2021 was one of the best seasons in program history for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons: 11 wins, an Atlantic Division Championship, a trip to Charlotte for the ACC Championship, and a Gator Bowl victory over Rutgers to finish off the season. With so much excitement surrounding Wake Forest football, this was truly one of the longest off-seasons I can remember. And now it is finally over.
In just 24 hours, the 2022 football season kicks off for the Demon Deacons as Wake takes the home field against the VMI Keydets. While the matchup with an FCS opponent is never the most exciting (compared to the in-state matchups between NC State and ECU or UNC and App this weekend), there are still plenty of reasons to tune into Thursday night’s game, whether in person at Truist Field or on ACC Network. So here are 5 reasons you should be pumped for the home opener on Thursday night.
1. Mitch Griffis’s First Start
The injury to starting QB Sam Hartman obviously sucks and hopefully Hartman makes a full and speedy recovery. That being said, his absence does add a little bit of extra intrigue to the first game of the season, as it gives the fans our first look at what could be the future QB for the next few years in Mitch Griffis. Griffis is very good player—Clawson did recruit him after all—who threw for over 3,000 yards and 40 touchdowns as a senior in high school, but he really hasn’t had a chance to get meaningful minutes thus far at Wake Forest. The RPO based offense is heavily predicated on the ability of the quarterback to make the right reads on time, and those decisions should be pretty independent of the strength of the opponent. So, while we may not be able to glean much about the Deacs from one game against an FCS opponent, we should be able to see how comfortable Griffis is reading the defense and running the slow mesh system.
2. An Improved Defense
This one is pretty obvious, because the Wake Forest defense last year was not great, to put it lightly. The Deacs gave up over 500 yards of offense in 6 of their 13 games and allowed their opponents to score 40 or more points in 5 of them. You could make the case that with a slightly better defense, the Deacs could have finished last season with just 1 or 2 losses and maybe even an ACC championship. Wake brought back Brad Lambert to take over the reigns as defensive coordinator, so his first game at the helm should also supply some intrigue for the fans. While it is an FCS opponent, meaning the Deacs will probably have way more weight and speed at almost every position, Wake did give up over 330 yards and 19 first downs to Norfolk State last season, so we may still be able to see improvements on that front despite the opponent. Hopefully we see a defense with a better understanding of their assignments and players in the right positions to make plays.
3. The Future of Kicker U
Wake Forest has a long tradition of great kickers—how many kickers have been named the MVP of a conference championship game? Wake has had the pleasure of having the most accurate kicker in NCAA history on their roster for the past 4 seasons; in those 4 years, Nick Sciba never missed an extra point and finished his career 80-89 on field goals (89%). Needless to say, Sciba was the most reliable kicker in the nation and the Deacs could always count on him at the end of a game. As Sciba is now trying his luck in the NFL, redshirt freshman Matthew Dennis has some big shoes to fill. We should get to see him plenty on Thursday night—though hopefully most of his attempts are extra points.
4. The Deacs are ranked
In case you forgot, Wake Forest is the #22 team in the country. They are ranked in the preseason AP Top 25 for just the 2nd time in school history. That alone should be enough to get you excited for the game regardless of the opponent.
5. It’s Wake Forest Football
You’ve been waiting for it for a long time and now it’s back. Do you really need another reason?
Let’s have another great season, and GO DEACS!