College Football

Wake Forest, NC State Battle for ACC Atlantic Lead

Andrew Dye, Winston-Salem Journal

Coming off a 58-55 defeat at the hands of North Carolina, Wake Forest is hoping to get back on track with a big win at home this Saturday. Remarkably, NC State will be the Demon Deacons first ranked opponent of the season, giving them a chance at a signature win. On top of the No. 12 vs No 16 matchup, the winner of this game will take the lead in the ACC Atlantic and have the inside track to make the conference title game. The entire conference will be locked into this one, as Wake Forest is the ACC’s only hope at a playoff berth.

How Does Wake Forest Recover?

Wake Forest saw its poor defensive play catch up with them last week against North Carolina. Wake is giving up an average of 38.4 points per game over their last five contests, and while their high powered offense has been able to bail them out a majority of the time, it simply was not enough against the Tar Heels. Heading into this key matchup with a chance to grab a stranglehold on the division, the defense will need to step up and offer at least some resistance against the Wolfpack.

Offensively, there really is not much for the Demon Deacons to fix. They have scored 35 points or more in every game this season. Quarterback Sam Hartman has thrown for 2,873 yards, 27 touchdowns, and only 5 interceptions. The run game is clicking, with three usable running backs and Hartman pitching in as well. The only thing Wake Forest really needs to do offensively is continue to execute and limit turnovers. Their unique delayed mesh point system puts linebackers in a truly confusing position, and Hartman runs the system to perfection. NC State has played consistently solid defense all season, so Wake will need to stay patient, pick their spots, and continue to play their style of offensive.

For as good as the offense has been, the defense has been equally bad as of late. Aside from a great performance against Duke, the Demon Deacon defense has given up 500 yards or more in four of their last five games. While the NC State offense is not flashy, they are consistent, and will capitalize on mistakes. This seems like a back to basics situation for the Wake Forest defense. After giving up big plays week after week, it may be a good ideas to simplify the scheme against a more traditional offense and not overthink things. I would expect to see a lot of basic cover two and simple man coverage schemes come Saturday, just because something needs to change on that side of the ball. If not, it may be big day for the Wolfpack offense.

NC State has Their Sights set on the Finish Line

The North Carolina State Wolfpack have quietly become one of the most consistent teams in the country. They have scored between 27-34 points 6 games in a row while holding opposing teams to 16 points per game. That consistency has put NC State is a position to make a run at the ACC Championship. Wake Forest is their toughest test to date, and this game will decide whether they are true contenders or are most likely headed to a mid tier bowl game.

Quarterback Devin Leary has been exceptional all year. He is 7th in the country with 25 Touchdown passes and has only thrown 3 interceptions. The passing attack works best when Leary is able to spread the ball around. Eight different Wildcat receivers have ten or more catches and 100 or more yards on the season, which is a huge asset when facing a struggling defense like Wake Forest. It is nearly impossible to know where Leary is throwing next with that kind of variety, and with a decent run game, there is a lot to worry about when this offense takes the field. I expect NC State to continue to spread the ball around and exploit any empty space Wake Forest gives them.

While the offense has a seemingly easy task, the Wolfpack defense faces their toughest challenge to date. The unique run/pass option of Wake Forest, along with Sam Hartman’s running ability, is remarkably difficult to prepare for in just one week. NC States run defense has been solid while their pass defense has been a little shaky at times, so you might see a focus on stopping the pass until Wake proves they can beat them consistently on the ground. With an offense so powerful, sometimes the best approach is limit what you can and try to make big plays when the opportunity arises. If NC State can lock down the Demon Deacons, they will emerge as favorites to win the conference.

Prediction

Until someone can stop Wake Forest, and Wake Forest proves they can stop an opponent, you can bet on points being scored. The over/under on this game in Vegas is 66, and that honestly seems low. In a shootout, I’ll take the more powerful offense to emerge victorious, so Wake Forest gets the nod here, 48-41.

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  1. Pingback: CFP Top 25 Football Schedule Week 11 - Championship Sports Media

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