A pair of 2-0 ACC teams will square off Thursday night in Winston-Salem in what amounts to a significant conference game early in the season for Boston College and Wake Forest. The Eagles have been impressive early on against lackluster competition while Wake Forest still seems to be working out the kinks. The start time was moved up from 7:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. due to Hurricane Florence.
Boston College owns easy victories over Massachusetts and FCS opponent Holy Cross. The Demon Deacons opened the year by edging Tulane in overtime before notching an easy win over FCS member Towson. The winner of Thursday night’s contest could be a sleeper in the ACC Atlantic as both will host Clemson later in the year.
Wake Forest won 34-10 last season in Chestnut Hill, but lost in the last meeting in Winston-Salem. The Demon Deacons are looking to start 3-0 for a second straight year. The Eagles haven’t started 3-0 since 2007 when Jeff Jagodzinski was running the program. Steve Addazio and company will look to change that against Dave Clawson's team.
Boston College at Wake Forest
Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 13 at 5:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Boston College -6.5
Things to Watch For
1. AJ Dillon vs. the Wake Forest rush defense
Through two games, Wake Forest has actually been improved when it comes to stopping the run despite significant attrition in the front seven. The competition to this point however, has been lackluster. Against Tulane and Towson, the Demon Deacons have yielded just 110 rushing yards per game. This was after allowing more than 190 per game on the ground last year.
The biggest test yet should come on Thursday night in the form of Dillon. Boston College's sophomore running back was a big reason for the Eagles' improvement on offense over the last half of the season. In his first two games this fall, the 245-pound back has 247 rushing yards and three touchdowns while averaging 9.5 yards per carry. It also should be pointed out that last week against Holy Cross, he played just one quarter - in which he ran for 149 yards and three scores on just six carries (24.8 ypc).
For Wake Forest, defensive end Chris Calhoun and safety Essang Bassey lead the team with 14 tackles apiece. Defensive tackle Willie Yarbary leads the Demon Deacons with 3.5 tackles for a loss. Wake held Dillon to just 43 yards on 15 carries last season.
2. Quarterback play
The play under center has been pretty good early on for both Boston College and Wake Forest. After improving as the year went on as a freshman, the Eagles' Anthony Brown has performed very well as a passer early on this season. He is completing better than 71 percent of his passes and has four touchdowns without an interception. Last season, Brown completed less than 52 percent of his throws and was picked nine times, including three against the Demon Deacons. Wake Forest has been susceptible to big plays in the secondary early on this season.
With four-year starter John Wolford having graduated, Wake Forest turned to true freshman Sam Hartman and through two games, he’s averaged 310 passing yards per game. Hartman however, has had some early turnover issues and the Eagles are experienced in the secondary with senior safety Lukas Denis leading that group. Denis is one of four players with an interception for the Eagles this season and he returned his 59 yards for a touchdown.
3. Special teams
If there is an area where Wake Forest may have the biggest edge over Boston College on Thursday night, it might be in the most overlooked aspect of the game — special teams. Since missing a short kick in his first collegiate attempt against Tulane, freshman kicker Nick Scibia has been solid for Wake Forest and Dom Maggio is a veteran punter. Wide receiver Greg Dortch has already returned a pair of punts for touchdowns for the Demon Deacons as well.
Last week against Holy Cross, Boston College had two blocked punts go for Crusader touchdowns. The Eagles also have averaged just 33.3 yards per punt and have given up 21.5 yards per punt return. Boston College has yet to kick a field goal this season, but its kickers have already missed a pair of extra points.
With weather complicating matters, a long trip to Winston-Salem on a short week will make things difficult for Boston College. If field conditions are bad however, that could actually benefit the Eagles since they clearly have the better rushing attack. For Wake Forest to win this game, it will need to take care of the football and be able to do the little things well, such as winning the turnover battle and on special teams. With a talented defense that includes defensive end Zach Allen, linebacker Connor Strachan and safety Lukas Denis, this will be the biggest challenge that true freshman quarterback Sam Hartman and the Demon Deacons' offense have faced to this point.