The Wake Forest Demon Deacons must go on the road to put their undefeated record and top-20 ranking on the line against the Army West Point Black Knights on Saturday. The Deacs survived a trip to Syracuse with a 40-34 win in overtime on Oct. 9 to improve to 6-0 overall and 4-0 in ACC play. Wake Forest also has had an extra week to prepare for Army's triple-option offense. The Black Knights started 4-0 but have lost back-to-back games to Ball State (28-16) and Wisconsin (20-14). The loss to the Badgers was the fifth straight for Army against a Power 5 conference opponent, including the fourth in a row decided by a single possession.
No. 16 Wake Forest at Army West Point
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 23 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Wake Forest -3
When Wake Forest Has the Ball
The Demon Deacons have scored at least 35 points in every game this season and rank 12th nationally in scoring offense (38.6 ppg) thanks in large part to quarterback Sam Hartman. Hartman ranks third in the ACC in passing (269.2 ypg) with a 63.0 percent completion rate for 1,615 yards and 14 touchdowns with three interceptions while averaging 8.8 yards per pass attempt.
The multi-year starter has also already set a career high with three rushing touchdowns, and Hartman's 125 yards on the ground put him on pace to challenge the 275 he gained as a true freshman in 2018, his current single-season highwater mark. However, Wake Forest hasn't had to rely on Hartman much on the ground as the Deacs have utilized a three-headed rushing attack with Christian Beal-Smith (375 yds., 5 TDs), Justice Ellison (255, 3), and Christian Turner (219, 2).
Hartman also has the benefit of depth at receiver, even after the loss of big-play and red-zone threat Donavon Greene to a serious injury in spring practice. Jaquarii Roberson leads the Deacs in receptions (31) and receiving yards (515), repeating his feat from 2020, but Roberson's touchdown production is lagging behind last year when he caught eight TD passes. Instead, A.T. Perry has been better at getting to the end zone with seven of his 23 catches (for 454 yds.) resulting in six points. That's five more than either Roberson or Taylor Morin (21 rec., 269 yds.) on the Wake Forest leaderboard.
When Army West Point Has the Ball
The Black Knights haven't had much stability at the quarterback position in recent years, and 2021 is no different. Christian Anderson is still the team leader with 431 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 58 carries, as well as 187 passing yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions, but Anderson has been sidelined the last two games with a shoulder injury. As a result, Jamel Jones, Jabari Laws, and Tyhier Tyler have been called into action. Jones leads the backup trio in passing yards (135) and is the only other quarterback with a touchdown pass, but Laws was 5-of-6 for 85 yards against Wisconsin and appears to be next in line. Tyler has been the most productive runner of the bunch with 199 yards and three touchdowns on 57 carries, and he ran 17 times for 90 yards and a touchdown against the Badgers. If Anderson can't play again this week, the Laws-Tyler combination appears likely.
Tyrell Robinson and Jakobi Buchanan are likely to get plenty of work regardless of the quarterback situation. Robinson has been Army's most explosive playmaker since he arrived and has averaged 9.1 yards per rushing attempt this season, gaining 282 yards with two touchdowns on 31 carries. He can also make an impact as a receiver and return man on special teams. Buchanan, the fullback, leads the team in carries (64), ranks second in touchdowns (four), and is tied with Tyler for third with 199 rushing yards. Anthony Adkins is close behind with 191 yards and three touchdowns on 43 attempts, though he had just six yards on three carries last week.
Wake Forest doesn't often have a talent advantage in ACC play, but because of the peculiarities of recruiting at a service academy, Army West Point rarely has a talent advantage against any FBS opponent. Instead, the Black Knights rely on a slow offensive pace to limit possessions for the opposing offense. Army ranks No. 1 in FBS in time of possession (38:13:3) and last in seconds per play (0:33:14), which will limit opportunities for the up-tempo Wake Forest offense that ranks 13th in pace with an average of 0:22:36 between offensive snaps.
The Black Knights also rely on the triple option, which few teams (archrivals Navy and Air Force aside) see on an annual basis, and can open opportunities to surprise defenses through the air (Army's 11.2 yards per pass attempt rank third nationally). Combined with a tough defense, Army's offensive style of play has gotten Jeff Monken's squad on the cusp of upsets against the likes of Wisconsin last week, West Virginia in the 2020 Liberty Bowl, Michigan in 2019, and Oklahoma in 2018.
Though the Demon Deacons have a balanced offense led by one of the best quarterbacks in the ACC, it's easy to see why Wake Forest is just a three-point favorite. Dave Clawson and his staff surely put the bye week to good use preparing for Army's unique system, and Wake Forest has the talent — and especially the offensive firepower — to win. But few teams can blow out Army, and it's likely the Black Knights keep this game close as well.
Prediction: Wake Forest 31, Army West Point 23
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