The Deacs didn’t have much trouble last weekend in what I would consider to be a tune up game against an FCS opponent, but this week they are on the road against an SEC team in the Vanderbilt Commodores. Wake Forest and Vanderbilt have yet to play a relatively strong opponent—the cumulative schedule so far is a Hawaii team with 50 new players (and a new coaching staff) and 2 FCS teams—so it is kind of hard to know exactly what to expect from both teams. Here are some factors to keep an eye on that could decide the game on Saturday.
The Return of Sam Hartman
I mean, this one is kind of super obvious. Sam Hartman returning wasn’t just huge for Wake Forest fans, it was also a pretty big story across football media this week. Getting a very experienced quarterback who accounted for 50 touchdowns last season back into the lineup should have a huge impact on the Wake Forest offense and really take the Deacs to that next level. Of course, being back in the lineup and being back to playing form are very different things. Hartman missed the first game, so he hasn’t played an actual football game since the Gator Bowl last season—that was 7 months ago. The big question heading into the game against Vandy is how prepared Hartman is after his brief hiatus and how quickly he will be able to shake off the rust, if there is any. Personally, I think he’ll be able to jump right back into the swing of things like nothing happened, but I wouldn’t be shocked if it takes him a couple of drives to settle in. The Vandy defense looked pretty porous against Elon last weekend, so if Hartman is back to 100%, the Deacs should have no trouble getting the ball into the endzone multiple times.
The First Test for Brad Lambert’s Defense
If we’re being honest, there isn’t much that we could take away from the first game against VMI. Sure, the defense looked solid and only gave up 222 yards and 10 points, but the talent disparity between an ACC school that played for a conference championship last season and an FCS school is pretty massive. This will be the first game where we will really be able to tell if the defense has made any improvements at all from last season. Strength of schedule aside, the Vandy offense is averaging 52.5 points and 512 total yards per game this season through their first 2 games. They are led by the dynamic Mike Wright, who has already accounted for 10 total touchdowns and 638 total yards. He is used heavily in the run game for the Commodores, already rushing the ball 24 times this season with an average of over 10 yards per carry. The spread option game gave the Deacs fits last season, and Wright is another guy that could absolutely punish the defense if they lose contain or forget to account for him.
Ryan Smenda is returning from an absurd targeting suspension, so that should definitely help. Hopefully we see an aggressive Deacon defense absolutely stifle the Vanderbilt offense.
Despite the fact that the Deacs won their first game by 30+ points, head coach Dave Clawson was pretty upset in the post-game due to the penalties—it was one of the first things he mentioned. Wake has always been one of the best teams in the nation in terms of penalties under Clawson, but the Deacs were flagged 7 times for 69 yards in their first game. While that might not seem that bad, Wake had 2 touchdowns called back due to penalties and extended a Keydets drive with a penalty on 4th down at least twice. That didn’t affect the outcome of the game against VMI, but obviously you don’t want to get into the habit of having 14 points taken off the board due to bad penalties. I’m sure Clawson made that a priority this week, so hopefully Wake can cut down on the amount of laundry on the field against Vanderbilt.