RALEIGH — No caveats, asterisks or other forms of “yeah, but,” for Wake Forest’s football team.
Thursday night’s comeback victory at N.C. State was a gutty display by the Deacons that puts them back in range for a third straight bowl berth.
Adding everything up that was trending against the Deacons — first-time starting quarterback in front of 56,228, more depleting injuries to the defense, a thin team playing on short rest — turned out to be futile, when seeing the performances of Jamie Newman, his receivers, the entire defense and the leadership of this team.
Here are five observations from Wake Forest’s 27-23 win at N.C. State:
The difference in score was four points, with Wake Forest scoring three touchdowns and two field goals and N.C. State scoring the inverse of that, two touchdowns and three field goals.
And for Wake Forest to lock up N.C. State in the red zone — five drives reached the Deacons’ 20-yard line, resulting in one touchdown, three field goals and the game-saving fourth-down stop with 1:39 left — the Deacons had to do something they hadn’t done all season.
“It’s without question the best our defense has played, certainly given the opponent,” said Coach Dave Clawson. “Those guys are one of the best offenses in the conference.”
Entering the game, Wake Forest had allowed opponents to score touchdowns on 23 of 26 trips into the red zone.
2. Big plays from wide receivers, finally
The other option on the to-do list that was checked off was to get big plays from outside receivers (in other words, not Greg Dortch or tight end Jack Freudenthal). It’s something the Deacons got on a consistent basis last year, but with injuries and a freshman quarterback, it hasn’t been much of a factor this year.
Entering the game, the only two passes of at least 35 yards to wide receivers were completions to Sage Surratt against Tulane and Towson in the first two weeks.
In back-to-back plays against N.C. State, Newman completed passes of 43 and 38 yards to Surratt and Alex Bachman, respectively.
“We didn’t want to put the game completely on the quarterback, so we forced some runs in there and tried to have balance and we hit a few seams,” Clawson said. “But obviously at the end, we had to throw it — we had to play that game the way we did.”
3. Slowed down
Wake Forest slowed the pace of its offense considerably, for a couple of reasons, Clawson said. The main one was to give its defense more time to rest and recover — the Deacons were missing senior rover Demetrius Kemp and defensive lineman Tyler Williams on that side.
“It was almost, in basketball terms, a little bit of a stall,” Clawson said. “Try to bleed it, play it slow and certainly as a coaching staff, the whole thought process was, ‘Get to halftime still in the game, get to the fourth quarter still in the game and give ourselves a chance in a one-score game.’
“That was the way we were going to have to win.”
4. Newman eased in
Going back to what Clawson said about forcing runs against N.C. State’s defense, which loaded the box: Newman was able to establish a rhythm and get a feel for the game, thanks to the play-calling of offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero. And it didn’t hurt the Deacons because their defense was limiting the Wolfpack and keeping the deficit at two scores.
“I think that’s just a credit to Coach R. Just a credit to Coach R because just letting me get settled in the game, my first start at Carter-Finley, was 60,000 people,” Newman said. “So I think he did great with letting me settle into the game, and then once I got into a rhythm, picking his tempo back up.”
5. Matt Colburn II down
The senior running back suffered a left ankle injury at the end of Wake Forest’s first drive of the second half and didn’t return to the game. It was ruled a sprained ankle, and his status for next weekend’s Senior Day game against Pittsburgh will be monitored closely.
Colburn has 2,467 rushing yards in his career, which is sixth in program history. He’s 83 yards away from fifth-place Morgan Kane.