clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Wake Forest Football: 3 Keys to Beating Syracuse

How can the Deacs secure a victory in week 13?

Wake Forest v Notre Dame Photo by Michael Miller/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Wake Forest has certainly not had the season any of us were hoping for, but the Deacs still have a chance to finish the season strong with a win over the Syracuse Orange this weekend. There is still a very, very small chance the Deacs could make a bowl game if they get to 5 wins, as there are 82 bowl spots up for grabs and only 67 eligible teams so far, with 24 teams capable of getting to 6 wins this weekend. Let’s go over the 3 keys to Wake Forest closing the season out with a W.

Don’t get beat by the bounce

After starting the season 4-0, the Orange have lost 6 of their last 7 and are in danger of finishing with a losing record for the 4th time in 5 years. As Syracuse pretty much did the same thing last season—starting 6-0 and finishing 7-6—Dino Babers was let go this week, and Nunzio Campanile will be finishing the season out as the interim head coach. That puts the Deacs in danger of falling prey to a phenomenon known as the “dead cat bounce.”

While it is more often seen in the NFL, the dead cat bounce refers to the boost a bad team appears to get after firing their head coach, causing them to play much better in the games immediately after the interim coach takes over. While there haven’t been many coaches fired this season, one example of the bounce this year can be seen with Boise State destroying Utah State 45-10 after Andy Avalos was fired. Last season, the bump was seen in several games, including Georgia Tech beating #24 Pitt in Brent Key’s first game, Colorado winning their only game of the season the week after firing Karl Dorrell, Wisconsin smashing Northwestern 42-7 after Paul Chryst was let go, and a 1-7 Charlotte team destroying Rice 56-23 after Will Healy was fired.

So, even though Syracuse has been outscored 94-211 in their last 7 games and has only won a single game against 3-8 Pitt since September (sounds familiar), a new coach could give them a renewed energy and a renewed focus in the locker room. That means it will be up to Wake Forest to nip that in the bud right from the start. If the Deacs can score a couple of times early and force a couple of punts from the Orange, they could really take away any momentum the coaching change might have brought. Psychologically, after winning 1 game in 2 months and seeing their coach get fired, getting in a double-digit hole early could just deflate the Orange to the point where they kind of give up.

Throw caution to the wind

This season has more or less been a disaster for Wake Forest. The Deacs have just 1 ACC win and regardless of whether or not they beat Syracuse, Wake will finish the regular season with a losing record for the first time since 2015. None of that can be changed now. Barring a miracle, this will be the last game of the season. With the results of the season already decided, what do the Deacs have to lose?

There are no more games after this, nothing to hide for the future. The Deacs should go out and run all the crazy, unorthodox plays they have been hoarding up in the playbook all season—assuming they have any left. We saw 2 trick plays on the same drive against Notre Dame last week, and they just happened to come on Wake’s only scoring drive of the game—I don’t think that is a coincidence. With the struggles in the kicking game, I also wouldn’t mind if Clawson just decided to go ultra-aggressive and go for every 4th and reasonable.

This game is not going to save the season, Wake may as well go out there and have some fun with it. At the very least, the game will be exciting to watch.

Stack the box

The Orange have been playing a bit of musical chairs at the QB position over the past few weeks. Starter Garrett Shrader was sidelined with an injury after the Virginia Tech game, putting back up Carlos Del Rio-Wilson into the starting role for a game against Boston College—he was injured in that game and hasn’t played since. Shrader came back the next week but didn’t throw the ball at all—tight end and former Michigan QB Dan Villari led the team with 3 completions for 12 yards against Pitt. Villari remained the primary passer in Cuse’s last game against Georgia Tech, completing all 14 passes for a whopping 59 yards. Whatever the injury to Shrader is, it has kept him from throwing the ball, even in warmups.

Not surprisingly, the Syracuse offense has changed with the turmoil at the QB position. In their last 3 games, the Orange have thrown the ball just 42 times for 98 yards. The Orange offense has basically become solely focused on the rushing attack, which has run the ball 137 times for 807 yards (5.9 ypc) over that same span. Sophomore running back LeQuint Allen has gotten the lion’s share of those carries, running for over 100 yards on 6 yards per carry in each of the last 3 games.

Based on that, I feel confident in saying that this is not a Syracuse team that is going to beat Wake Forest throwing the ball. At 33 passing yards per game since Shrader initially got injured, I would be surprised to see many, if any, passes beyond 5 yards down the field. I would expect that on the few passing plays Syracuse runs, the Deacs will see some version of a screen, shovel pass, or something behind the line of scrimmage.

That means there is really no reason for the Deacs to be worried about anything getting over their heads. The Orange are simply going to try to run the ball right down through the teeth of the Wake Forest defense, so Wake Forest should move the safeties up into the box and just play 1 on 1 on the receivers. The goal should be to focus completely on stopping the run and forcing Syracuse to win the game by having a tight end throw the ball. If the Deacs can consistently stop the run, they should be able to completely stymie the Syracuse offense.