It’s game week! As such, we have our first Q&A of the season. You can expect these to continue to come before ACC games throughout the year. In this edition we’ve connected with @CamLemons_ of Blogger So Dear so give us the scoop on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Enjoy!
STS: The Demon Deacons have to replace all of the starting skill position players. QB Jamie Newman transferred to UGA. Star WR Sage Surratt opted out. WR Kendall Hinton, WR Scotty Washington, and TE Jack Freudenthal all exhausted their eligibility. Despite that, Coach Clawson says he is confident in the skill position players and it could even be the strength of the team. Is that coach-speak or do you think they could be above average at the skill positions?
BSD: I definitely think above average is in the cards. Donavon Greene was about 40 snaps short of being eligible, but in 214 snaps Greene graded out as the 6th best receiver in the ACC and 17th in the P5. If you turn off snap minimums: 7th in the ACC, 35th in P5. That was with him getting thrown into the fire for his first non-high school game being against Clemson after Sage and Scotty went down the week prior.
Nolan Groulx got the old Wake Forest recruiting bump and dropped to being a top 400 receiver, but was at one point 198th and rated higher than Greene (who finished 271st in the 24/7 composite and 128th by 24/7 alone.) He needed a year to get acclimated, but has apparently taken strides in camp (media hasn’t been allowed) and has been splitting the other 1st team receiver snaps alongside AT Perry, who I’ve been high on since he signed in 2018.
At slot, Jaquarii Roberson has always been the next up. Taylor Morin has apparently been a touchdown machine. Pass catching-wise I think they’ll be more than fine. Losing Sage due to opt out sucks, but the team was going to be young regardless. Will it take a couple of weeks? Absolutely. But, for a whole season, above average is definitely doable.
Now to Hartman. I’ve been in the camp that Hartman isn’t as good as Newman, but it’s not that I think he’s bad. There are just stylistic differences, and I think Hartman needs to be utilized differently. Sam is a very efficient passer. Much more than Jamie. If Wake starts working more short/intermediate routes with Hartman and this group of receivers, which will be better at getting open vs. winning 50/50 deep balls like last year, Hartman will be a much better QB than when he’s asked to launch it downfield. He’s put on about 30 pounds since 2018, which should make him more durable and mentally better able to handle pressure in the pocket. This should also fix the other main issue I have with him, which is that at times he gets major happy feet. I’ve slowly come around to Hartman, and it wasn’t like he’s been a bad QB, but he needs to be set up for success, which is a completely fair ask.
STS: Jamie Newman moving to a National Title Contender at Georgia would have been one of the more intriguing story lines of this college football season. Unfortunately, he opted out just before the season got started and won’t be playing college football this season. Prior to that decision, what were your expectations for Newman in Athens? Did he leave Wake Forest on good enough terms to have a small fan following among Deacon fans (like Chase Brice at Duke will among Clemson fans)?
BSD: I wouldn’t have expected what Newman would’ve done at UGA (had he not opted out) to be too much different than what he did most of the year last year at Wake Forest. UGA provides a better offensive line for sure, but Wake’s receivers weren’t some scrubs just because they played at Wake Forest. If you look at PFF’s grading, Sage/Hinton/Greene/Washington were, at absolute worst, a SLIGHT downgrade from Pickens/Cager/Blaylock/Robertson. UGA’s offense was also a huge question mark all year. I wish Jamie well in the pros. I think he’ll be a mid round pick. Wake fans, for the most part, will always remember him fondly and as a Deacon.
STS: On defense, DE Boogie Basham is a projected first round pick. The Tigers have to replace four starters on the offensive line (though starting LT Jackson Carman returns). What type of threat does he pose to Clemson? Is there another defensive player we should know about coming into this game?
BSD: Boogie spent most of 2018 just bullying people and using his athleticism to win matchups. Last year he tried to work more on his finesse moves to show that he’s not just all strength. He’s just a freak athlete, both by my eyes and by The Athletic article, and I’m excited to see how he approaches this year. He was a sure first round pick last year and wanted to parlay it into being a sure top 10 pick.
You asked for one, but I’ll give 3, one from each level. DE Ja’Corey Johns, who hails from Cartersville, GA (sound familiar?): 53 tackles , 8 TFL, and 3 sacks last year. He’s quietly on track to be the next Boogie. Am I gonna call him that? No, but he’s been slowly on the same plan. LB-wise it starts with Ja’Cquez Williams. In just the last 7 games, AKA when now-Denver Broncos draft pick Justin Strnad went down for the year, Williams racked up 60 tackles, 5.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 2 FF, 1 FR, 1 PBU. He just makes plays. In the secondary, it starts and ends with Nasir Greer. He’s been the eraser for the defense, and was one of the only players to grade well last year vs. Clemson. He’s one of the best safeties in the ACC, and that’s saying something for how deep that position is this year.
STS: Coach Clawson has turned Wake Forest into a consistent bowl team. Where does the program go from here? What are expectations for this season and this particular game against Clemson?
BSD: Where it goes depends on the health of the team and how the schedule works out. If Wake doesn’t lose as many people as they did last year to injury they probably end up as a 10- to 11-win team instead of an 8-win team. Would they have beat Clemson last year? I don’t think so. But they would’ve beat at least 2 of Louisville/Syracuse/Michigan State. I think the wave around year that 2020 offers could be absolutely massive for Wake going into 2021. Wake historically redshirts 75-80% of their freshmen. Now, with this year, they’ll be able to a) throw them into the fire whenever and get them experience, and b) not be afraid if someone goes down with an injury or is playing ineffectively to put in someone who’s been chomping at the bit for playing time. Players like Kamara, Boogie, Ja’Cquez, and Luke Masterson aren’t really expected to return next year, but now they get to build the depth like the top tier teams have, which has been their biggest issue.
In terms of this year, well Wake got hosed. They’re the only team in North Carolina to play Clemson, and the rest of the schedule includes ND, Miami, and Louisville while leaving off a still vulnerable FSU, Boston College, and GT. It’s definitely a more challenging schedule than pre-COVID, and starts off like hell with Clemson, NC State and ND, which puts a lot of pressure on the middle and end stretches. I’m a bit more bullish, and I’m putting the team at a barometer of 6 wins. You have to beat Campbell, obviously. Duke, Syracuse, NC State, UVA are all games where Wake should either be favored or called toss ups. UNC, VT, and Miami are the “reach” games for me. You steal 1-2 of those and you’re happy. Lose all three and you’re feeling deflated, regardless of the scenario. In terms of Clemson, I really have no expectations. I think it’ll be closer than last year, but I also think both teams come out sloppy due to all of the complications. Give me Clemson 42-24.
STS: A big thank you to Cameron for joining us. If you’d like to see the other half of this Q&A, you can check it out here.