Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson sees the holes left throughout his offense after major personnel losses from the Demon Deacons’ latest bowl run.
He doesn’t sound deterred by them, either.
”Right now we’re not starting one skill player that we did a year ago,” the seventh-year coach said. ”We have a new quarterback, a new tight end, three new receivers and a new starting tailback. And yet I feel really good about our offensive skill.”
Clawson’s optimism will be tested after the Demon Deacons lost nine offensive starters. That included quarterback Jamie Newman (now at Georgia as a graduate transfer); top receivers Sage Surratt, Scotty Washington and Kendall Hinton; and top rusher Cade Carney.
They helped the Demon Deacons (8-5, 4-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) average 31.9 points and 464 yards, powering them into the AP Top 25 poll and ultimately a fourth straight bowl appearance.
The good news is this isn’t new for starting quarterback Sam Hartman, who started nine games as a freshman in 2018 and one last year. And Clawson has noted the program has routinely redshirted most incoming players to give them time to develop, offering hope that players like running backs Kenneth Walker III and Christian Beal-Smith or receiver Donavon Greene will be prepared for what’s ahead.
The defense could also provide some cover. There are 10 returning starters there, led by fifth-year senior Carlos Basham Jr. – a preseason Associated Press All-America second-team selection.
Still, offensive lineman Zach Tom said he doesn’t think the offense’s identity will change much, even as the names and faces do.
”It’ll probably take some time,” offensive lineman Zach Tom said. ”I feel like we’re getting there, but . we still have a ways to go before we’re where we need to be.”
Some other things to know about Wake Forest for the 2020 season:
TOUGH UP FRONT
Basham’s presence on the line commands attention after he tallied 11 sacks, the most by a Wake Forest player since 1992. But the entire defensive front looks like it will be a strength with experienced returnees such as defensive lineman Sulaiman Kamara (37 career games) or linebacker Ryan Smenda Jr. (team-high 81 tackles).
”We have a lot of hard hitters, guys who like putting their faces in the gaps,” Basham said.
Clawson said that front must play well as the secondary ”grows up” after losing starters Essang Bassey and Amari Henderson.
Hartman’s targets will need to grow up quickly, too.
Greene, a redshirt freshman, is the top returning receiver with 13 catches for 249 yards and two scores. Clawson said Greene gained confidence with his late-season play, while he also praised redshirt freshmen Nolan Groulx and Taylor Morin, along with redshirt sophomore A.T. Perry for their camp work.
The Demon Deacons have a strong kicker in junior Nick Sciba, a first-team AP all-ACC pick last year.
Sciba made 24 of 25 field goals last year and has made 43 of 47 through the past two seasons. His reliability will be critical, especially if drives stall for an offense that needs time to build chemistry and confidence.
Wake Forest had five spring practices before the coronavirus pandemic shut down college and professional sports.
Then the Demon Deacons took a huge hit when Surratt opted out to prepare for the NFL draft. The 6-foot-3 receiver had 1,001 yards receiving with 11 touchdowns before going down to a season-ending injury in November as a redshirt sophomore.
Wake Forest didn’t have an easy time filling its lone nonconference slot.
The Demon Deacons were originally scheduled to host Old Dominion on Oct. 9 in their revamped schedule, but the Monarchs soon called off fall sports. Wake Forest ultimately reached a deal with Campbell instead.
In the 10-game ACC schedule, Wake Forest added games against No. 18 North Carolina, Virginia and Virginia Tech. There’s also a home-state game against No. 10 Notre Dame in Charlotte, which was originally a nonconference matchup but now counts in the league standings with the Fighting Irish giving up their football independence this season to compete for the ACC title.
Wake Forest opens the season by hosting top-ranked Clemson on Sept. 12.
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