College football previews: Surging No. 19 Wake Forest visiting Syracuse
Published 12:00 am Friday, October 8, 2021
Syracuse already has tripled its win total from a year ago and freshman linebacker Marlowe Wax likes what he’s been seeing.
“I feel like the offense week in and week out keeps getting better,” Wax said. “The defense is going to keep feeding off that.”
Syracuse (3-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) scored 30 points last week at Florida State but lost on a field goal as time expired. The Orange host No. 19 Wake Forest (5-0, 3-0) on Saturday with a chance to rebound and make a statement. The Demon Deacons are 6.5-point favorites , according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
“Wake Forest is a good team,” said Wax, who has three of the Orange’s 20 sacks. “We’re just focused on us so we can fix things from last weekend and hopefully knock those fellows off.”
Syracuse coach Dino Babers plans to start dual-threat quarterback Garrett Shrader for the third straight week. He rushed for a career-high 137 yards and three touchdowns and threw for another score against Florida State. Tommy DeVito, the starter the past two years, got the nod the first three games of the season but hasn’t seen action since Shrader emerged.
“The more plays, anybody is going to get more comfortable,” Wax said. “It’s all about experience. That competition is going to keep making them better. Tommy’s going to keep pushing Garrett, and Garrett is going to keep pushing Tommy.”
Wake Forest stands as the ACC’s highest-ranked team in the AP Top 25 for the first time since September 2008. The Demon Deacons are coming off a 37-34 win against Louisville on Nick Sciba’s late field goal.
The Demon Deacons and No. 23 North Carolina State are the only two teams in the Atlantic Division race that control their own destiny. The Wolfpack have already earned a win against six-time reigning league champion and now-unranked Clemson.
“I would say for any athlete, really, it’s hard to block out the noise,” Wake Forest offensive lineman Sean Maginn said of the increased attention. “You’re scrolling on Twitter, it’s challenging not to look at those posts, get too involved in the rankings.”
Wake Forest won its first road game comfortably at Virginia and is trying to maintain momentum considering the November schedule looks daunting.
“I think our players feel that (buzz),” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said, adding: “I’m glad we’re playing well and that our students and our fans feel that we’re putting out a product that’s worth supporting.”
Syracuse tailback Sean Tucker also rushed for more than 100 yards against Florida State, combining with Shrader for 239. Nobody else was listed in the statistics, marking the first time in at least 40 years that the Orange had only two players record a rushing attempt. Syracuse is averaging 220.6 yards rushing, second in the ACC and 21st in the nation.
Wake Forest stands as the ACC’s last unbeaten team. It is off to the program’s first 3-0 start since 2011, which was the first time that had happened. The Demon Deacons are seeking their first 6-0 start since winning the first seven games in 1944 – nine years before the ACC’s inaugural season – and only their second ever.
Wake entered the week ranked in the top 10 of the Bowl Subdivision in turnover margin. It has seven interceptions and six fumble recoveries while committing five turnovers. The 13 takeaways are tied for sixth-most with No. 8 Oregon, No. 14 Notre Dame and Oregon State.
Syracuse will face a Wake Forest team that features 20 players who started a season ago. Several of them fall into the “super senior” category with the extra year of eligibility given by the NCAA due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“I think the biggest thing between his team and other teams is he’s got super seniors all over the board,” Babers said of Clawson. “He has a very, very veteran group that has been running the exact same system for a long, long period of time.”
Duke, Georgia Tech meet after suffering losses
Duke and Georgia Tech both had momentum after wins by double-digit margins before opening October with a big stumble. The Blue Devils and Yellow Jackets meet Saturday for the chance to regroup, and maybe find some consistency.
Duke (3-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) is coming off a 38-7 loss to rival North Carolina, which had followed back-to-back nonconference wins against Northwestern and Kansas. The Blue Devils rank among the national leaders in total offense and scoring, but finished with a season-low 314 yards.
“It comes down to we didn’t do anything consistently that wins games,” Duke coach David Cutcliffe said.
That showed in Duke springing Jalen Calhoun for an 80-yard touchdown catch to open the second half but otherwise averaging 3.8 yards per play. Or in the defense making the Tar Heels work on drives only to surrender a big play; UNC got more than half of its 456 yards (257) on six plays, including 75- and 63-yard touchdowns.
“The solutions occur in the planning and the solutions occur on the practice field,” Cutcliffe said. “It’s really not all that complex. People say, ‘How do you get back up?’ We’re not down.”
The Yellow Jackets (2-3, 1-2) had followed a tough loss to six-time reigning ACC champion Clemson by blowing out the Tar Heels at home in a big win for third-year coach Geoff Collins’ rebuilding effort. But Georgia Tech followed that by falling behind 42-14 before halftime in a 52-21 home loss to Pittsburgh.
“The performance our team put together against North Carolina … we just didn’t show that on Saturday,” Collins said. “They had a good week of prep but just some adversity set in very early in the game, and uncharacteristically, we didn’t respond to that challenge.”
Some other things to know about Saturday’s Georgia Tech-Duke game:
Getting Jeff Sims back at quarterback can only help Georgia Tech in building some rhythm.
The second-year freshman started the season-opening loss against Northern Illinois before exiting with an injury, but he returned to run for three touchdowns and throw for a fourth in the UNC win. Sims threw for a career-best 359 yards with two touchdowns in the Pitt loss.
For a team transitioning from the spread-option offense run by former coach Paul Johnson, Georgia Tech’s big passing games have the potential to cause deep dives into the school records.
A good example came in last week’s loss to Pitt, when Sims passed for 359 yards and two touchdowns after throwing interceptions on his first two attempts. Sims’ 24 completions and passing total set career highs. The 359 yards rank eighth in school history and were the most since George Godsey threw for a school-record 486 yards against Virginia on Nov. 10, 2001.
Duke’s Mataeo Durant continues to rank as one of the nation’s top runners. The senior ranks fifth in the Bowl Subdivision ranks by averaging 127.2 yards per game, slightly behind Syracuse’s Sean Tucker (127.6) for the league lead. Durant is also tied for fourth in FBS with nine total touchdowns.
Durant opened the year with a program-record 255 yards rushing in a loss to Charlotte and has fallen short of the 100-yard mark just once.
Following a wet week of practice in Atlanta, Georgia Tech is preparing for more rain on Saturday at Duke.
To prepare for the conditions, the Yellow Jackets did not use their indoor facility on Monday and instead practiced at Bobby Dodd Stadium. On Tuesday, the team split the practice, working both inside and again in the rain. The forecast calls for a roughly 60% chance of rain with occasional showers through the day.
Heels look to stay hot against 1-win Seminoles
North Carolina has looked like the team many expected in the preseason when playing at home. That could give the Tar Heels a chance to string together a win streak in the first half of October.
The Tar Heels enter Saturday’s visit from Florida State with all three wins coming at home by comfortable margins, including by 20 points against Virginia and 31 points against rival Duke last weekend. This will be the second of three straight league home games before a nonconference trip to No. 14 Notre Dame.
“Usually you’ve got to win at home before you can win on the road,” UNC coach Mack Brown said. “You’ve got the comforts of home. You’ve got crowds, momentum changes are easier. … To be a good team, you’ve got to win at home. To be a great team, you’ve got to win on the road.”
To listen to Brown, the Tar Heels (3-2, 2-2 ACC) are stuck somewhere in between in the third year of his second coaching stint in Chapel Hill. They have lost both road games, first to Virginia Tech in the season opener and later a lopsided loss at Georgia Tech.
North Carolina averages 52 points and 587.3 yards per game in its three home games compared to 16 points and 361.5 yards on the road, going from No. 10 in the preseason AP Top 25 and the preseason Coastal Division favorite to unranked before October.
The Seminoles (1-4, 1-2) are coming off a win against Syracuse on a final-play field goal. But they have lost all five of their road games so far under second-year coach Mike Norvell.