There could be plenty of energy and fresh bodies when Wake Forest and Wisconsin meet in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl on Dec. 30 in Charlotte, N.C.
Both schools figure to have unfinished business to tend to in what probably feels like an incomplete season for each squad. This is the first-ever meeting between the programs.
Wisconsin (3-3), which looked to be a contender in the Big Ten Conference when the season began, is in a bowl for the 19th consecutive season — the third-longest active streak in the country.
“We have said throughout this season that all we want is a chance to play,” Badgers coach Paul Chryst said. “With all that has gone on and especially after (defeating Minnesota), our guys are excited for one more opportunity.”
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said his team is enthused about the chance to finish the season with a victory after back-to-back losses — albeit almost a month apart — to close the regular season.
“We didn’t do all this work to play eight games. We don’t want our last game to be Louisville,” he said, referring to a 45-21 loss to the Cardinals on Dec. 12.
Wake Forest (4-4) is playing in a school-record fifth consecutive bowl. The Demon Deacons won the first three of those — including in 2017 against Texas A&M in Charlotte (then called the Belk Bowl) — before losing last season to Michigan State in the Pinstripe Bowl.
“When we played Texas A&M, that was a big deal,” Clawson said. “To get a team like Wisconsin that we have great respect for and we know is a traditional power, that’s a big deal to our players.”
The Badgers were much busier than Wake Forest recently, playing five games in the last six weeks. They lost three in a row before pulling out a 20-17 overtime win against Minnesota on Dec. 19.
Senior Garrett Groshek rushed for 161 yards and his first touchdown of the season against the Golden Gophers.
“It shows you that he cares about this team,” Chryst said, hoping that type of spirit carries over to the bowl game.
Quarterback Graham Mertz took a hit and didn’t finish the Minnesota game. Chryst speculated that he would be OK, though Chase Wolf took snaps during the crucial final minutes. Mertz has thrown for eight touchdowns.
Wake Forest has played only once since Nov. 14 and played the fewest games of any Atlantic Coast Conference team this season. This will be the Demon Deacons’ seventh game in their home state this year.
Among games canceled for Wake Forest were matchups with Notre Dame, Miami, Duke and Florida State. The Seminoles weren’t on the original schedule, but added for Dec. 19 amid the ACC’s late-season scheduling revisions, and then called off because FSU’s coronavirus protocols.
Wisconsin leads the nation in time of possession, playing at a more deliberate pace than Wake Forest prefers.
“They have a style of football in a way that works for them,” Clawson said. “We have a style of football that has worked for us.”
Wake Forest defensive end Carlos Basham has opted not to play in the bowl game. He had 23 consecutive games with a tackle for loss until the Louisville game, a mark that had been the longest active string in the country.
Team scoring leader Kenneth Walker III, a sophomore running back with 13 touchdowns in seven games, also has chosen not to compete any more this year. He sat out the Louisville game as well.
This is the first year of this bowl’s tie-in with the Big Ten Conference. The Badgers are 4-1 in bowls against current ACC members.
Initially, a crowd limited to fewer than 6,000 fans was anticipated per state guidelines amid the pandemic. On Dec. 22, bowl officials announced that only family and friends of team members and bowl sponsors will be permitted to attend.
–Field Level Media