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NC State hosts a Wake Forest team ready to apply its usual array of confounding problems

The Pack’s defense needs to step up big this week.

NCAA Football: Boston College at Wake Forest Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

These days, I bet if you mentioned that Wake Forest spent basically the entire 20th century as a punching bag, a lot of people would be surprised. Since the turn of the 21st century, the Deacs have won 11 games twice, won an ACC title, and made 11 bowl trips, including the Orange Bowl. Their 20th century totals in those three categories: zero, one, five.

Two excellent head coaching hires in a row can re-establish a school’s baseline, which lately Dave Clawson has done and then some. Despite the bizarre implosion at Louisville last week, Wake Forest can hit the 10-win mark for the second year in a row.

It helps to have such stability at quarterback, where Sam Hartman has been the starter for 12 seasons. But the Deacs also have the best group of receivers in the league and a scheme that has been giving people headaches for a while now. There is a lot that Wake can make opposing defenses contend with, and that’s been the biggest source of their breakthrough under Clawson.

Last weekend’s whoopsie-doodle aside, Hartman has put together another excellent season: 63.2% completions, 8.9 yards per attempt, with 22 TDs against 6 INTs. He passed for six touchdowns against Clemson back in September, in what was maybe the best performance of his career.

Wake has had no shortage of good receivers in Hartman’s time there, and 2022 is no exception. AT Perry is one of the best in the league, and leads the Deacs with 552 yards receiving and five touchdowns. Perry is one of five Wake receivers with at least 20 receptions.

Also on that list is breakout sophomore Jahmal Banks, who has an ACC-leading eight touchdown catches. I think they might be growing these guys on trees. Whatever it is they’re doing to find and develop receivers, it’s impressive.

It’s that passing game that propels this offense, because they haven’t gotten a whole lot out of the rushing attack this season, despite those slow-mesh-point shenanigans they’ve become famous for. In league games, Wake is averaging only 2.9 yards per carry and 122 rushing yards per game. Hopefully NC State’s defense can continue that trend and make some plays on the back end.

Wake also wins by playing with pace—the Deacs play fast to try to wear down opponents, and that tends to work. They’re 28th in third-down conversion rate, so they’ve been good at staying on the field.

When they maintain the initiative, they apply a lot of strain, and plenty of game pressure. NC State would do well not to fall into an early hole, especially in its freshman quarterback’s debut start.

This game is a big ask for the Wolfpack on both sides of the ball, but at least it won’t be played in Winston-Salem. That alone provides some reason for optimism, but will the Pack have enough offense to win this game? That I really don’t know.