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Behind Enemy Lines: Q&A with Deacons Daily on Wake Forest

An look inside at the Demon Deacons courtesy of Deacons Daily's Essex Thayer.

NoleGameday caught up with Essex Thayer of Deacons Daily, the Wake Forest site on Sports Illustrated's Fan Nation network, to get the inside scoop on the Demon Deacons. Florida State and Wake Forest are set to kick off at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday afternoon.

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Q: The Demon Deacons fell in a close one last weekend. What is the mood of the team coming into this game as they try to prevent starting 0-2 in conference play?

A: Regardless of the outcome, Dave Clawson has a “24-hour rule” in the program that dictates how the team responds. Naturally, you have to question whether the team adheres to that after such a heartbreaking loss. There’s a lot of football left to be played this season, but it’s hard to imagine Hartman and the rest of the team won’t be playing the “what if” game. In his weekly press conference, Clawson was honest, saying his players were “gutted” and that he was hurting too. But, he also emphasized that the team has regained its focus and is dialed in on Florida State.

Q: Sam Hartman has seen basically everything. What can Florida State do on defense to try and make him uncomfortable?

A: Before this season, and especially Clemson, I would say blitz the heck out of Hartman and force him to make tough decisions in short time. Against the blitz this season, Hartman has a 76% completion rate and ten touchdowns, with only one interception. He was especially adept at handling the Clemson pass rush, throwing the ball over the top to his receivers who created space. With that in mind, the best game plan would likely be eliminating the big plays and forcing Wake Forest to throw intermediate passes. Stopping the run game will also be key to limiting the Deacons. If the run game is stymied, Wake will have to defer to the pass, making their RPO significantly less effective.

Q: Wake Forest returned all five starters on the offensive line but the offense is only averaging 3.4 yards per rush and has allowed ten sacks. Why are they struggling so much right now?

A: Overall, the ten sacks don’t really tell the full story of the Wake Forest offensive line, which has actually been quite good, especially against Clemson. The running backs, on the other hand, have been worrisome. For example, the Deacs could only muster 21 yards on the ground against Liberty. Many of those struggles come from the opponent’s response to the team’s unique slow-mesh RPO. When stacking the box, if Wake elects to run, there are very few holes to hit. As such, the Deacons have been going to the pass far more often and have mainly been using the run as a means to diversify the play calling.

Q: On the flip side, the defense has been opportunistic, forcing eight turnovers and recording 11 sacks. Who should FSU fans be watching out for on that side of the ball for Wake Forest?

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A: The Wake Forest secondary is by far the most improved part of the defense. Safeties Malik Mustapha and Chelen Garnes have been outstanding, accounting for a combined 53 tackles. Watch out for the safety blitz; Mustapha flies into the backfield with incredible speed, notching 2.5 sacks this season, tied for a team-best. He also has a team-high 4.5 tackles for loss. Defensive tackle Kobie Turner, who has four tackles for loss, is an important piece on the line. One thing to note is that the Deacons’ cornerbacks could be vulnerable. Caelen Carson, the leader of the position group, did not play against Clemson and it is not known whether he will be available on Saturday. Wake Forest also lost Coby Davis, a key member of the secondary, for the season.

Q: A.T. Perry and Jahmal Banks are two capable threats on the outside. What can you tell us about those two and other skill players that will make a significant impact on Saturday?

A: Both of these players have a great ability to create space over the top and catch the 50/50 balls, allowing Hartman to neutralize a defense with big plays. Banks, who was essentially a backup to begin the year, has especially made a name for himself, becoming the first player in program history to catch multiple touchdowns in back-to-back games. Despite the success of these two players, Clawson has made it clear that he has five reliable receivers, including Taylor Morin, Ke’Shawn Williams and Donavon Greene, who have combined for 40 receptions and four touchdowns. Any of the five have the ability to be the one that haunts the Seminole defense.

Q: How do you see this game shaking out on the road in the end for Wake Forest? Score prediction?

A: As long as the weather holds, I see this game being a shootout between two prolific offenses. Jordan Travis has proven to be very good, and Hartman is arguably the best quarterback in the ACC and one of the best in the country. The Florida State rushing attack should also be a concern for Wake Forest fans. I think the result comes down to the Deacs’ offense being just a bit better, and the defense having the ability to neutralize Travis with pressure from the pass rush. Regardless, I expect this game to be an extremely close one, with the Deacs coming out on top by three.

You can read Deacons Daily's football staff’s predictions here:

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