The Deacs didn’t have many problems last weekend in what I would consider a tune-up game against an FCS opponent, but this week they’re on the road against an SEC team in the Vanderbilt Commodores. Wake Forest and Vanderbilt have yet to face a relatively strong opponent – the cumulative schedule so far is a Hawaii team with 50 new players (and a new coaching staff) and 2 FCS teams – so it’s tough to know exactly what to expect from both teams. Here are some factors to watch out for that could decide Saturday’s game.
The return of Sam Hartman
I mean, this one is kinda super obvious. Sam Hartman’s return wasn’t just huge for Wake Forest fans, it was also quite a big story in the football media this week. Bringing back a very experienced quarterback who had 50 touchdowns last season should have a huge impact on Wake Forest’s offense and really take the Deacs to that next level. Of course, being back in the line-up and getting back into playing form are very different things. Hartman missed Game 1, so he hasn’t played a real game of football since the Gator Bowl last season, that was 7 months ago. The big question heading into the match against Vandy is how prepared Hartman is after his brief hiatus and how quickly he can shake off the rust, if any. Personally, I think he’ll be able to jump right back into the movement like nothing happened, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he needed a few practices to settle in. Vandy’s defense looked quite porous against Elon last time out. weekend, so if Hartman is 100% back, the Deacs should have no trouble getting the ball into the end zone multiple times.
The first test for Brad Lambert’s defense
If we’re being honest, there’s not much to take away from the first game against VMI. Sure, the defense looked solid and only gave up 222 yards and 10 points, but the talent disparity between an ACC school that played for a conference championship last season and an FCS school is pretty huge. . This will be the first game where we can really tell if the defense has made any improvements from last season. Schedule strength aside, the Vandy offense is averaging 52.5 points and 512 total yards per game this season in its first 2 games. They are led by the dynamic Mike Wright, who has already tallied 10 total touchdowns and 638 total yards. He is widely used in the running game for the Commodores, having already thrown the ball 24 times this season averaging more than 10 yards per run. The spread option game gave the Deacs fits last season, and Wright is another guy who could absolutely punish the defense if they lose control or fail to realize it.
Ryan Smenda is coming back from a nonsensical targeting suspension, so that should definitely help. Hopefully we’ll see an aggressive Deacon defense absolutely snuff out Vanderbilt’s offense.
Despite the Deacs winning their first game by over 30 points, head coach Dave Clawson was pretty upset after the game because of the penalties – it was one of the first things he mentioned. Wake has always been one of the best teams in the country in terms of penalties under Clawson, but the Deacs were flagged 7 times for 69 yards in their opener. While that might not seem like a big deal, Wake had 2 recalled touchdowns due to penalties and extended a Keydets drive with a 4th down penalty at least twice. It didn’t affect the result of the game against VMI, but obviously you don’t want to get into the habit of having 14 points taken off the board because of bad penalties. I’m sure Clawson made it a priority this week, so hopefully Wake can reduce the amount of laundry on the field against Vanderbilt.