What a way to bounce back for the Deacs! After an emotional loss last weekend, Wake Forest marched into Doak Campbell Stadium and took down the 23rd ranked Florida State Seminoles 31-21. The win marks Wakes 4th win all time in Tallahassee and their 3rd straight win over FSU dating back to their 22-20 win in 2019. I’m going to try to keep this recap short because I have no internet thanks to Ian, and I’m (mostly unsuccessfully) trying to type on my phone.
This game started out about as bad as possible for Wake Forest. Florida State received the opening kick off and proceeded to go straight down the field and score a touchdown with basically no resistance from the Deacs. After just 6 plays and 2 minutes, the Noles had a 7-0 lead on a 13 yard pass from Jordan Travis to Mycah Pittman. The Deacs managed just 1 first down on their ensuing possession and had to punt, and I definitely started to get a bad feeling about how the game was going to go.
As more rational fans will tell you, you shouldn’t judge the game based on the opening possessions. This one fell into that category, as the Wake Forest defense shut out the Seminoles for the remainder of the first half, and the Wake Forest offense ripped off 21 unanswered points to close the first half. Two touchdown passes from Sam Hartman to AT Perry and Donavon Greene and a rushing touchdown for Christian Turner gave the Deacs a 21-7 lead going into the half.
The Deacs continued to roll to start the second half, taking their first possession 75 yards in just 7 plays as Justice Ellison found the end-zone on a 12 yard run. With 9 minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter, Wake led 28-7. Unfortunately, things started getting more stressful from there.
Florida State responded with a 10 play, 85 yard drive to cut the lead back to 15—Mike Norvell decided to unsuccessfully go for 2 for some reason, which probably had more to do with their kicker than any advanced analytics. The Deacs got just 1 first down in their next 2 possessions, and Florida State was able to pull back to within 7 points on a fade route to the 6-7 Johnny Wilson. It definitely started to feel like Florida State had all the momentum (if you believe in such a thing), and this was going to be one of those game where Wake has a big lead and either loses or has to go to overtime to win the game.
Fortunately, when Wake needed to convert, they did. The Deacs came out and went on an 18 play, 66 yard drive that took up 6:37 of game time and got rid of all 3 of Florida State’s timeouts. The only thing that didn’t go well on this possession was that Wake was unable to find the end zone and had to settle for a field goal. The biggest play of the game came on a 3rd down pass to Ke’shawn Williams, who just completely “Moss-ed” a Florida State DB on a pass that should have been intercepted. Williams also came up with a big catch on 4th and 3 later to keep the drive alive. The Deacs took a 31-21 lead on the Matthew Dennis field goal to make it a 2 score game.
Credit the Wake Forest defense for not allowing the Florida State offense to get down the field and score a touchdown quickly. While they were aided by a couple of holding penalties, the defense held and forced FSU into trying a 55 yard field goal with a kicker who Norvell seemingly didn’t trust to make an extra point. The prayer would not be answered for Florida State, and Wake Forest would kneel out the clock to get their first ACC win of the season and move to 4-1.
The biggest takeaway for me was Wake Forest finally finding some yards in the ground game. In the first half, it seemed like the Deacs could basically run whenever they wanted and move the sticks, something we have not seen yet this year. Wake Forest ended the game with 171 rushing yards, but their 3.4 yard per rush average was slightly affected by Hartman’s 11 rushes for -5 yards. Justice Ellison led the way with 18 carries for 114 yards and a touchdown.
The defense was also a key part of the win. After allowing Florida State to go right down the field on their opening possession, the Deacs settled in and did a really good job keeping Florida State from extending drives and putting points on the board. The FSU offense came into today’s game averaging over 500 yards per game and 225 yards per game on the ground—Wake Forest held them to under 400 total yards and just 112 yards rushing. After just 5 games, it is already apparent what an outstanding job Brad Lambert has done fixing the defense in just a few months. The Deacs no longer need to score 50+ points to win tough games in the ACC.
Props to Clawson for handling all the adversity of Hurricane Ian and having the guys ready to play on the road against an undefeated, ranked opponent. I guess he wasn’t scared after all.