Wake Forest vs Missouri

Wake Forest vs Missouri

The 2023 version of the Gasparilla Bowl has Wake Forest vs Missouri in a match-up of teams you generally don’t imagine putting together.

Gasparilla Bowl

Wake Forest (7-5) vs Missouri (6-6)

Friday December 23rd; 6:30pm eastern


Raymond James Stadium; Tampa, FL

Missouri Tigers

The Tigers finished the season 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the SEC. They never really gained significant momentum for any stretch of the season but did win the last two games of the regular season against New Mexico State and Arkansas.

Like most teams in the day of the new transfer portal window, they are missing a few players for the bowl game. It used to be just those declaring for the NFL, but now coaches also have to deal with players declaring to go play for someone else next season. “We’re going to be down some players, but everybody’s down players this time of year,” head coach Eliah Drinkwitz said this week. The Tigers will be missing their top pass rushers. Defensive lineman D.J. Coleman has declared for the NFL draft and will sit out the game. Linebacker Devin Nicholson has entered the transfer portal.

The Offense

Missouri will also be without offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan who has left to take the same job at Boise State. But since it has been Drinkwitz’ offense from the beginning, there is no reason to expect any interruption in the scheme. It is managed by quarterback Brady Cook. He threw for 2,500 yards and 13 touchdowns against seven interceptions. Among his recent admirers is Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson. “I love their quarterback,” he said this week. “They do a lot in the quarterback run game with him.”

Even though it is not one of the marquee bowl games, Drinkwitz said his team is excited about going to Tampa. “You’d like the momentum of the off-season to be about winning the bowl game,” he said this week. “I think for us, this is about this team, this group of guys, who have chosen to move forward together in this game.”

One thing that would make Drinkwitz happy is to have his wardrobe in Tampa. Like every coach in these early bowls, he has had to deal with the opening of the portal window, bowl practice, recruiting, and National Signing Day. That leaves other details to chance. “There was a bag drop, where you’re supposed to put your bag with the stuff you’re packing, (for the trip to Tampa), and I didn’t get mine done.” We assume the Gasparilla Bowl souvenir shop has plenty of options just in case.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

The Demon Deacons finished the season at 7-5 overall and 3-5 in the ACC. It was a tough record to look at considering they were 6-1 at one point in the season and ranked in the top 15 across all major polls.

Head coach Dave Clawson has his roster management issues before the game as well. In fact, in meeting with the media this week he declared roster management to be an impossibility, with the portal, early draft departures, recruiting, and trying to get a team ready for the bowl game.

Running back Christian Turner will miss the game. He put his name in the portal and had multiple visits with other schools that kept him from practicing, so he did not make the trip. Running back Quinton Cooley is also in the portal but has been at every practice and workout, so Clawson is leaving him on the roster for the game. Defensive lineman Jacorey Johns opted out of the bowl game with plans to declare for the NFL draft.


What Clawson will have is most of his starters including quarterback Sam Hartman and all of the receiving corps. His offense is only missing Turner off the two deep. “It’s awesome,” he said this week. “The fact that we have so few guys opting out is just another example of why these guys are so awesome. I love our players. They are team-oriented.”

Hartman is the subject of new discussions, as rumors abound that while he is leaving Wake Forest, presumably for the NFL draft, he has been getting NIL offers to play his final year of eligibility elsewhere. Clawson admitted Tuesday that he does not know what Hartman will do after the bowl game, although he acknowledged his primary goal remains going to the NFL. Clawson is one of a growing number of coaches frustrated that the NCAA refuses to enforce tampering rules with regards to NIL offers. “There’s no reason for teams to stop doing this. There’s no penalty for doing this,” he said.

With his first touchdown of the game, Hartman will own the ACC record for touchdown passes in a career. He will pass Clemson’s Tajh Boyd, and will have done it in one more game than Boyd played. “That guy has done nothing but everything right by Wake Forest and our football program for five years,” Clawson said.

Game Ready

In the meantime, there is a bowl game to get ready for. Based on being in an early game, the need to be locking up the recruiting class signed Wednesday, and managing portal issues, Wake only got in 10 practices during the allowable weeks. Two of them have been in Tampa and there will be a walk-through Thursday. He said he was pleased with the workouts and that there was little rust despite a handful of days for finals and because of the calendar.

Receiver Taylor Morin says the bowl game is not to be taken lightly. “A lot of time you dictate your season on what happens in the bowl game. That sets the tone for the off-season.” He added that everyone aims for the bigger bowls, but as the season ends, you are happy to still be in the post-season. “It’s easy to compare, and obviously it would be really cool if we were playing in a New Year’s Six bowl, but that’s not where we are. But we’re playing in a really cool environment. He said one of the upsides of this bowl is the location. He made pointed out that he is excited to be playing in the NFL home of future hall of famer Tom Brady. Morin had not been to see the pirate ship at Raymond James yet.