Wake Forest student newspaper breaks down Demon Deacons approach ahead of ACC Championship

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AP Photo/Mary Schwalm

Wake Forest tight end Brandon Chapman (23) high-fives fans with his teammates after defeating Boston College at Alumni Stadium in Boston on Saturday.

By Brian Sherry, Staff Writer

With the ACC Football Championship quickly approaching, focus around campus is turning to Pitt’s opponent — the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. Despite playing in the same conference, Saturday night’s game will be the pair’s first meeting in more than three years. To most Pitt students, the Demon Deacons stand as an unfamiliar foe.

To become more familiar with the Panthers’ opponent, The Pitt News talked with Essex Thayer, the sports editor at Wake Forest’s student newspaper, the Old Gold & Black.

Unorthodox, yet explosive offense

The Wake Forest offense put up strong numbers this season. Sophomore quarterback Sam Hartman has led the Demon Deacons offense to be one of the most prolific in the nation. The Demon Deacons averaged the most points per game in the ACC with 42.9. Thayer said the key to the offense’s success comes from their RPO long mesh offense.

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“The long mesh tends to stymie defenses,” Thayer said. “It’s weird, Wake is really the only team in the country that runs that offense.”

On top of an unorthodox offensive formation, the Wake offense also boasts two top receivers — sophomore A.T. Perry and redshirt junior Jaquarii Roberson. Perry has been especially dangerous this season. The sophomore racked up 13 TD receptions this season, which places him just behind Pitt sophomore wide receiver Jordan Addison for the top spot in college football.

“A.T. this year has been [Hartman’s] go-to guy,” Thayer said. “He’s probably going to be the guy that Pitt puts their No. 1 cornerback against.”

Despite the high scoring offense, the offensive line has been a point of weakness for the Demon Deacons. The Wake offensive line ranks No. 7 in the ACC in sacks allowed. They will face a Panther pass rush that ranks No. 2 in the entirety of college football in sacks on Saturday. But Thayer believes Wake’s one-of-a-kind long mesh formation will negate the shaky offensive line.

“The beauty is Wake is really able to avoid the pass rush because of the mesh,” Thayer said. “I think that will cause Pitt some trouble, especially in the pass rush.”

Inconsistent defense

While Wake Forest’s offense has been dangerous all year, the defense has been a different story. The Demon Deacon defense especially struggles with rushing defense, ranking second to last in the ACC in run defense.

“The Wake defensive unit is not good, but they have played well at times,” Thayer said. “Our offense is what wins us games.”

But the Demon Deacon defense does have some solid pieces, coming in at No. 3 in the conference in interceptions.

Key players

Just as Pitt has redshirt senior quarterback Kenny Pickett, Wake Forest has Hartman. The redshirt sophomore has racked up dominant numbers this season and is currently in discussion for the Heisman trophy.

“This is [Hartman’s] third year starting for Wake Forest, and by far his best,” Thayer said. “He’s a solid passer and he’s a really dynamic runner, and Wake has a dynamic offense that supports that.”

Besides Hartman, Wake Forest boasts one of the conference’s top placekickers in junior Nick Sciba. He is the all-time ACC leader in field goal percentage, with 89.1% of field goals made. If the game comes down to the wire, Sciba may become the difference maker for the Demon Deacons.

On defense, sophomore defensive lineman Rondell Bothroyd and senior defensive lineman Luiji Vilain will look to put pressure on Kenny Pickett. Both Bothroyd and Vilain racked up seven sacks this season, tied for most on Wake Forest.

Home state advantage 

The atmosphere at Bank of America Stadium will likely favor the in-state Demon Deacons. Wake Forest is only about an hour and 15 minutes from Charlotte, making it an easy drive for students and fans. Thayer expects a large turnout from Demon Deacon diehards.

“Our student ticket allotment for the ACC Championship sold out in 45 mins,” Thayer said. “I think it’s going to be more of a home game environment [for Wake].”

A high scoring match-up

Vegas betting odds currently has the over-under of the game set at 71— the highest out of any conference championship. With both teams averaging north of 42 points per game, the game will likely come down to which defense can resist the brutal offensive attacks coming from each team.

“We score a lot of points, [Pitt scores] a lot of points,” Thayer said. “So it’s really going to come down to which defense can stop the offense more.”

Despite being a diehard Wake fan, Thayer is uncertain about who will hoist the trophy Saturday night in Charlotte.

“I personally believe it’s going to be a really close game,” Thayer said. “I really don’t know who’s going to win or who’s going to lose.”