yard pass from Sam Howell to Diyami Brown, and then on the next drive, a 50 yard jaunt for Michael Carter. For a bit of perspective, those two plays by themselves accounted for approximately 32% of UNC’s yardage. That’s ridiculous. Additionally, UNC was 3-3 on fourth down in the second half (the first, a really ballsy call on UNC’s own 34 or so that ultimately led to a UNC field goal). Finally, after the second UNC touchdown, Wake’s defense gave up a two point conversion AFTER a false start set the Heels back another 5 yards. Yikes. Honestly, the defensive urgency and solid tackling from the first half was at times missing in the second. Really unfortunate. Hopefully they can emulate the first half in future games.
Second Half Offensive Playcalling. We got overly conservative on offense in the second half, and it showed. One play in particular stood out, where on 3rd and 13 from the Wake 42, up 21-3, Wake called a running play for Christian Beal-Smith for 6 yards, then punted from about midfield for a net 32 yards, as the Dom Maggio punt ended up being a touchback. Also, Wake Forest didn’t use the middle of the field jn a mid-range passing game nearly enough. There was not a single completion to a tight end the entire game, nor was there to any reciever not named Scotty Washington or Sage Surratt. Sage in particular was absolutely stellar (Scotty had a couple brutal drops before the clutch grab on the final drive) but come on. I know Kendall Hinton was out, but what about a look or two for Steven Claude or some more targets for Jack Frudenthal? It seemed like every third and medium was either a rush or a bomb. Bombing it to our big receivers is hardly a bad idea, but if we can get some more consistently diverse passing out of Jamie Newman our passing attack might be nigh-unguardable.
The Fourth Down Attempt...Sort Of. Up 21-0 at the UNC 6 yard line late in the first, Wake went for it on a 4th and 1, giving it to Kenneth Walker III (who had a beastly game, by the way) for no gain. Now, I don’t hate going for it there. However, there’s definitely an argument to be made for going up 24, and even if you don’t, with how vital Jamie Newman was in the ground game and given how big and strong he clearly is, why don’t you just sneak it or something instead of trying a handoff in the backfield? Kinda infuriating, to be honest.
The Bottom Line
That first half was incredible. Like, “we should be ranked” incredible. I still wouldn’t be surprised to see some votes (they’re probably deserved) but lordy, that second half was almost as bad as the first half was good. I will say this, though. I still have all the faith in the world in Coach Clawson, we did this without Cade Carney or Kendall Hinton. we’re 3-0, and barring the upset of the season next week, we should be 4-0 going into a road battle against the Boston College team that just got housed at home...by Kansas. Then there’s Louisville and FSU at home, both games in which I expect Wake to be at least slight favorites. Truthfully, assuming no major injuries and assuming the team continues to grow week to week as they have, I’d be truly shocked to see Wake Forest not end up with 6+ wins. This was the first major test, and while it got very scary, that first half was proof positive of how good this team can be, and I’d say that team is probably second best in the division behind Clemson, and good for a very solid bowl game. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Don’t sleep on Elon, make my 10th anniversary homecoming a special one (oh dear God) and then get ready to head to Chestnut Hill. What do you guys think? Am I crazy? Sound off in the comments.
On to the next. Go Deacs.