Let’s ease into the football season with some live music, a flyover, a nice post-game fireworks show and some actual football sprinkled in there between two nonconference foes who have played two non-competitive games in the past five years.
Remember when the Joker crashes the organized crime meeting in “The Dark Knight”? And Heath Ledger’s chilling, robotic laugh?
So, if it’s not clear, that’s me laughing at the notion of easing into the season.
The matchup that Dave Clawson wanted to start this season was a tough one, something that would provide a steep challenge for a team that emerged from fall camp with veteran overtones but an infusion of youth. When it was done and the little pellets of BB&T Field’s turf had settled, Clawson was left using the word “fortunate” a few times to describe the 38-35 win over Utah State.
“There’s certainly a part of me that feels like we didn’t deserve to win that game,” Clawson said. “We gave up so many big plays on defense, offensively our short-yardage package was just completely ineffective. But we hung in there.”
So let’s get rolling. Here’s what I saw when re-watching the game:
• Recorded the last five minutes of the ACC Network’s pregame show. Mark Richt pegged it: “Wake, just by a fraction.” Not so good for Eric Mac Lain, who thinks Wake Forest runs a two-quarterback system: “I think (Jordan Love) is just going to light up the entire field tonight.” (well, he did … but he wasn’t the best quarterback on the field). EJ Manuel picks Wake Forest, too.
• Wow. This dude doubled-down on Wake Forest running a two-quarterback system. Mac Lain said that on the network’s Packer & Durham simulcast Thursday morning, had roughly 36 hours for somebody to tell him how Clawson and Warren Ruggiero handle QBs, and either didn’t listen or didn’t have anybody advise him. I mean … that’s just silly. If you’re going to cover one conference, it’s not too much to ask to know how each team’s quarterback situation is handled. OK, moving on.
• Love the freshmen tunnel entrance.
• Stands look a little sparse at kickoff, but they filled in. The announced attendance was 29,027, and that didn’t feel inflated. Crowd was late-arriving, I’d guess, because of traffic (Labor Day Weekend, Friday night) and the new metal detectors at the gates to the stadium.
• New uniforms are sharp, traditional, not too complicated.
• There’s something fitting about the first catch of the season going to Jack Freudenthal, since it was his catch from Newman in Raleigh that saved last season.
• Third-and-2 and Cade Carney rips off a 22-yard run. It’s the second third-and-short conversion of the drive. As noted in the five takeaways article, Wake Forest picked up first downs on seven of its first nine third- or fourth-and-short situations. It wasn’t until late in the game that their effectiveness disappeared.
• Great throw, great catch through a penalty for the first touchdown. Sage Surratt and Scotty Washington should be able to turn 50-50 balls into 80-20 balls, as long as they use their bodies and physicality.
• From Twitter: 3:06 is a snail’s pace for a Wake Forest drive of eight plays.
• Nick Sciba was fantastic on kickoffs. Will be interesting how many more coffin-corner kickoffs we see, though.
• Utah State’s first big play, the second play of the game, was because of a missed tackle by Amari Henderson. He was targeted early and often (as was Ja’Sir Taylor). It’s the Aggies’ first of 13 plays that went for at least 15 yards.
• Nasir Greer makes his first touchdown-saving tackle of the night. Wasn’t his last.
• On the touchdown run by Gerold Bright, Ryan Smenda Jr. meets him in the hole but doesn’t look low enough to me. Hits him high, slides off.
• Newman fumbles on the second play of the second drive. Was a nice run before linebacker David Woodward punched it out.
• This will serve as the Woodward appreciation note. That guy had 24 tackles. Twenty-four freaking tackles in one game. I’ve covered, I think, a decent amount of football games these past eight-plus seasons as a professional — I’ve never seen a player with 24 tackles in a game.
• This is hardly revelatory, but Wake Forest’s defense had much more success against Utah State when it got the Aggies off-schedule. As the young defensive linemen gain confidence, and Tyler Williams returns to health, they should be able to create some more TFLs and make things easier on themselves.
• Second down incompletion as Love throws short. Didn’t realize in moment, though, that he couldn’t step into the throw because Boogie Basham bull-rushed the left tackle and there wasn’t room.
• Basham, by the way, had the night that he needed to have. He demanded attention and still beat double-teams.
• Justin Strnad makes the hit on the fourth-and-1 stop. Dion Bergan Jr. slipped the center and right guard to occupy the lead blocker, and Strnad slipped a blocker to make a hit behind the line.
• Geez, Newman got bailed out by the defensive holding that nullified Woodward’s strip-sack and touchdown. He feels him coming and instead of tucking, he’s still looking to make a throw. Christian Beal-Smith whiffs on a block attempt, and Woodward is basically unimpeded to Newman.
• Andre Ware all over the defensive holding call. Really like what he and play-by-play announcer Kevin Brown have said so far.
• Utah State didn’t get credit for a punt block on Dom Maggio’s first punt, but the pressure certainly affected it.
• Trey Rucker and Shamar McCollum combine on a tackle. Those two and Kenneth Walker III were the only freshmen to play (i.e. Chase Jones and Isaiah Essissima didn’t).
• Whoa. So, Rucker’s interception comes on the next play. But on this one, he makes what’s probably a touchdown-saving tackle on Love, who’s in the process of stiff-arming McCollum (busy series for those two). Stopped him about 2½ yards short a first down, and at the 4-yard line.
• Basham applied some pressure on the interception, but Love still had room to step up and throw. Bad play by him and a good play by Rucker to read and undercut the receiver with inside position.
• There’s your Dr. Jerry Punch update on Carney’s shoulder surgery. So, if you’ll allow me a little soapbox time:
To report that Carney was cleared for full contact one week ago — which already varies from the week and a half he reported earlier in the day on Packer & Durham — is grossly inaccurate. Carney was in a red, non-contact jersey for the first week of fall camp. After that, he was cleared. That was Aug. 8 when he shed the red jersey, not one week ago. He took first-team reps. He didn’t participate in the first scrimmage because he’s a proven commodity in the same way Basham, Strnad and Bassey only took 12-15 snaps that night. Carney was full-go for the second scrimmage.
I don’t harp on this much because frankly, I want you to arrive at your own conclusions about media members. But I implore you: Trust the people who are embedded with Wake Forest throughout spring practices, fall camp and are doing interviews twice a week on campus during the season.
• Back to football. Steve Claude has one of the best personal stories on the team. I hope to get to tell it this season. For now, there’s this: He had seven catches for 95 yards in his first four seasons at Wake Forest. He had six catches for 70 yards against the Aggies. It’s never too late to be a breakout player.
• Newman scrambles and sees that he’s going to get sandwiched, covers the ball with both arms. That’s more like it.
• That 26-yard run by Carney is just nasty. Looks like a high-schooler playing against middle-schoolers.
• There’s Washington’s drop in the end zone. I think he let the ball get too deep on him, should’ve had his hands out further for the catch.
• Sciba with a stinger on the 21-yard field goal. Looks like even more of a line drive on TV than it did from the press box. But, worth remembering: He missed his first kick of the season last year from about 21 yards. So the kicker who was 19-for-22 last year is ahead of that pace.
• Whoa, Ware is in my head, stealing one of my favorite lines about “there’s no room on the scorecard to write comments.” Believe he even referenced it in regard to putting.
• One thing that gets lost in the shuffle of the late-game craziness is Wake Forest really did a fantastic job, Sciba in particular, in bottling up Savion Scarver. He entered the game with a career average of 28.5 yards per kick return, and had one 18-yard return against the Deacons in seven kickoffs (five touchbacks).
• Utah State squeezes in one more play before the end of the first quarter, and it’s the 59-yard run that Greer saves from being an 84-yard touchdown. It’s a misfit run that looks like a lot of plays from a season ago.
• Ja’Sir Taylor with a great tackle for loss. And then Basham’s pressure forces an incompletion.
• And then a 16-yard touchdown pass beats Taylor. He was in position to make a play, just couldn’t find the ball quickly enough.
• What wound up being the only Kenneth Walker III sighting of the night, a 23-yard kick return. I was surprised he didn’t get at least one drive at running back, but I think that’ll change next week.
• Washington’s second drop. He just started looking for an incoming hit, or looking to run, before actually catching it.
• Sign me up right now for Ware to call every game on the ACCN.
Brown: “Where do you look here, third-and-8?”
Ware: “Well, press coverage up top, that may be exactly where I’m going.”
Newman: Stands in, takes a hit on a blitz, delivers 14-yard pass to Claude, who beat press coverage at the top of the screen.
• Washington’s first catch, caught away from his body. I think that, and confidence, are the keys to him being the receiver he’s capable of being this year.
• The failed QB sneak. I mean — credit Utah State’s three(!) linebackers/safeties who jump the line at the snap, they timed it perfectly. Probably diagnosed Newman’s cadence. But there’s also zero push from the line. That’s gotta improve.
• Clawson perturbed he had to call timeout because a third-down sub package didn’t go smoothly. But in the first half, that’s really not much of a problem to take a couple of minutes to set your defense before a key third down.
• Smenda snuffs out a third-and-8 run up the middle. You can live with an occasional missed tackle early in the season if these become consistent.
• Nice RPO to get a 13-yard slant to Washington on the first play.
• That’s as high off the ground I’ve seen Carney. At this point, he’s got eight carries for 72 yards. Means he had 17 carries for 33 yards the rest of the way.
• Press coverage on Washington, Newman steps away from pocket to yell something to him pre-snap, Washington wins on a jam at the line and Moss’ the cornerback, catching away from his body. That’s textbook.
• 9-yard pass on first down and defense still forces a three-and-out. Huge, huge third-down stop by Rondell Bothroyd. And that came with a defensive line of him, Bergan, Ja’Corey Johns and Royce Francis, all second-year players.
• The camera loves Traveon Redd’s dad.
• Hinton calls for a fair catch, catches on bounce and gets hit by the one out of seven Utah State defenders standing around him. I don’t know how that’s not unnecessary roughness.
• Incredibly strong keeper by Newman, and then a bit of a bailout call (the right one) with a hands-to-the-face call to negate a sack. And then the drive gets bogged down.
• TFL on first down by Woodward, Tom pulled on a stretch run but missed his assignment.
• This was the funniest moment of the game. 4th-and-17, punt team out and the chain crew just took off down the field before the snap. Uh, guys, you’ve gotta stay put a little longer.
• My biggest regret of the game was not being able to watch the Red Sea of Sound’s performance. Deadlines, man.
• Cameron Glenn’s departure means Essang Bassey is the lone title-holder for “surest-tackler in the secondary.”
• Uh. Greer might challenge for that title by the end of the year.
• The chess match on third downs when Utah State had the ball is fascinating. There’s more communication between Strnad and Smenda to the defensive line than I ever remember seeing last year (or the previous year, really, when it was Grant Dawson and Jaboree Williams).
• I was tweeting that they never said Siaosi Mariner’s touchdown catch was under review, but I must have just not heard in the press box. What a toe-tap.
Also, now’s one of the times you’ll agree that all replay reviews should be removed from sports.
• Love made some high-quality throws, and that touchdown might have been the best one. That’s the only place the ball could’ve been thrown to beat Bassey’s coverage.
• I’m glad, on halftime show, Jac Collinsworth brings it back to, “Do they officially have a quarterback?” on the halftime show. OK, Mac Lain admits he had his foot in his mouth with the two-quarterback comments. Respect. Proceed.
• Luke Masterson didn’t have the greatest first half, huge TFL on first play of second half.
• Fourth-and-1, there’s the Carney 6-yard catch. His 19th career catch. Nice play design, bringing Hinton in motion to opposite side and getting Carney to slip out of backfield.
• Claude gets 8 yards on second down, sets up third-and-2 but is a little gimpy, stays out there, 7-yard catch on third-and-2 on a throw that was a little high. Good catch radius. Again: Never too late for a breakout season.
• Touchdown on the Newman keeper. The fourth conversion on a third- or fourth-and-short on that drive, and really one of the last successful ones for the Deacons.
• Strnad’s dropped interception is worse than it looked live. (he obviously makes up for it)
• Third-down sack for Basham, couldn’t tell if he came on a stunt or was middle-contain, reads Love breaking pocket and pursued. Fantastic play.
• Utah State goes back in front with a 17-yard slant in a soft zone, and then 56-yard catch-and-run off a bubble screen. Coby Davis and Rucker took two of the worst angles possible. Can’t have safeties do that.
• There’s 5:26 left in third quarter and Newman has thrown for 215 yards. Means he throws for 186 in the last 20 or so minutes of the game.
• Yeah, there’s a good stat. Hinton had six catches for 61 yards in his odyssey that was last season. Had nine catches for 66 yards and the game-winning touchdown Friday night.
• Walk up to line on third-and-1, QB sneak, pick up 2 yards. It’s simple, should’ve happened in first half when it got stuffed.
• D-HOP for Jake Benzinger.
• Surratt makes three guys miss, it takes three to get him down on a 16-yard catch-and-run to convert a third-and-9. That’s pretty special stuff. Surratt had two catches for 39 yards before that. It’s the first of three straight passes to him, for 44 yards.
• I appreciate Kevin Brown calling Surratt the second-leading scorer in basketball history in North Carolina for high schools. JamesOn Curry is first, with 3,307 points. Don’t count Coby White’s points for Greenfield School.
• Carney missed a block that led to a sack. Well, first it was Nathan Gilliam that missed.
• Huge throw-and-catch to almost convert second-and-21. Washington can be such a dangerous weapon.
• Thought Carney would score on third-and-goal when he went airborne.
• Fourth-down play just gets stone-walled because the offensive line couldn’t get a push.
• Amari Henderson jumps a third-and-short hitch, great anticipation for his interception.
• Grown-man run from Christian Beal-Smith. Didn’t even see live how vicious that stiff-arm was. That’s a helluva first college touchdown of his career.
• Great, great coverage by Masterson on a wheel route.
• 43-yard run by Jaylen Warren ends the third quarter, and Rucker missed in the hole. Greer saves a touchdown for at least the third time of the game. Related: Remember how freshmen will commit some freshman mistakes in Week 1? Yep.
• Rucker seemed to have good position, better throw and catch on a 20-yard pass to convert third-and-6.
• On the ensuing possession after Utah State goes up 35-31, the first critical short-yardage failure of the fourth quarter. Woodward is there to intercept a pitch, and Newman gets blown up in split-second he decides to keep.
• Based on offensive line, I’m tempted to think they thought it was a different play that wound up getting run.
• A 55-yard punt by Maggio with no return is a play you don’t realize the importance of, given the wildness of the last few minutes.
• Winning time of possession by 12-plus minutes is something so, so unlikely to happen again for Wake Forest.
• Chase Monroe snuck into the game, didn’t see him check in, but comes up with a big tackle to stop tight end Caleb Repp from running free through the middle of the secondary.
• As a society, we’ve gotta stop calling tight ends “matchup nightmares.” Every team in college or pro football has some 6-2-to-6-6, 230-to-260, tight end who’s really just an oversized receiver. If I hear “matchup nightmare,” I’m thinking it’s a player you’ve got to have a unique game plan against or around. If every team has one, you’re making the same game plan.
• Three-man rush, drop seven with a spy on Love, and Basham slices through a double-team so that Love can’t step into a throw, so it’s wild and high. Basham was everything that Wake Forest needs him to be in this game. Don’t pay too much attention to stats, but how often he affects passes.
• I can’t believe I missed Utah State do the haka on the field before the game. Curses.
• Nice scramble to pick up a third-and-long conversion. And then a really good 9-yard run by Beal-Smith. But the offensive line just gets crushed on the next play.
• Repeating Love’s personal story with 8:20 left in such a thrilling game is a bit much. Gotta come with a little more source material.
• Btw, let’s establish this: Nobody other than Heisman finalists last year is a Heisman candidate when the season starts. So Tua Tagovailoa: Heisman candidate. Love: not yet.
• Smenda with a great tackle as Love breaks the pocket. Not sure he missed a tackle after the whiff on Utah State’s first touchdown.
• Third-down conversion to Hinton on a 50-50 ball. Newman showed great confidence in him to win that battle. Harbinger.
• The third-and-6 run with Carney should’ve been pulled, and Newman could’ve gotten the edge on the right side.
• Now the series that Wake Forest absolutely had to get a stop. First down, Strnad and Bothroyd make tackle. Second down, Strnad misses and Smenda is there to prevent a first down. Third down, Strnad and Smenda, and then rest of the front-7. Wake Forest has two big-time linebackers.
• Hinton makes a fantastic move to get separation on first down of the game-winning drive.
• The first time Newman uncorks a deep ball is the 70-yarder to Surratt. I won’t pretend to remember whether those throws were never there during the game, and I’m not watching an all-22 replay, so I’ll assume those opportunities never presented themselves earlier in the game. Because Newman throws a beautiful deep ball, even when Alex Bachman isn’t on the receiving end.
• Replay giveth, replay taketh away: I don’t think the touchdown over Bassey’s coverage in the end zone had enough evidence to be overturned. I don’t think there is enough evidence to say Surratt’s knee was down before crossing the goal line. Replays have become coin flips, there’s no consistency to parameters of what can or can’t be reversed.
• OK, the three stuffed runs from the 1: First down, offensive line just gets blown up. Second down, geez, same thing. Clawson said it after the game, Utah State just timed up the cadence and blew the Deacons’ line backward. Third down, Aggies just overload the side where the play is going. Felt like (even tweeted) that was the time to call for a rollout, get on the edge, get options.
• Touchdown Hinton. Will be interesting to ask this week if Jack Freudenthal was supposed to be that close to the play. But your quarterback-turned-slot receiver makes the play of his career — so far.
• It’s awesome seeing how happy Hinton’s teammates are for him. Imagine it was like when he scored in the final minutes against Duke last year — it was thought that could be his final game at Wake Forest.
• Huge, huge kickoff for Sciba and he put it 3 yards deep in the end zone.
• I completely forgot until now that Coby Davis had two chances to end the game, but missed interceptions.
• Tough play for Bassey on the first third-down conversion. Came up to challenge, receiver broke behind him.
• They announced the targeting on “Nine,” so obvious mistake. But Greer lowers his head and hits the tight player under his chin. Definition of the rule, that’s targeting.
• Incredible, incredible resolve for a defense gashed for 596 yards, and then a targeting penalty, to pick itself up with Strnad’s game-sealing interception. Basham gets an assist for bull-rushing through a double team and forcing Love from the pocket. Here’s Strnad on the play:
“I’m not going to say what my job description was, I don’t want to give away our defense, but I was just reading the quarterback’s eyes. I had my man into the boundary, but I saw him looking behind me, so I kind of got some depth a little bit and he tried to float it over, or throw it right behind, and I just jumped up and got it. I was thinking redemption.
“I had about 20 people here tonight, so I just looked into the stands and was happy to see my family and friends, I was really excited.”
• This has been fun. It’s probably way, way too long. Thanks for reading. Seriously.