Wake Forest recovered from back-to-back road losses to beat Duke 39-27 on Saturday night, a steadying of the ship that also wraps a sweep of the Big 4 opponents this season and keeps alive the potential of a 10-win season.
Here are five takeaways from Saturday night’s game:
1. The NCAA record
There’s a current NCAA record holder at Wake Forest.
Nick Sciba has made 32 straight field-goal attempts — his four against Duke pushing him past Chuck Nelson of Washington, who set the record from 1981-82. Wake Forest’s sophomore kicker made field goals of 38, 34, 44 and 25 yards — the 44-yarder pushing him past Nelson and also marking Sciba’s longest of the season.
“I want to say they were all right down the middle, but like I said, I have to go back and watch film,” Sciba said. “I don’t even think about the record when I’m out there, I can’t think about that. I’ve just gotta go out there and do what I’m supposed to do, help the team.”
One of the aspects that shouldn’t be forgotten in Sciba’s streak is that several of his field goals this season have come in the rain, both against Florida State and Duke.
He laughed when it was facetiously suggested that he prefers kicking in wet conditions.
“Ha ha, I definitely don’t want to kick in the rain,” Sciba said. “But like I said, I’ve just gotta do my best. I can’t go out there and — I can’t let the conditions or even records get in my head. That’s just something else trying to make me miss.”
2. Stepping up at LB
Justin Strnad hasn’t played since early in the third quarter against Florida State, when he suffered a torn biceps tendon.
The Deacons have played four full games since then and Strnad still leads the team with 69 tackles.
Strnad is likely to be passed in the regular-season finale, as safety Nasir Greer has 67 tackles and linebacker Ryan Smenda Jr. has 65. But the replacement for Strnad in the starting defense, Ja’Cquez Williams, is the Deacon who’s come on strong in Strnad’s absence.
Williams, a redshirt junior who spent his first three years at Wake Forest playing rover, has been a force in the last five games. His stats in that span: 41 tackles, two tackles for loss, 1½ sacks, one fumble forced and one pass broken-up.
“I definitely think I’ve done a couple of good things, but I would say I’m far from perfect,” Williams said. “That’s just the human in everybody, no one’s perfect, but I just try to go out there and just perform at the highest level I possibly can and execute and just play hard, run to the ball. Once you do that, the mistakes will clean themselves up if you just run to the ball.”
3. Double-digit Boogie
Boogie Basham was a terror for Duke quarterback Quentin Harris, recording 2½ sacks, which gives him 10 for the season. It’s the sixth double-digit sack season in Wake Forest history, joining, among others, Duke Ejiofor, who had 10½ in 2016 and was a mentor for Basham.
That’s a relationship that’s continued into this season, even though Ejiofor is in his second season with the Houston Texans (he’s out for the season with an injury).
“We went down to Rice, he was in our (hotel) room, he kind of gave me and (Sulaiman Kamara) some tips and I kinda used that the rest of the season,” Basham said.
And the tips were?
“Just more of focusing on your stance, watching the ball, doing a better job of watching film,” Basham said. “Instead of just watching the game, actually watch the tackles you’re going against, whoever you’re going against, finding their weaknesses and their strengths and using that against them.”
Basham is a redshirt junior who was honored for Senior Day on Saturday. He acknowledged after the game he has a decision to make in regard to entering the NFL Draft, and said he would make that decision after this week’s game at Syracuse after conferring with his family.
4. Kickoff coverage
Wake Forest has a glaring problem when it comes to covering kickoffs.
“Obviously our kickoff coverage is atrocious. If we could just cover kicks, that would not have even been a close game,” Coach Dave Clawson said. “It happened in the Louisville game, and it reared its ugly head again.”
The Deacons surrendered two kickoff return touchdowns against Duke, and have given up three this season. Those aren’t the only kickoffs that have hurt — Louisville also brought one back to 15, while Boston College and Virginia Tech, just to name a couple more, swung momentum their ways with kick returns to midfield against Wake Forest.
On 71 kickoffs this season, opponents have only taken 16 touchbacks.
“Obviously we have to do a better job of coaching that, and we’re not kicking it real well, and we’re not covering it real well,” Clawson said. “… You give up only 290 yards, you shouldn’t give up 27 points. That’s 14 points off of kickoff returns.”
5. Kendall Hinton at QB
The redshirt senior had already scored on Senior Day, and then the former quarterback got an unexpected perk for one play.
It also happened to be that Hinton’s last meaningful snaps at quarterback were also in the home finale against Duke. Hinton’s only snaps as a quarterback came last season in blowouts. In 2017, he entered against the Blue Devils in the regular-season finale after John Wolford suffered an ankle injury.
On Saturday night, Hinton entered after Jamie Newman’s ankle was twisted and ran for 6 yards on third-and-7 — helping set up an eventual Cade Carney touchdown that put the game out of Duke’s reach.
“It was just a situation, I was excited when my name was called to get back in the backfield for the first time in three years. Or, two years. Well, I mean, I got back there and was able to make a play and it worked out,” Hinton said. “Big grin on my face when he called it in the huddle.”