2021 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl Preview

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After Texas A&M dropped out of the Gator Bowl due to issues with COVID, Rutgers recently accepted the bowl bid to replace the Aggies. The Scarlet Knights will face off against the Demon Deacons on December 31st at 11 AM EST. 

2021 TaxSlayer Gator Bowl Preview

Intro to Both Teams

Rutgers finished the regular season at 5-7 and 2-7 in Big Ten play. The Scarlet Knights were not eligible for a bowl, so this last-minute opportunity should motivate the team.

Wake Forest ended the regular season atop the ACC Atlantic Division with a record of 10-3. However, the Demon Deacons suffered a brutal loss in the ACC Championship to Pittsburgh, which eradicated Wake Forest’s chances of a New Year’s Six bowl bid.

While both these teams share vastly different records, this game will be dictated by two key matchups. Here’s more on those matchups that will determine the outcome of the Gator Bowl. 

Matchup 1: Sam Hartman vs. Rutgers’ Pass Defense

Wake Forest has the fourth-highest scoring offense in the country, averaging almost 42 points per game: nearly 10 points higher than last season. Quarterback Sam Hartman is the leader of the offense. He has had an impressive year by throwing for 4,000 passing yards and 36 touchdowns.

Wake Forest’s offensive line has not done a stellar job protecting Hartman, especially in big games against Clemson and Wake Forest. Rutgers’ defensive line could have its way by creating pressure and forcing Hartman to get the ball out quickly. If Rutgers’ defense does this successfully, Wake Forest’s offense will be more limited.

While Hartman is effective in the running game, the Demon Deacons have three rushes who each finished with more than 400 rushing yards this season. Expect Christian Beal-Smith to get most of the carries and have a big role in the offense next Friday. 

Matchup 2: Isaih Pacheco vs. Wake Forest’s Run Defense

In contrast to the Demon Deacons’ offense, Rutgers’ offense ranks 118th in scoring and averages 18 points per game. Quarterback Noah Vedral threw for less than 1,800 passing yards, and he has only seven passing touchdowns on the year.

Pacheco leads the Scarlet Knights’ rushers with 650 rushing yards and five touchdowns. Wake Forest’s defense does have some difficulties stopping the run; the Demon Deacons’ defense gave up more than 300 rushing yards to Syracuse back in October.

Clearly, Pacheco will need to be the impact player on Rutgers’ offense to win this game. If Wake Forest’s offense is able to score at ease, Rutgers will have no choice but to be aggressive on offense.

Concluding Thoughts

Wake Forest is the obvious favorite in this game, and Vegas favors them by two touchdowns. Rutgers’ best chance to win this matchup is a low-scoring affair, but that depends on the Scarlet Knights getting pressure on Hartman.

Regardless, this is a great opportunity for Rutgers to finish on a strong note in Greg Schiano‘s second year as head coach. Wake Forest feels the same way, for this is the best year for the program since 2006 when the Demon Deacons played in the Orange Bowl.

Both of these teams are headed in the right direction, and the Gator Bowl will be filled with excitement on New Year’s Eve.