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Game Recap: Wake Forest Handles Elon, 37-17

It looked like it was going to be a laugher, but what resulted was an entirely more tense game than anyone would’ve liked for a considerable stretch of the second half.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 23 Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl Photo by Chris Leduc/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Deep into the second quarter, with Elon having run 18 offensive plays, they had -4 yards of total offense. The first first down of the game for Elon came with just over 10 minutes left in the first half. If that doesn’t give you some glimpse into how this game went, I don’t know what does. With the defense firing on pretty much all cylinders for the first quarter and change, the offense had short fields, and generally capitalized.

The general framework of the offense seems the same, though at least tonight it seemed to have a bit more snap to it. Part of me questions it; it felt much more like a traditional scheme, which isn’t the worst thing in the world, but I think part of what has made the offense so good over the last several years IS how off-rhythm it was, rather inscrutable for opposing defensive coordinators. Mitch Griffis looked good, though, and I can see how switching up the offense a little bit in terms of pacing is something of a necessity given how different of a physical profile Mitch has than Sam Hartman or Jamie Newman.

The defense got a bit rougher around the edges for the middle 8 minutes of the second quarter, going on a 70 yard offensive jaunt that looked like it would end in a touchdown until an interception in the endzone ended that dream of a tighter game for the Phoenix.

The Deacs then scored again in three plays, a 69-yard bomb from Mitch Griffis to Cameron Hite resulting in an easy 6. Elon then followed that up with another unsuccessful 3rd down conversion, leaving them at 0-8 for the half.

The second half for Wake Forest got started off pretty solid, another chunky drive for the Deacs resulting in another field goal, bringing the score to 27-0. I don’t love the stalling in the red zone, but I will point out, there was an absolutely atrocious non-call on an obvious DPI by Elon.

It’s notable that the huge change in Elon’s offensive fortunes occurred by the entry of quarterback Justin Allen, who didn’t start, but if this game is anything to go by, he probably should. The first third down conversion of the game was, oddly, a 49-yard rushing TD by Elon’s Jalen Hampton on a 3rd and 1. Still, especially with the new clock rules, a 27-7 lead midway through the third is a pretty heavy lift, especially considering the difference in overall talent. Still, the Wake Forest offense experienced a mildly concerning stall on the following drive as the Wake Forest running game continued to struggle mightily. If you can’t run against Elon, you might have some problems.

The defense held serve, however, causing another 3 and out for Elon, their seventh of the game. Truthfully, if a defense gets a 3 and out for 7 of the 9 drives for the other team, well...that’s a good night. Griffis, however, had the first real black eye of the night, throwing a pick 6 for Elon, leaving the score at 27-14 late in the third.

Keshawn Williams then took some of the momentum back, turning the ensuing kickoff into a jaunt all the way to around midfield for the Deacs. It looked like it was going to be a nice steadying drive for Wake Forest from there, and it largely was, until the redzone and ground struggles reared their heads again. A failed, but nearly spectacular TD catch attempt by Taylor Morin was for naught, leading to another 29 yard field goal kick for Matthew Dennis to bring the lead to 30-14 for the Deacs at the end of the third.

Five minutes into the fourth, Elon had a decently long drive, including their second fourth down conversion via QB sneak in the game, but the Phoenix somewhat peculiarly punted after getting from 3rd and 12 to 4th and 3 down 16 with 10 minutes remaining. The punt somewhat paid off, however, as Wake only burned a couple of minutes before a somewhat iffy DPI non-call (again, though not as baffling as the first one) followed by another Griffis sack caused another Wake Forest punt, the Deacs up only 16 with just under 8 minutes left. However, a second Wake Forest pick on the ensuing drive all but iced the game with the Deacs up 16 with the ball with about 6 and a half minutes left.

Demond Claiborne had back to back chunk runs of 11 and 16, followed by yet another solid gain of 4. Justice Ellison had 22 yards on 9 carries for an average of 2.4 YPC, while Claiborne had 60 on 12 at that point for an even 5, and on the following play, the OL absolutely blew up the Elon defensive line for Demond Claiborne to be able to be rewarded for his efforts with one of the easier 10 yard touchdown jaunts he’d ever see. 4 plays, 41 yards and a TD, all Demond Claiborne, 37-14 Deacs.

On the one hand, literally the only reason Elon was in the game at all was the 14 point burst for the Phoenix, aided by the pick six from Griffis, and the defense was largely pretty spectacular. However, being outscored 14-6 by an FCS team in the third quarter is not a good look under any circumstances, if we’re being honest.

The defense held up fairly strong, holding Elon to a 29 yard field goal that went through the uprights with LITERALLY one second left on the clock, giving the final score. The bright side is that the first quarter of the game was as dominant of a performance as I can remember seeing, and there were big plays by both the offense and the defense. I’m pleasantly surprised by how seamlessly Mitch Griffis seems to have taken up the QB1 mantle, aside from the inauspicious Pick 6. However, if that third quarter Wake Forest team shows up against more talented squads and/or with a less favorable score spread, that might be pretty rough. Still, Wake dominated basically three quarters of this game including the fourth, and if things were a bit more on point in the red zone, you could’ve easily tacked on another 8 points to the final for the Deacs. We’ll see how Wake Forest does next Saturday against Vanderbilt, but either way, we went 1-0 for the week and continued our tendency to drop 30+ on our opponents, so I’d say on balance, definitely a positive outing.

On to the next. Go Deacs.