Wisconsin vs. Wake Forest: 5 things to know about the Badgers' Duke's Mayo Bowl opponent
The Wisconsin Badgers finished their regular season by beating their rival Minnesota Golden Gophers on Saturday afternoon. It has been a pretty disappointing season for Wisconsin, especially in light of preseason expectations. Still, the Badgers (3-3) get a chance to finish with a winning record when they match up with the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl on Dec. 30 at noon ET in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Wisconsin had big expectations heading into this season, and the hype raised to significant heights after the team started the year with blowout wins over Illinois and Michigan. Then, the season fell apart with 3 consecutive losses as the offense struggled mightily. The Badgers finished their regular season with a 20-17 overtime win over Minnesota at home on Saturday. Wisconsin got to .500 after seeing three games canceled due to COVID-19 outbreaks.
Who we’ll see at quarterback for Wisconsin should be something to keep an eye on. Graham Mertz left the Minnesota game in the third quarter with an injury and never returned, as backup Chase Wolf finished the game. Last year’s starter, Jack Coan, injured his foot in the preseason; on Sunday morning it was reported he will enter the transfer portal.
As for Wisconsin’s bowl game opponent, let’s learn a little more about Wake Forest.
Wake Forest finished its regular season 4-4 overall and 3-4 in ACC play for 10th place in the 15-team conference in 2020. The Demon Deacons had their season finale against the Florida State Seminoles canceled after Florida State had COVID-19 issues. Wake Forest has played just one game since Nov. 14, a 45-21 road loss to Louisville, and heads into its bowl game on a two-game losing streak. Its last victory came on Halloween, 38-14 over Syracuse.
A look at the head coach
Dave Clawson has been the head coach at Wake Forest since 2014, and he developed the Demon Deacons into a fairly consistent team in the ACC. The Demon Deacons went above .500 in Clawson’s third season, breaking a 7-year streak of losing seasons. Wake Forest won either 7 or 8 games in each of the past four seasons heading into 2020. Clawson has been rumored to be a candidate for head coaching jobs elsewhere after elevating this program, but he remains in Winston-Salem.
What about the QB?
You can’t talk about a college football team without looking at its most important position. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Hartman played in all eight games for Wake Forest this season, completing 139 of 236 passes for a 58.9 completion percentage. He has thrown for 1,906 yards and 10 touchdowns, plus he has done a good job taking care of the ball, with just one interception this season.
Offense by the numbers
The Wake Forest offense ranks pretty poorly, averaging 5.2 yards per play, which is 88th in FBS. The Demon Deacons are a far more dangerous passing team than they are as a rushing team. Wake Forest’s yards per pass attempt ranks 47th in the country, while yards per rush checks in at 98th in college football. Star wide receiver Sage Surratt opted out of the season before it started and running back Kenneth Walker III opted out of the rest of the season in early December.
Wake Forest’s leading receiver is Jaquarii Roberson with 54 catches for 795 yards and 5 touchdowns. Its leading rusher is Christian Beal-Smith, who has run for 650 yards (5.4 per carry) and 4 touchdowns.
Defense by the numbers
The Wake Forest defense ranks No. 97 out of 127 FBS teams in 2020 in yards per play allowed, and the Demon Deacons have struggled against the run and the pass. Wake Forest is 87th in yards per pass attempt allowed and No. 100 in yards allowed per rush attempt. The defensive numbers were certainly hit hard in a 59-53 loss to North Carolina, as the Tar Heels gained 742 yards of offense.
Wake Forest defensive lineman Boogie Basham is a potential first-round NFL Draft pick but opted out of playing in a bowl game.