Wake Forest is set to take on Temple in the Military Bowl, so here are some storylines and predictions for the Demon Deacons ahead of the game.
Wake Forest will battle Temple in the Military Bowl on Tuesday, Dec. 27 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, MD.
The Demon Deacons (6-6, 3-5 ACC) ended the season on a three-game losing streak and as losers of five of their last six. But this was still a nice season for head coach Dave Clawson because it is ending with a postseason invite. And a bowl game for Wake Forest will always mean it’s been a good year, as it will end with its first postseason appearance since 2011.
While Wake endured a tough second half of the year, including getting outscored 79-25 against Louisville and Clemson, 2016 ended up being a big step forward for this program. There is a lot of work ahead, but a postseason berth and extra practices is big for this squad.
Putting behind #WakeyLeaks
Scandals like #WakeyLeaks feel very much like an International Olympic Committee one, but it is in fact very much real in the world of college football. In case you’ve been in hibernation, radio color analyst and former Demon Deacons quarterback and assistant Tommy Elrod has been accused of giving various sorts of inside information to Wake Forest foes. He had access to practices and meetings, so he was in the know about game plans and many other aspects of the football program. We don’t know how the information was distributed and how much was given out, but it has certainly been embarrassing. The good thing for Clawson and Co. is that they won’t hear the television or radio broadcast of the game versus Temple, so the hashtag #WakeyLeaks won’t be on their collective mind. And focus won’t be an issue for these Wake players, so don’t expect a sloppy start.
Gritty, gutsy and resilient
This wasn’t exactly a sexy season of Demon Deacons football, but it certainly was an important one for Clawson and his staff. Getting Wake football back to the postseason was a big step, and it’s a nice reward for the coaches, players, alums and entire fan base. It was a resilient group. The Deacons started off the season 4-0 and 5-1, then suffered tough losses to Florida State and Army. Sitting at 5-3, Wake found itself in a tough battle with Virginia. But a Jessie Bates III 39-yard interception return for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter helped the team escape with a 27-20 win. This ended up being one of the key plays of the season, because the Deacons finished on a three-game losing streak. Still, Wake already had the six wins necessary for a bowl game, and finding a way to win against the Hoos was the difference.
Perhaps the toughest moment of the season for the Demons Deacons was their loss to Louisville. While the final score shows a 44-12 Cardinals win, the heavy underdog Deacons actually led Bobby Petrino’s squad, 12-10, early in the fourth quarter. But Lamar Jackson and the Cardinals rallied for 34 points in the final quarter to cruise to a win. In a game that Wake actually led 12-0 at one point, it was tough to see the bottom fall out. And it started the season-closing three-game skid as well.
However, Clawson’s team played hard and played well for a good portion of that loss to The ‘Ville. That experience should help moving forward. “We played great defense for three quarters,” Clawson said after the game. “We didn’t finish. It’s incredibly frustrating, incredibly disappointing. The kids played well for three quarters.” If the Demon Deacons find themselves up in the fourth quarter against the Owls, they will need to use this rough experience as fuel and believe that they can close the deal and finish the season on a positive note. They will be ready for the closing moments against the Owls if it’s close.
The defense never rests
This Demon Deacons defense is very solid and is a big reason why they are in the postseason. Linebacker Marquel Lee paces the unit, leading the defense in the middle and finishing the regular season with 98 tackles (including 19 for loss) and 7.5 sacks. It also features a strong secondary led by Bates and a pass-rusher in Duke Ejiofor who has racked up 10 sacks, including three against Duke this year. It’s a lunch-pail, hard-hat unit that deserves more production on the offensive side of the ball. Expect plenty of disruption in the backfield against the Owls.
Motivated. Motivated. Motivated. Motivated.
I hope everyone appreciated my Saved by the Bell quote. It comes from the episode in which Mr. Tuttle is teaching a business lesson, and students are attempting to run their own business. Remember the Friendship Bracelet/Buddy Band? “Motivated, motivated, motivated, motivated…” Not only do the Demon Deacons want to get back into the win column and break their losing streak, but they want to finish the season above .500 with a win over the AAC champs. The Deacons endured back-to-back three-win seasons before this solid 2016 campaign, but the motivation is high after notching just two wins in their last eight games.