Rutgers (5-7) takes on No. 17 Wake Forest (10-3) in the Gator Bowl on Friday, December 31 at 11:00 a.m. in Jacksonville, Florida airing on ESPN. More than two touchdown underdogs and having just eight days to prepare, the Scarlet Knights are facing an unprecedented situation. After not practicing for almost a month, they are set to take on the fifth highest scoring team in the country in the Florida midday heat with a depleted roster. There’s always a chance, but Rutgers will certainly have to play its best game of the season to win.
In an effort to find out more about the Demon Deacons ahead of Friday’s matchup, I was fortunate to connect with Cameron Lemons Debro from SB Nation’s Wake Forest site, Blogger So Dear. Find out about the current stat of the team, who will step up in Jaquirii Roberson’s absence, what’s gone wrong for Wake in their three losses and much more. Let’s kick things off here.
AB: How much do you think the scheduling change impacts the mindset and motivation of Wake Forest? Is having their first 11 win season enough of a reason to avoid a letdown against Rutgers?
CLD: I don’t think it changes it much at all. One thing that Dave Clawson does is get a full season worth of effort out of his guys. That doesn’t really change when the opponent does. With a chance to not only hit 11 wins but get the bad taste of the ACC Championship out of their mouths, they should be fired up.
AB: After starting 8-0, Wake has lost three of its last five games. How much has that been the competition and how much has it been specific issues in their play?
CLD: Lot of moving parts here: Injuries have played a big role (lost all but 1 corner against UNC and have been rotating people around since), Clemson is Clemson regardless of how they look, Pickett was a Heisman finalist. It’s not all on one place though. The defense collapsed once hurt against UNC, was a team loss against Clemson, and Sam Hartman + receivers just imploded in the second half against Pitt.
AB: QB Sam Hartman has thrown for almost 4,000 yards and 36 touchdowns, but has struggled with turnovers of late. Is it in part due to how pass heavy the offense is and what are his strengths and weaknesses?
CLD: Partially that, other part is this offense struggles against teams that blow up the A Gap. When teams take that away, the OL suffers, giving the receivers less time and Hartman has to press which results in errant or tipped throws. They have to control the line of scrimmage better or those throws are going to keep coming.
AB: Who steps up after Jaquarii Roberson declared for the NFL Draft?
CLD: Ke’Shawn Williams is the answer there. It’ll be a team thing, but Williams is the next guy up there and looks to be electric. Wake’s WR coach Kevin Higgins is one of the best in the business and has such a high hit rate with these under the radar guys(see: Roberson, Jaquarii) Williams was a bit banged up down the stretch but has proven to be a quick, shifty, and reliable receiver in the slot.
AB: How have opposing offenses been successful against the Wake Forest defense this season?
CLD: Just inconsistencies all around. You’ll look at the UVA game where the team looked like it was one of the best defenses in the ACC, and then you’ll see Clemson and it looks like they don’t know how to cover basic routes or tackle. It’s just maddeningly inconsistent. Hell even in the ACC Championship, you saw a first quarter of them not knowing how to cover, and then 8 stops in the next 9 drives. They just can’t function for an entire game.
AB: Has playing Rutgers instead of TXAM dampened the excitement level of Wake fans and how do you expect the fan base to travel for the Gator Bowl?
CLD: Not so much Rutgers, but just the circumstances. Everyone is really holding their breath because we just saw a game get canceled 5 hours before kick in San Diego. Wake fans are very grateful to be playing anyone to be honest and a warm weather bowl is great, but COVID and the protocols have really been tough on fans. I think the fan base will travel well. Yes, Wake is the smallest P5 school in the country but they’ll travel just fine.
AB: What is your prediction for the game?
CLD: While Rutgers has been an annoying team to figure out this year, I just have so many issues with thinking a team that took 30 days in between tackling, has two days of practice, and has a fair amount of missing bodies will put up a full game’s worth of a challenge to a team that’s been prepping for the entire time. Wake 45 Rutgers 14
Thanks to Cameron for giving great insight on Wake Forest football ahead of Friday’s Gator Bowl against Rutgers. You can follow him on Twitter here and for complete coverage of Wake Forest Athletics, visit Blogger So Dear. To read my answers to Cameron’s questions on Rutgers football, click here.