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TaxSlayer Gator Bowl: Rutgers vs. Wake Forest Game Preview

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The Scarlet Knights will take on the Demon Deacons in Jacksonville.

NCAA Football: Rutgers at Penn State Matthew OHaren-USA TODAY Sports

How To Watch, Stream & Listen

Rutgers (5-7) vs. Wake Forest (10-3)

Where: TIAA Bank Field in Jacksonville, Florida

Kick-off: Friday, Dec. 31 at 11 A.M. ET

Weather: 82 degrees, mostly clear sky with a 20% chance of rain, 10 mph winds

TV: ESPN with Taylor Zarzour (play-by-play), Matt Stinchcomb (color), and Alyssa Lang (sideline)

Stream: ESPN App or Watch Live Stream

Radio: RWJBarnabas Health Rutgers Sports Network (WCTC 1450-AM, WOR 710-AM, WENJ 97.3-FM, XM 195, Sirius 134) with Chris Carlin (play-by-play), Mike Teel (analyst) and Anthony Fucilli (sideline).

Current Spread: Wake Forest -16.5, according to DraftKings

(Note: If you are in New Jersey the line won’t show, and depending on your location it might default to showing you a New Jersey sports book.)

Series History: Wake Forest leads all-time, 2-0; Wake Forest defeated Rutgers 17-10 in 1999.

SB Nation Wake Forest site: Blogger So Dear

Statistical Leaders

Rutgers

Passing: Noah Vedral - 172-for-290, 59.3%, 1,726 yards, 7 touchdowns, 6 interceptions

Rushing: Isaih Pacheco - 647 yards on 167 carries, 3.9 ypc, 5 touchdowns

Receiving: Bo Melton - 55 catches for 618 yards, 11.2 ypc, 3 touchdowns

Defense: Olakunle Fatukasi - 81 tackles and 3.5 sacks, Max Melton - 1 interception

Wake Forest

Passing: Sam Hartman - 276-for-469, 58.8%, 3,924 yards, 36 touchdowns, 14 interceptions

Rushing: Christian Beal-Smith - 581 yards on 123 carries, 4.7 ypc, 7 touchdowns

Receiving: A.T. Perry - 61 catches for 1,166 yards, 19.1 ypc, 14 touchdown

Defense: Ryan Smenda Jr. - 77 tackles, Luiji Vilain - 9 sacks, Travel Redd- 3 interception

When Rutgers has the ball

If Bo Melton and Isaih Pacheco do not play, a whole lot of nothing. Even if they do play, what can be expected of this offense?

Rutgers scored 20.5 points per game this season. Much of that damage was done early in the season against non-conference teams. The Scarlet Knights struggled to get the run game going all year and did not have a downfield threat. It is hard to imagine that the offense will figure it out after a month off.

So what is there to look forward too? Maybe we see a bit of Gavin Wimsatt in this game. Even that seems unlikely. Fans might be hoping to see something new but Wimsatt might not appear as much as one would hope. Maybe we catch a glimpse if the game is out of hand at the end.

Let’s not forget that Kyle Monangai already had offseason surgery. This leaves Aaron Young in the backfield for much of the work if Pacheco is out. Aron Cruickshank remains out rehabbing an injury suffered against Wisconsin. This means Rutgers could be without four of its top playmakers in this game against a Wake Forest offense that seems to score at will.

The game plan is easier said than done for the Scarlet Knights. They want to control the ball and slow the game down. This can be done by limiting possessions for Wake Forest. Again, this is easier said than done and seems nearly impossible if the Scarlet Knights are short-handed.

When Wake Forest has the ball

Sam Hartman is 76 yards away from 4,000 on the season. He is also four touchdowns away from 40. Both seem attainable in this game for an explosive offense like the Demon Deacons.

Wake Forest averaged 41.2 points per game this season. That was good enough for fifth in the nation. Yes, Jaquirii Roberson will miss the game as he prepares for the NFL Draft but guess what, he was not even the leading receiver on this team. A.T. Perry led the team with 1,166 yards and caught 14 touchdowns.

The Demon Deacons like to go fast and create extra possessions in a game. This is how they have been able to light up the scoreboard on a consistent basis. The Demon Deacons have lost some games to elite competition but they should feast in this game.

This is one of those games where Wake Forest might be able to do whatever they want. If you are Rutgers, there will be times where you just shrug your shoulders and ask how you are supposed to keep up.

Can Rutgers win this game?

Saying no in this section is just so declarative. Anything can happen on any given day but let’s just say that Rutgers has about a 1% chance to win this game. That might even be generous. This is just an impossible situation for the team. They could not say no. This is a bowl game on New Year’s Eve. The answer was obvious but taking a month off to face a nationally-ranked team is not ideal. Let’s not forget that Maryland picked Rutgers apart and the Terps are not exactly Wake Forest. It does not matter if they were preparing for Texas A&M. Wake Forest will be ready.

Final thoughts

For Rutgers fans, this is as exciting as it gets. It might not be the way the team expected to get to a bowl game but it does not take anything away. The Scarlet Knights will be on the field one more time. There were some steps back this season but Greg Schiano brought Rutgers back to a bowl in his second year back in Piscataway. Recruits are coming and better days might be coming with them. Just sit back on Friday morning, have low expectations, and just enjoy the show.