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Wake Forest Season Has Come to an End

Wake Forest Season

The Wake Forest season has come to an end with the Deacs 35-31 loss at Syracuse Saturday night. The Orange having no systematic offense was too complicated for the Wake Forest defense. At 4-8, the Deacs are ineligible for a bowl game. They now have the rest of December and some of January to deal with the transfer portal and early signing day/recruiting.

Syracuse, which fired head coach Dino Babers last Sunday is actually bowl eligible with the win moving the Orange to 6-6 under interim head coach Nunzio Campenile.

No Surprise in Syracuse’s Offense

With starting quarterback Garrett Shrader being banged up much of the last three weeks, the Syracuse coaching staff had developed a hybrid offense that included a lot of the Wildcat formations as well as more standard formations. Wake head coach Dave Clawson was asked about preparing for that this week at practice. He said they would simply have to prepare for two different types of offense. As has been the case much of the season, the practice field did not translate to the game.

Syracuse predictably ran 58 rushing plays to only 17 passing plays. The rushing attack had four different players carrying the ball with direct snaps as well as traditional handoffs. But when they did throw the ball, they hit for five touchdown passes. Four were by Shrader and one was by tight end Dan Villari on a direct snap play. The game-control offense gave Syracuse a time-of-possession differential of almost 2:1.

Wake had a chance to pull it at the end. But the Deacs were forced to play for a touchdown and the win, because an earlier decision by Clawson to go for a two-point conversion after a touchdown failed. So instead of being able to play for a game-tying field goal, they had no chance but to play for the touchdown. Michael Kern, who had the best game of any Wake quarterback this season, had his pass intercepted at the goal line, essentially ending the season for Wake.

Run Dominant

Syracuse started the scoring when Shrader hit Damien Alford over the middle at the Wake 27 and he turned it into a 35-yard touchdown play. The drive was 11 plays but had only two passes, including the touchdown. It was how Syracuse operated the entire first half.

Kern, who started the game 0-4 passing settled in on the second drive for the Deacs. He led a 75-yard drive that took only four plays and used only 1:39 of the clock. He hit Wesley Grimes in the middle of the end zone as he was drifting to the left for a 16-yard touchdown pass.

But the ad-lib offense of Syracuse kept the Wake Forest defense off balance for much of the game. Shrader started the second period with a one-yard touchdown run to cap another 75-yard drive that took 17 plays and burned another 5:29 off the clock. The Orange used only three pass plays on the drive and had 14 running plays out of the hybrid formations. In the first two drives, they were also eight for eight on third downs. No preparation during the week was helping the defense solve the Syracuse offense.

Wake got a 36-yard field goal out of Tyler Black to make it 14-10 Syracuse. It was Black’s first college field goal attempt. Clawson had decided to go with Black when regular placekicker Matthew Dennis got wildly inconsistent over the last month.

Plenty of Answers

Syracuse opened the lead in the third quarter. Running back LeQuint Allen took a direct snap and ran 23 yards up the middle of the Wake Forest defense. And then Villari, the tight end, took a direct snap and threw it 47 yards downfield to Alford for the touchdown and the 21-10 lead.

Kern put together another scoring drive for Wake that included a 28-yard pass that he floated while throwing off his back leg. Jahmal Banks ran under the ball for the completion. Six plays later, Justice Ellison slammed his way through the middle of the line of scrimmage for a two-yard touchdown run. The score was now 21-17 Syracuse, but most importantly, the drive burned 5:25 off the clock. That was the time the Syracuse offense, which was too complex for Wake’s defense in terms of execution, was kept off the field.

Wake had another chance to shrink the Orange lead, but Black missed on a 38-yard field goal attempt and the drive came up empty.

After pushing its way upfield with the running game, Syracuse scored early in the fourth quarter when Shrader threw to Villari in the middle of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown pass and the 28-17 lead.

The QB Performance of the Wake Season

Kern, who finished the game 17 of 24 passing for 261 yards and three touchdowns had yet another answer, and it took virtually no time to do it. He hit Taylor Morin over the middle of the field for a 59-yard completion as the receiver weaved and bobbed through the defense. On the next play, it was a 16-yard touchdown pass to Banks. Two plays that took :45 seconds and made it 28-23. Clawson opted to go for the two-point conversion. Kern showed incredible moxy running around in the backfield to keep the play alive. As he was drifting to his right, Grimes had gotten himself open in the other side of the end zone. The hook-up shrunk the Syracuse lead to 28-25.

Shrader had one more touchdown pass in him. It was a 37-yarder to Umari Hatcher who all-too-easily got behind the Wake secondary. The lead was back up to 10 points for Syracuse. But Wake was showing more offense than it had for much of the season.

Kern threw a nine-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Grimes in the back left corner of the end zone. Clawson opted to go for but Kern’s pass was batted down at the line of scrimmage. It made it a 35-31 score and meant Wake would need another touchdown, instead of being able to stay in it with a field goal that would have tied it later.

“I didn’t want to play in overtime,” Clawson said after the game. “At that point, we hadn’t gotten a stop all day. Their kicker is better than our kicker. I wanted to try to win the game in regulation. If you go for two there and you get it and then you kick a field goal, you win the game.”

Putting the Entire Game on One Drive

The end result was Wake marching all the way down to the Syracuse four-yard line. On fourth and goal, they were left with no options but to go for the touchdown. Kern’s pass was intercepted at the goal line by Jason Simmons. Syracuse ran out the clock, ending Wake’s season and the streak of seven consecutive bowl games.”

In terms of not being able to stop the hybrid schemes Syracuse threw at them, Clawson said, “They got after us physically up front. I mean every run was four, five, six yards. In a lot of ways it was like playing an option team.” And then when Wake did properly commit to the run, Syracuse made them pay for it with big yardage pass plays.

Clawson said he told the team that, “People will look back at this season for Wake Forest football as a failure. I won’t look at it that way. You know, I’m not happy with our record, but these guys showed up every day and prepared hard. They practiced hard and they played down to the very, very final play.”

He added, “We’re not in the happy to be close business. And I understand that we’re expected to win football games. We accept that expectation. But I am proud of our players.”

Clawson said meetings with individual players will start next week, starting with the quarterbacks. Some will be back. Others are not as likely. The transfer portal opens December 4th, and with no bowl game to go to, it gives the staff an extra couple of weeks to focus on personnel matters and the early signing period December 20-22.


Wake Forest Season
Photo courtesy: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports


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