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Wake Forest Demon Deacons quarterback Sam Hartman (10). (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire)
December 29th, 2021
The ACC runner-up will square off on New Year's Eve with a team that ended the season with a losing record, as Wake Forest plays against Rutgers in the Gator Bowl on Friday.
Despite losing 45-21 to Pitt in the ACC Championship Game, this has been a special season for the Demon Deacons. A win on Friday would give them just their second 11-win campaign in school history, and should see quarterback Sam Hartman top 4,000 passing yards for the season.
Hartman has thrown for 3,924 yards and 36 touchdowns this year, adding another 11 scores on the ground, and turned in a seven-touchdown performance in a loss to North Carolina. Wake’s high-powered RPO attack ranks in the top 15 in both passing yards and points scored, at 41.2 per game.
SAM HARTMAN IS TAKING OVER THE GAME 👀 pic.twitter.com/DUMihboiQb— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) December 5, 2021
SAM HARTMAN IS TAKING OVER THE GAME 👀 pic.twitter.com/DUMihboiQb
Leading receiver Jaquarii Roberson has opted out of the game, but four other players have caught at least 25 passes this season, including Taylor Morin, who led the team in receiving yards.
The run is a key factor to Wake Forest's offense. Four different players for Wake have carried the ball at least 98 times for at least 340 yards, and Hartman and three different running backs each found the end zone five or more times.
The Demon Deacons' leading rusher has just 123 carries, as they rotate fresh legs and keep defenses guessing. They also led the ACC this season in third-down conversions and yards per catch.
Wake has to pile up points because the defense has been atrocious at times. Ranked 94th in the nation in scoring defense and 90th or worse in rushing yards allowed and time of possession against, they allowed 58 points to UNC and 48 to Clemson in defeats, as well as 56 points to Army in a win.
However, they led the ACC with 27 takeaways, which helped mitigate some of the damage.
Last Thursday, Rutgers accepted an invitation to replace Texas A&M, after the Aggies pulled out due to COVID-19 issues. Having not practiced since the Scarlet Knights' 40-16 defeat against Maryland to end the season, head coach Greg Schiano discussed the game with his players via Zoom, as they had mostly left campus.
Rutgers will replace Texas A&M as the opponent for Wake Forest in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, sources confirmed to ESPN on Thursday. https://t.co/tuSRu3I4g6— ESPN College Football (@ESPNCFB) December 23, 2021
Rutgers will replace Texas A&M as the opponent for Wake Forest in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl, sources confirmed to ESPN on Thursday. https://t.co/tuSRu3I4g6
Now, he must get them ready with just a week’s worth of practice and preparation. His biggest focus must be on offense, where the Scarlet Knights struggled all season, and more so down the stretch.
In their final two games, Rutgers scored just 16 points — and 14 of those came in the second half of the last game. The Scarlet Knights scored 21 or more points against just one Power Five opponent this season, and scored more than two touchdowns just once in their final nine games.
Their biggest issue is the passing game, where they rank 114th in the nation and failed to throw for at least 165 yards in each of their last six games. They also ranked last in the Big Ten this season in third-down offense and in passes completed more than 10 yards downfield.
Rutgers relied heavily on its defense to win games, holding teams to fewer than 25 points per game and ranking in the top 20 in red zone defense. The Scarlet Knights also forced a combined 11 turnovers in wins against Temple and Indiana, but they rank just 84th in the nation against the run and 98th in yards per play allowed.
There are many who feel Rutgers and Schiano should not have accepted this invitation, not just for player safety reasons, but because they simply will not be very competitive. Schiano has shown he can pull off upsets with an extra week to prepare, and has a 5-1 record in bowl games because of that extra time. However, he is four weeks behind in preparation, and his players will most likely be rusty.
Rutgers’ best hope for an upset here would be for its defense to play its best game of the season. Even then, you would need the offense to produce a 21-plus point performance against a Power Five opponent for just the second time this season. Additionally, the Scarlet Knights' inability to move the ball through the air should allow Wake’s defense to focus heavily on the run.
Wake Forest will likely jump out early in this one and not look back. The Demon Deacons have been preparing for a talented SEC team, and even without Roberson, I expect the offense to be clicking. Rutgers' offense simply isn’t capable of hanging with the Demon Deacons for four quarters. Wake is also motivated, having lost its last two bowl games.
Most 20+ yard completions among P5 QBs:1. Sam Hartman, Wake Forest: 392. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh: 352. Brennan Armstrong, Virginia: 35pic.twitter.com/5YKaLDEpTV— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 23, 2021
Most 20+ yard completions among P5 QBs:1. Sam Hartman, Wake Forest: 392. Kenny Pickett, Pittsburgh: 352. Brennan Armstrong, Virginia: 35pic.twitter.com/5YKaLDEpTV
Wake Forest has topped the 40-point mark eight times this season, and I expect that to happen again. Take Wake Forest to cover the 14.5-point spread with ease.
For a Same Game Combo, pair the spread with the Under (63) for a nice payday. I believe Wake will take its foot off the gas against the Scarlet Knights, and I don’t see Rutgers putting up enough points on its side to push the total over the line.
Score prediction: Wake Forest 44, Rutgers 17
Our predictive engine is calling for Wake Forest to win outright.
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