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Wake Forest is Still a Contender in the ACC Race

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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image source="featured_image" img_size="large"][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Wake Forest went 11-3 last season and made it to the ACC Championship Game, where they fell to Kenny Pickett and the Pittsburgh Panthers. While losing the ACC title must have been a disappointment, especially after being ranked as high as number eight in the College Football Playoff rankings. The reality is that the job Dave Clawson did last year was incredible. Wake Forest does not usually win 11 football games. It is difficult to do in Winston-Salem with the lack of resources. The accomplishment is impressive and only possible due to innovation and tremendous coaching.

When Dave Clawson became head coach at Wake Forest in 2014, they were coming off five consecutive losing seasons. Not much changed in his first two seasons, but Wake Forest consistently made bowl games in year three. The building process continued until they struck gold on the trail in 2018, bringing in stars WR A.T Perry and QB Sam Hartman in a class that would rank 64th in the 247Sports composite. However, despite that duo returning and the recent success, Wake Forest is completely overlooked as a contender in the ACC. RB Justice Ellison is also returning. Overlooking Wake Forest is a mistake.

QB Sam Hartman

Sam Hartman was one of the most prolific QBs in 2021. He threw for nearly 4000 yards and had 39 touchdown passes compared to 14 interceptions. He was a semi-finalist for the Maxwell Award, given to the nation's best player. Sam Hartman has dealt with quite a bit of adversity during his time in Winston-Salem. He has suffered several injuries and dealt with some issues about mental health. Even before his arrival, Sam's brother died by suicide while in high school. But he has met every challenge head-on and gotten better because of it season after season.

Many QBs take a giant leap from their junior to senior seasons, with a little more control over their academics as they either wind down towards their degree or already have more time can be spent on football. Sam is in such a position himself and already has a history of year-to-year improvement. For Hartman, the significant progression has to be cutting down on turnovers; those key turnovers can make or break a championship run.

On the field, Wake Forest QB Sam Hartman is never alone as he carries the memory of his brother, Demitri, with him into every game.

Off the field, Hartman has made it his mission to remind others that they, too are not alone.

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Skill Players Continue to Excel

Warren Ruggiero has produced on the offensive side of the ball for Wake Forest since coming over in 2014, setting over 100 team and individual records. Clawson also has quite a prominent role on the offensive side, and you see Wake Forest has slanted their success with an offensive renaissance of sorts. Wake Forest lost WR Jaquarii Roberson to the NFL, and leading RB Christian Beal transferred to South Carolina.

This puts more pressure on A.T Perry and Justice Ellison to step up in a much more significant role. A.T Perry is expected to be the man once again for Wake as he accumulated over 1200 receiving yards a season ago for the Demon Deacons. Justice Ellison scored seven touchdowns but split carries between Beal and Christian Turner. Ellison is expected to be the lead guy in 2022 and has to carry the load for Wake Forest if they are to get to Charlotte once again.

Brad Lambert Must Improve Wake Forest Defensively

Wake Forest struggled tremendously on defense in 2021. They finished 91st in total defense. The defense struggled, particularly stopping the run. They gave up 195 yards per game on the ground, 111th in the nation. Wake was 88th in scoring defense, giving up around 29 points per game. Dave Clawson knew he had to go a different direction and brought in former Purdue Co-Defensive coordinator Brad Lambert. He once served as the DC for the Demon Deacons, helping guide them to an ACC championship game appearance. He also coached Butkus award winner Aaron Curry. A new voice in a room can bring new results, which is undoubtedly what Wake Forest and Dave Clawson are looking for after losing games in which they gave up 45, 48, and 58 points.

Three Key Games

On September 24th, Wake Forest will host Clemson. The Tigers defeated them in the regular-season finale 48-27 last season. Clemson has beaten Wake Forest 13 consecutive times as well. It would boost morale to pull off the upset to set up a run in the 2022 season.

The Following week Wake Forest heads down to Tallahassee to take on Florida State. The Seminoles should be much improved in 2022. This has trap game written all over it. However, win or lose to Clemson the week before the season is not over. Wake Forest will need to show their resolve and fall into the old-fashioned pit trap. It will be up to team leadership whether or not Wake Forest can make it through this one.

November 5th at NC State. The Wolfpack is entering 2022 with some hype of its own. With the game being on the road and late, this game could make quite a few determinations for both teams. It could be a significant game on the ACC title path or an Orange Bowl berth. It will also be a battle of possible first-round draft picks at QB in Sam Hartman and NC State's Devin Leary.

The Wake Forest version of the triplets must be giant if Wake Forest intends to return to Charlotte. RB Justice Ellison will need to carry the load of an every-down back. Superstar WR A.T Perry must produce once again as he did a season ago with over 1200 receiving yards. Finally, Sam Hartman must prove he is exactly who he is supposed to be. A leader and a big-time QB can make plays when the game is on the line. Dave Clawson may have the best team he has ever put together in Winston-Salem.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]