There’s adversity, and then there’s adversity.
For the second straight season, Wake Forest’s hopes of winning the ACC Atlantic Division hit a pothole against Clemson.
Last year, the Demon Deacons went to Death Valley with a chance to clinch the division title and came out on the wrong side of a 48-27 score. Wake bounced back the following week to win a road game at Boston College to wrap up a berth in the ACC Championship Game.
This year, the Tigers came to Winston-Salem, and the Deacs came within inches of beating a top-five team for the first time in 75 years. Instead, Clemson came out on top in an instant classic, winning 51-45 in double overtime.
After again seeing their title hopes take a hit at the hands of the Tigers, Wake has to head out on the road and look for a rebound game. The task is a bit tougher this time around as the rejuvenated Florida State Seminoles loom next. FSU is 4-0 and back in the Top 25 for the first time in four years.
Making matters even more crucial for Wake is that FSU and Clemson have both already won two league games, as has surprising 4-0 Syracuse. NC State, who hasn’t yet played an ACC conference game, is 4-0 and in the Top 10, meaning that the game could be close to a must-win for the Deacons if they want to defend their Atlantic crown.
Coach Dave Clawson wasn’t discouraged by Wake’s prospects for a successful season despite the Clemson loss.
“Our football team expects to win games,” he said. “Any loss is difficult. If we lost last week, it would have been difficult. This is difficult. Our football team expects to win. We’re a good football team. You go through a football season and not too many go through undefeated. We hit our first adversity. We were 3-0 and now we lost to Clemson in overtime. We’re going to have to bounce back. I’m confident we will, but the opponent next week is pretty good too.”
As if all that weren’t enough, the cherry on top of this adversity sundae for the Deacs is Hurricane Ian, which is expected to hit Florida later this week, with the panhandle and Tallahassee inside the probability cone. Florida State has already canceled classes and closed campus for Thursday and Friday. The school released a statement saying the game is currently going to take place as scheduled, although that could change if the situation merits.
“(FSU athletic director) Michael Alford has been in conversations and the administration and the university has been in conversations with the ACC last night about having alternate plans ready,” FSU coach Mike Norvell said Monday. “It’s something we talked to the team about last night that we were going to make sure, you know, nobody knows exactly what is going to occur as the week goes on, but we are prepping for this game and we will have plans in place.”
Even if the game doesn’t change locations or start times, it appears Wake Forest will be heading into the teeth of a storm this week.
Florida State is much improved over the team Wake handled 35-14 early last season. The Noles are 4-0 for the first time since 2015 and are selling out Doak Campbell Stadium for the first time since that season as well. Last week, FSU had a kickoff return touchdown and interception before taking its first offensive snap and never looked back.
Then there’s the sloppy weather that Hurricane Ian promises to leave in its wake. The Deacs’ mesh offense relies on timing, which could be thrown into turmoil by bad weather or messy turf.
“They execute at a high level. They’ve had good perimeter players and they’ve had a quarterback who is deliberate to the point of one-on-ones,” FSU defensive coordinator Adam Fuller said of Wake. “So not to break it down to simplicity, but their tempo, their execution, their one-on-one matchup of how they play has been really favorable for them on offense.”
Less obvious is the importance of timing for Wake’s defense.
“Wake has always been sound,” FSU offensive coordinator Alex Atkins said. “They play fast and consistent. Players don’t second guess. They know exactly what they’re doing. They’re sound, they’re running 100 miles an hour. There’s not a lot of hesitation on what they’re doing, which allows them to play faster. So you got to make sure you execute.”
With a wet field, it will be important for Wake to win individual battles at the line of scrimmage.
“That’s pretty much every week,” Atkins said. “The game is about matchups. …That’s why we love college football because we look at it as this team versus this team but it really is a matchup of what teams do well and are they going to be able to still do what they do well despite this team taking it away.”