Very quietly, the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (4-0, 1-0 ACC) are one of 15 teams that are undefeated heading into Week 5 of the college football season. Last week the Demon Deacons put together a solid performance on the road as they defeated the Indiana Hoosiers 33-28 behind five interceptions and a blocked field goal.
In four games this season, Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson already has surpassed his win total from a season ago. Now the Demon Deacons will look to continue their best start in 10 years as they travel to Raleigh this weekend to take on NC State.
The Wolfpack are coming off of a bye week after their 49-22 victory over Old Dominion in Week 3. Quarterback Jalan McClendon rushed for two touchdowns and threw for a third in the win.
Saturday’s contest between the Demon Deacons and the Wolfpack will be the 107th consecutive meeting between the two schools, making it the third-longest uninterrupted series in the nation. NC State leads the all-time series 65-38-6.
Wake Forest at NC State
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 1 at 3:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN 3/ACC Network
Line: NC State -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Wake Forest Defense
Head coach Dave Clawson might come from an offensive background, but it has been his defense that has carried the Demon Deacons in their first four games. Their unit, which is led by defensive coordinator Mike Elko, has six interceptions, which is tied for 10th nationally. Wake Forest also has 12 sacks on the season.
Defensive backs Jessie Bates and Brad Watson both had two interceptions in the Demon Deacons' win over Indiana last week. NC State also will have to be aware of Duke Ejiofor, who has produced 4.5 of the team’s 12 sacks.
2. Ryan Finley/Jalan McClendon
When Jacoby Brissett exhausted his eligibility and was drafted by the New England Patriots this past April, there were many who expected NC State’s offense to take a nose dive. In the first three games, that hasn’t been the case as quarterbacks Ryan Finley and Jalan McClendon have played a major part in the Wolfpack’s offensive production.
NC State has been using the two-quarterback system and so far it has proven dividends, to the tune of 42.3 points per game. Finley has thrown for 714 yards and six touchdowns with a 76.3 completion percentage. McClendon is the goal-line, short-yardage situation quarterback, but he also has thrown for a touchdown in limited opportunities.
3. John Wolford
In Wake Forest’s 38-21 Week 3 victory over Delaware, starting quarterback Kendall Hinton went down in the first quarter with a knee injury. The good news is the Demon Deacons had a backup quarterback that has a ton of starting experience in Wolford.
The junior has started 24 games during his time at Wake Forest and he performed well against Indiana last week. Wolford was 16-of-29 for 172 yards against the Hoosiers, including a touchdown pass to Chuck Wade with less than a minute to go in the second quarter to stake his team to a 21-7 lead.
With the way Wake Forest’s defense has been playing this season, the team just needs Wolford to play smart and not turn the ball over.
Wake Forest has lost two straight to NC State in the series and five of the past 20 games in Raleigh, but this is a much different team that will be playing at Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday. In head coach Dave Clawson’s first two seasons in Winston-Salem, most of his players were young and inexperienced, but now a lot of those same players are juniors and seniors.
The key to this game will be Wolfpack running back Matthew Dayes' effectiveness on the ground against the Demon Deacons' defense. Wake Forest enters this game ranked 34th in the nation in rushing defense. Dayes has 312 rushing yards and two touchdowns this season, but that was against much weaker defenses in FCS member William & Mary and a pair of Group of Five programs in East Carolina and Old Dominion.
Prediction Wake Forest 31, NC State 28
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.