(Photo: Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire)
Head coach Dave Clawson is in his 10th season at Wake Forest and he has taken the Demon Deacons to bowl games the last seven in a row. In 2023 however that impressive streak is in peril. After a lackluster 26-6 loss at home last week to N.C. State, their season record fell to 4-6 and their margin for error to become bowl eligible is down to zero. That loss was their third straight and sixth out of their last seven. Wake’s only win since starting the season 3-0, was on October 21st over Pitt 21-17.
Averaging just 20.5 points per game which ranks a lowly 110th nationally, Wake’s “slow mesh” offense has struggled to replace Sam Hartman who started 48 games in Winston-Salem from 2018-2022. Sophomore Mitch Griffis has seen most of the snaps, but sophomore Santino Marucci and junior Michael Kern have seen meaningful snaps as well. In last week’s loss to N.C. State, Griffis was benched in the second quarter in favor of Kern. Kern finished the game 14-26 for 137 yards, 1 TD and 1 interception.
Earlier this week Kern was named as the starter for this Saturday. He has played in 15 games during his Wake Forest career, and has completed 52-of-90 passes for 679 yards and two scores with 1 interception.
Wake’s quarterbacks have been sacked 43 times, one of the worst marks nationally
Sophomore running back Demond Claiborne leads Wake with 586 yards on 137 carries and 5 TDs. Junior Justice Ellison has added 447 yards on 94 carries. Ellison broke one carry for 51 yards against Florida State. The Deacons have four solid receivers. Jahmal Banks leads the group with 47 catches, 528 yards and 3 TDs. Sophomore Wesley Grimes may be the most explosive, he averages 18.1 yards on 17 catches.
Turnovers have been a problem area for Wake. With 10 interceptions and 10 lost fumbles they are 117th nationally in protecting the football.
As challenged as the Deacon offense has been, the defense has generally done a good job of keeping games within striking distance. Only 4th ranked Florida State has exceeded 30 points in a game. Against the pass Wake gives up 224.9 yards per game (61st) and 147.3 yards rushing (62nd). Edge rusher Jasheen Davis has an NFL future and leads the team with 7.5 sacks, 14 tackles for loss and 10 quarterback hurries. Their leading tackler is linebacker Jacob Roberts with 69, he also has 6 sacks, and will occasionally rush from the edge. The Deacons have two veteran corners in Caelin Carson who has 8 pass break-ups and DaShawn Jones who leads the team with 3 interceptions.
Wake is one of the best teams in the country at avoiding penalties, tied at 7th, with an average of just 38.6 yards per game given up.
Dave Clawson has a well-earned reputation for maximizing his team’s talents and Bowl eligibility is on the line. The only chance of that possibility remaining alive would require an upset of the Irish. Barring a barrage of funny bounces, that is not going to happen. Expect a well prepared Wake Forest team Saturday that will play hard, and will be extra motivated to go against their former leader for five seasons, Hartman. However, Wake will not bring talent anywhere near that of the Irish or for that matter what Clemson brought. On Senior Day the Irish, and especially Sam Hartman , are likely to be highly motivated themselves and should rebound from the Clemson loss.
Notre Dame is a 24.5 point favorites and the over/under is 46.5.
The Fighting Irish Preview Pick: ND 34 Wake Forest 10