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Vanderbilt Football 2022 Opponent Preview: Wake Forest

This was a good idea when it was scheduled. Now, not so much.

TaxSlayer Gator Bowl Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

Opponent: The Wake Forest Demon Deacons, low-key one of the coolest mascots in college sports

Date: September 10, 2022

Where: Nashville

Last year: 11-3 (7-1 ACC), Champions of the ACC Atlantic Division, also known as the division that includes Clemson and Florida State.

Series record: Vanderbilt leads, 10-6. The rare Power 5 program that we have a winning record against, a list that strangely includes Texas.

The last time we saw these guys: November 30, 2013, a 23-21 Vanderbilt win in James Franklin’s last game in Nashville, won on a last-minute field goal by Carey Spear.

Head Coach

Dave Clawson enters his ninth season at Wake with a 51-48 record, which on the surface isn’t impressive... but after starting with back-to-back 3-9 seasons, Wake has gone 45-30 under his watch, which is a very good record for Wake Forest. That followed successful runs at Fordham, Richmond, and Bowling Green, with the one blip being a one-year tenure as offensive coordinator at the University of Tennessee in Phil Fulmer’s final year as head coach. It takes consuming alcohol orally to appreciate the majesty of the Clawfense.

Offense

It averaged 41 points per game last season, good for fourth in the country. It returns starting quarterback Sam Hartman, who threw for 4228 yards and 39 touchdowns last season, and top receiver A.T. Perry, who caught 71 passes for 1293 yards and 15 touchdowns. It also returns four of the five starting offensive linemen from the bowl game. I’m not sneezing at the loss of another top receiver, Jaquarii Roberson, who’s now with the Dallas Cowboys, or the fact that the running game was kind of suspect last season, but this sounds like an offense that is going to score a ton of points.

Defense

This was the unit that held Wake back in 2021; granted, it’s certainly weird to say a unit was holding an 11-win team back, but Wake allowed an average of 28.9 ppg last season and gave up 40 or more points on five occasions (granted, they actually won two of those games thanks to the offense.) It’s also a unit that suffered heavy losses, including the team’s leading tackler (Luke Masterson.) Wake does return its biggest source of havoc on the defensive line in 6’4”, 258-pound junior Rondell Bothroyd, who had 16.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks last season, but it’s a unit with a bunch of holes to fill.

Outlook

The stupidity of scheduling nonconference games years in advance is evident when you wind up with Wake Forest coming to town in the third week of the season. I’m sure that if you looked at the relative state of these programs at just about any point in the 2010s, this didn’t seem like a bad idea for Vanderbilt: a similarly-situated ACC program that satisfies the “thou must schedule one Power 5 team out of conference” requirement coming up from Birmingham without also handing the team a certain loss, thus hamstringing its annual trek to six wins. But the actual reality of playing this game in 2022 is a bad one. Wake Forest has an offense that will score a ton of points and Vanderbilt’s offense, well, let’s just say that Vanderbilt last dropped 40 points on an opponent in 2018, and that was a 2-10 Arkansas team, not a team coming off an 11-win season. I can talk myself into Vanderbilt having a shot at winning three of its nonconference games (hell, I think they’re favored in two of them), but I can’t do it with this one. Sorry.