Wake Forest vs. Duke: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

On Saturday the Deacons ended a great ACC-campaign with a disappointing loss to the Duke Blue Devils. With the win, Duke became bowl eligible while Wake Forest is left to feel this sting for a couple more weeks until bowl games are announced. Let’s break down what happened

The Good: The Deacons are Bowl Eligible

That’s all I really feel can be said here. Wake Forest seemed to be in control the entire game just to lose in a one-point heartbreaker. All that can be said optimistically is that bowl season is right around the corner. Any chance of a surprise Orange Bowl appearance was dashed in a variety of ways Saturday, however a number of tantalizing bowl options remain for the Deacons. Many fans are hoping for the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, a solid step up from their Military Bowl appearance last year. The Belk Bowl has been promoting Wake heavily and was noticeably present during their big win over #25 NC State. In this scenario they would face an SEC opponent, likely South Carolina. Alternatively, the Sun Bowl in El Paso, the Music City Bowl in Nashville, or the Taxslayer Bowl in Jacksonville are all very viable options.

The Bad: John Wolford’s Last Home Game

On a day where he set multiple Wake Forest season records, John Wolford deserved to go out strong at BB&T on Saturday. As a four-year starter, Wolford has been there every step of the way through coach Dave Clawson’s rebuild: going through two 3-9 seasons before seeing bowl success last year and an offensive explosion this year. Thus far through the year his narrative couldn’t have been more story-like. Wolford had led the team to bowl-eligibility with huge wins over the likes of Louisville and NC State, while being the only passer in the country with 25 touchdowns and less than three turnovers. On Saturday the record book onslaught continued, shattering school records for total offense in a season and most games with consecutive touchdown passes. He even had his own hashtag #WhyNotJohn promoting his quietly dominant season to the whole country. Needless to say, this was a sad way to watch him go out. Wolford completed less than 50% of his passes and passed for only 191 yards, his only ACC contest this year where he was held to less than 240 through the air. Uncharacteristically Wolford also threw two interceptions, one on an understandably contested deep ball while the second was heartbreaking. With an opportunity to drive down the field for a game winning score, Wolford threw Alex Bachmann just a bit shallow and was picked off for the second time by Duke cornerback Mark Gilbert. By all means Wolford has had a spectacular season, but the disappointment from this finish can’t be denied. Fans can hope for a Wolford come-back game when the Deacons close out their season in a few weeks.

The Ugly: Ending on a Sour Note

This game was frustrating as a fan, and what I felt was the team’s weakest performance of the season. Offensively, the team felt incredibly out of sync. Turnovers have been one of the Deacons strong suits this season, having a +7 margin on the season, however this game they coughed up the ball on three separate occasions, a season high. Receivers failed to create separation and Wolford’s timing seemed to be off, although enough has been said about him. Kendall Hinton received pivotal snaps in the fourth quarter while Wolford worked through a minor injury and looked absolutely flustered. The coaching staff rarely asked him to throw, and when he did Hinton showed no inclination to stay in the pocket, often deferring immediately to his quick legs. The run game felt nearly as ineffective as the passing game, with big runs from Wolford and Hinton being the only visible light on the ground. Defensively, the Deacons forced three turnovers to keep the margin even for the game, and truthfully they gave a performance that would’ve been enough to win given a normal performance from the offense. However, Duke QB Daniel Jones was allowed to look like a late game hero, throwing for 346 yards and racking up 3 total touchdowns. WR T.J. Rahming was the primary beneficiary of this performance, leading the Blue Devils with 8 receptions for 91 yards, including a demoralizing 41-yard gain. Wake Forest should have been able to win this game and close the regular season 8-4, one game ahead of last years win total with another to go, but instead will have to wait a few more weeks for this opportunity. In an otherwise strong regular season, it was a shame to end with an asterisk rather than an exclamation point

College Football Bowl games will be announced in the coming weeks and until then Wake doesn’t know what their destiny holds. For now, we know to expect one more game in what should be a Tier-1 game. Look forward to seeing Wake play a strong opponent to close out the season.

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