Going into last week’s game at N.C. State, Coach Dave Clawson said that the progression of quarterback Jamie Newman’s season could serve as a representation for the Deacons’ season as a whole.
Clawson drew parallels to how Newman’s season started with “great potential,” but hadn’t gone the way he wanted. That’s been the case for the Deacons, too, and Clawson said that now Newman’s chance had arrived, he was hoping “that’s the narrative of our season when it’s over, that we grinded, we continued to compete, we got better, we played our best football at the end.”
The end isn’t here yet. But it’s one down, two to go on establishing that narrative, thanks to a defense that played its best game of the season and a quarterback who rose to meet his big moment.
Playing in front of nearly 60,000 people in a charged-up atmosphere, with the Wolfpack dreaming of a berth in a New Year’s Six bowl game, Newman threw for 297 yards and three touchdowns. The last 32 of those yards came on the game-winning touchdown pass to tight end Jack Freudenthal, which puts the Deacons (5-5) needing just one win in the final two games to be bowl eligible for a third straight season.
Newman told sideline reporter Laura Rutledge after the game that, “God’s timing is impeccable.” That covers a litany of aspects that went into Wake Forest’s 27-23 upset win against the team ranked 14th in last week’s College Football Playoff ranking.
“No matter if you’re No. 1 or No. 2, you have to be prepared like you’re going to play at any moment,” Newman said. “Like it has happened in the past two years, first year, John Wolford was named the starter, then after the Duke game, Kendall (Hinton) was the starter, then Kendall (got hurt), then John Wolford right back there to step up.
“You’ve always got to be prepared to play.”
Newman said that almost three months ago, at the end of fall camp. This season hasn’t been the only time since Newman arrived in January of 2016 that his development and availability has stalled.
One advantage of enrolling early is participating in spring practice, and Newman was held out of all but three or four spring practices because of appendicitis in his first spring.
Newman’s performance against the Wolfpack was a slow burn. The Deacons pounded running backs Matt Colburn II and Cade Carney into N.C. State’s defense that entered the game allowing 91.6 rushing yards per game, about one yard more than what Clemson was yielding for the best mark in the ACC.
Wake Forest ran for 147 yards on 34 designed rushes, and by late in the third quarter, Newman had only attempted 16 passes. His 17th attempt was a 6-yard pass to Sage Surratt.
The 18th and 19th attempts went for 43 and 38 yards to Surratt and Alex Bachman, respectively. The fourth quarter, when Newman was 10-for-14 for 126 yards and two touchdowns, goes down in Wake Forest lore.
On the game-winning drive, Newman completed five passes for 80 yards. He avoided pressure, made the correct reads and executed the offense to near-perfection.
“Every Wednesday in practice we run two two-minute drills, and he’s been doing that for two years, three years,” Clawson said. “He made a lot of good decisions in that one. Even throwing it away. … Earlier in the game, he took a lot of sacks, and I think some of them weren’t necessary. You can’t do that in a two-minute drill, and he didn’t.”
Newman’s teammates sensed his calmness and the fact that, despite him throwing more passes Thursday night than he had in his career before then, he was ready to meet the challenge.
“I thought he was calm, cool and collected. He didn’t show any signs of him being worried or anything,” Surratt said of Newman on the final drive. “I think he was ready for the moment and he definitely capitalized on it. We’re all proud of him.”
Revisiting another thing Newman said at the end of fall camp, when he was talking about his growth as a quarterback and as a leader at Graham High School, reveals how Newman was prepared to do that, too.
“You always have to control your emotions, you always have to be thinking. … Of course there are going to be some frustrations, but you always have to stay dialed in because it’s a long game,” Newman said. “I think I really didn’t get good at it until my junior year, where I realized that no matter what goes on, you have to do your job and your job as a quarterback is to be a leader, stay composed and never let the other team see your hand.
“Never let them see you frustrated, uncomfortable or anything.”
He didn’t, and now the Deacons’ prospects of salvaging some positives to this season are clearer.