The Wake Forest Demon Deacons are riding high after last week's upset of Virginia Tech and will look to maintain that momentum against a Syracuse Orange team that put up some fight last week on the road against Clemson, but still wound up with a familiar result.
The Demon Deacons' 23-16 win over the Hokies improved their record to 3-2 overall and 2-2 in the ACC. Wake Forest relied on its defense to stymie Virginia Tech, holding the Hokies to 210 yards and 16 points, both season lows. Freshman defensive back Nick Andersen was a big factor in the game with three interceptions of Virginia Tech quarterback Hendon Hooker.
Considering how the Deacons started on defense at the beginning of this season, head coach Dave Clawson was sure to give credit where it was due after the big win. "Really proud of our whole football team, especially our guys on defense, who the first couple of weeks struggled out of the gate," he said. "They've really worked hard and prepared hard and played good defense against an exceptional offense. We do a good job of creating turnovers. We continued to do that (against Virginia Tech), which really helps us and gives us extra possessions."
Syracuse played conference juggernaut Clemson close through the first three quarters, trailing the Tigers by just six points (27-21) entering the final frame. But Clemson eventually pulled away down the stretch, posting a 47-21 victory that's not indicative of how this game went. But it also doesn't change the fact that the Orange are 1-5 overall and 1-4 in conference games.
Syracuse has defeated Wake Forest the last two times these teams have met so maybe the Orange can continue that trend on Saturday.
Wake Forest at Syracuse
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 31 at 12 p.m. ET
TV: ACC Network
Spread: Wake Forest -11
When Wake Forest Has the Ball
The Demon Deacons have been quite successful running the ball lately, so look for them to continue with that approach against Syracuse. Wake Forest churned out 206 yards and two touchdowns on 49 carries in the win over Virginia Tech. Christian Beal-Smith led the way with 129 yards on just 13 carries, which is nearly 10 yards per attempt. Kenneth Walker III leads the team with 449 rushing yards and eight touchdowns. Both players are in the top 10 in the ACC in rushing yards per game – Walker is sixth, Beal-Smith is eighth. The Orange are dead last in the conference against the run, giving up 235 yards per game, so it's no secret how the Deacons will approach this game, especially given their inability to get much going through the air. Quarterback Sam Hartman is averaging 201 passing yards per game and while he hasn't thrown an interception yet this season, he also only has just three touchdown passes in five games.
When Syracuse Has the Ball
The Orange have had to deal with plenty of injuries, including one to starting quarterback Tommy DeVito. Rex Culpepper took over and he struggled against Clemson's tough defense, completing 10 of 26 passes for 175 yards, a touchdown, and three interceptions. Orange head coach Dino Babers seems determined to stick with Culpepper, who has the most experience of any quarterback on the roster and is the one Babers trusts the most right now. "We're trying to get Rex caught up," Babers said earlier this week. "The thing I saw last week in the young QBs is that deer-in-the-headlights look. Like, 'Oh my god, I'm over here with the varsity and I'm getting yelled at by the offensive coordinator and the head coach.' They're going through some things they've never gone through before, but they're making strides."
Regardless of who has been in at quarterback, points have been tough to come by for Syracuse, who is last in the ACC at 19.8 per game. The Orange exceeded that against Clemson, aided by an 83-yard touchdown catch by Nykiem Johnson and the first-ever pick-six thrown by Tigers quarterback Trevor Lawrence (Garrett Williams returned the interception 39 yards for the TD). But overall, it has been a struggle for Syracuse on offense. The Orange are last in the conference in both rushing (92.8) and passing (182.0) yards per game. Sean Tucker has been somewhat of a bright spot with 362 rushing yards and three touchdowns but he left last week's game with an injury, so how effective he will be against Wake Forest remains to be seen.
Wake Forest has been on a roll, winning three straight games (Campbell, Virginia, and Virginia Tech), and seems to have figured out its defensive issues from earlier in the season. Syracuse, on the other hand, is battling injuries and a lack of consistent offensive output. Even though the game is in the Carrier Dome, look for the Demon Deacons to get their fourth straight victory.
Prediction: Wake Forest 35, Syracuse 17
Podcast: Week 9 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Chip Minnich, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @ChipMinnich.
(Top photo courtesy of @WakeFB)