Rumor has it that the Duke’s Mayo Bowl kicks off tomorrow (Wednesday, for those of you that have fully embraced the week between Christmas and New Year’s and haven’t looked at a calendar in days) morning. In case you didn’t know, the Wisconsin Badgers are playing the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and we needed some inside information on a team that the Badgers have never played.
Since Wisconsin and Wake Forest have, uh, never played can you give us a recap of Wake’s season this year?
Rollercoaster of a year to say the least. COVID has been a wild ride for everyone, but Wake was one of the teams that never released COVID numbers so we never had a clear idea of how many guys were gonna be out from week to week. That reared it’s head a few times this year. Clemson is Clemson, but you saw it against NC State where the defensive linemen and linebackers were consistently put in bad position after bad position to cover for the fact that Wake had barely enough scholarship corners and safeties available due to contact tracing, COVID and injuries.
Once things got back on track (read: healthy) back there, Wake put up three very good defensive performances against UVA, Virginia Tech and Syracuse. The yardage will say, “well defense still broke,” but turnovers and ultimate score tell a lot better of a story for those games. The UNC game was a barn-burner and Wake was in complete control it seemed until injuries piled up on both sides: on offense, they finished the game down their starting C and both starting WRs. On defense, five of their top six safeties, a CB, two DTs that play and starting BUCK linebacker. COVID strikes, the team misses a month, looks disjointed against Louisville, FSU cancels and now we’re here.
Along those same lines, what are any fun traditions or facts about the Demon Deacons football program that we should know before kickoff?
I always like starting off with the fact that Wake is the smallest P5 program. I feel like a lot of schools would try to run away from it, or make themselves seem bigger than they are, but Wake fans, coaches and players all embrace it.
Rolling the quad and, well, basically every tree on campus you can find after a big win was always a great thing, especially in the early part of the 2010s when wins were harder to come by. Five straight bowl games isn’t something that anyone around this bowl game takes lightly. Even with as many bowls as there are now, you still have recruiting powerhouses like FSU, Texas and Notre Dame all missing bowls from time to time. So, for a school that’s constantly being picked near/at the bottom of the ACC and barely cracking the 60s in recruiting rankings to make a bowl the last five years shows how the development is starting to work.
Are there any injury/COVID-19 concerns for Wake Forest heading into the game?
We pretty much know who’s out. Unfortunately, Wake will be down Boogie Basham, who after FSU canceled (again) declared for the NFL Draft where he should be at worst a second round pick. We know Wake will be down starting safety Nasir Greer and will likely be down the following starters/players who play at least 30 snaps: CB Gavin Holmes, S Trey Rucker, DE Shamar McCollum, DT Dion Bergan, DT Tyler Williams, RB Kenneth Walker III.
Not fun! But given the length of time and the depth chart changing drastically for the first time in almost two months, it seems like Wake is about as full strength as they can be.
Who are the top players on offense we should be on the lookout for? Sam Hartman has been extremely efficient this year at QB, but who are his top targets?
When Hartman throws the ball it starts and ends with Jaquarii Roberson. He’s been one of the best receivers in the country and has just been the guy on third downs. When healthy Donavon Greene has been a bit of a cheat code, he’s just silky smooth as a route runner, but also one of the fastest guys on the team.
The true x-factor though might be Christian Beal-Smith. Wake has to get this running game going in some regards. If they are pressured into passing every single down, it’s going to be a long nooner.
The Demon Deacons defense hasn’t been great this year, but to be fair neither has the Wisconsin offense. Where are some areas that the Badgers could exploit Wake Forest when UW has the ball?
I mean, look where the injuries are. It’s been rough playing down five of your top six safeties basically all year, but less in the passing game and more of the run fits. If guys are just out again (because it feels like it’s at random) it just puts so much pressure on the front seven to fit just right in the running game or else they’re going to give up gash play after gash play after gash play.
Wisconsin could just use their size against Wake now that Basham is out. Usually the plan is to start both him and Rondell Bothroyd against bigger offensive lines, but now they aren’t really there so it could be a good day on the ground for Wisconsin.
Lastly, what is your prediction for the game and who do you think will be the MVP from Wake Forest?
Not trying to be the homer here, but I’m going Wake in the upset 31-24. I think this turns into a game where Wake finally has reps and can get their offense going to guys like Greene, Roberson, Taylor Morin, etc.
My biggest takeaways have been that a) this Wisconsin team really hasn’t played a team like Wake all year and playing against that kind of speed on drives is exhausting and b) I genuinely don’t think the Wisconsin offense is great due to the missing pieces they presumably won’t have at WR and possibly RB. Wake is going to want to make this a footrace and if they do I don’t think Wisconsin can keep up.
Giving my MVP to Jaquarii Roberson.