A redshirt sophomore from Graham, North Carolina, Newman entered the preseason in a battle for the starting job with true freshman Sam Hartman. The rookie played well enough in camp to win the job, but his path to starting grew a little wider when Newman became hampered by his injury.
By the time Newman got healthy, Hartman was the clear No. 1 starter, leading Wake to victories over Tulane, Towson, Rice and Louisville while throwing for 1,984 yards and 16 touchdowns. Newman did get to see some playing time late in blowout losses to Notre Dame and Florida State.
But Newman stayed prepared. And at the end of Wake’s loss to Syracuse on Nov. 3, Hartman suffered a leg injury on a play where he was hit high and low by two Orange defenders. The team announced the next day that his season was over. In the Demon Deacons’ first game without Hartman, against then-ranked No. 14 N.C. State, head coach Dave Clawson turned to Newman.
“I give Jamie a lot of credit for just hanging in there. I mean, he was competing to be our starting quarterback, and he got hurt in our last scrimmage of preseason camp and then wasn’t healthy for three weeks,” Clawson said. “And it was fortunate for us that when Sam got hurt, it was really the first time all season that Jamie had been healthy.”
In his first collegiate start, Newman threw for 297 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 44 yards, leading Wake to a 27-23 upset road victory of its in-state rival.
“He showed a lot of poise on Thursday. He didn’t turn the football over. He made plays with his feet and he played really well,” Clawson said. “But at that position in this conference, with the defenses we see, the challenge is to do it week after week after week with some consistency. And so, he did it last week. Now we’ve got to turn around and do it again against a team that’s really good.”
A home game against Pitt, which has won four of its last five games, will be Newman’s next test.
Prior to his first start against N.C. State, Newman seemed like a one-trick pony of sorts. Some wrote him off as purely a running quarterback. Before facing the Wolfpack, Newman was nine-of-19 as a collegiate passer, one who had never thrown a touchdown pass, but had tossed two interceptions.
But against N.C. State, he was nearly flawless, completing 22-of-33 passes and finishing with a quarterback rating of 172.3. And with 94 seconds remaining in the game, and his Demon Deacons trailing by three points, Newman marched Wake down the field for a game-winning drive that covered 80 yards in eight plays and lasted just a minute and nine seconds.
“Obviously, the two-minute drive was awesome,” Wake senior center Ryan Anderson said. “He made some unbelievable throws and decisions. Some of his best plays were in the two-minute drive, the touchdown obviously, but also when he threw the ball away. He made a really smart decision because we didn’t have any timeouts and we could not take a sack. That was awesome to see.”
Wake basically tries to run a two-minute drive on every possession. If Pitt head coach Pat Narduzzi has a worry this week, it’s preparing for the Demon Deacons’ hurry-up style. Wake’s offense ranks second in the nation in plays per-game with 87.7.
“We’re going to face the fastest team in the country, in my opinion,” Narduzzi said. “You watch them line up and they’re snapping the ball in (about) seven seconds. I don’t think I’ve seen anybody snap a ball in seven seconds. And that presents a challenge in itself. And besides the tempo, they execute. They scheme you very well. They’re going to spread you out and put you in space and have you make plays in space. And that’s going to be difficult.”
Narduzzi said that Wake’s quick-paced offense forces defenses to play “pretty basic” in that Pitt will have to have a unit on the field that can defend the run as well as the pass. The Panthers likely won’t have time to shuffle off a linebacker or defensive lineman on a third-and-long situation for an extra cornerback.
“They make you line up in four down and play base quarters defense,” Narduzzi said. “And you’re going to be stuck in that, period.”
Newman does give Wake’s offense one new wrinkle that Narduzzi and Pitt should be prepared for. When he opts to scramble, or holds on to the ball on a RPO, he isn’t going to go down so easily.
Hartman could run, but at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, he wasn’t shaking off any tackles. Newman on the other hand, is listed at 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds. And he might be a little bit bigger than that.
In Newman’s previous limited chances to play in college, he proved to be a quarterback who could run the ball effectively. He used his speed and bulking frame to run for 73 yards and a touchdown against No. 3 Notre Dame, which sports the 41st best rushing defense in college football.
Pitt has the 75th best rushing defense, allowing 172 yards per-game, and it has allowed some opposing quarterbacks to run free this season. Syracuse’s Eric Dungey ran for 70 yards and a score, UCF’s McKenzie Milton scampered for 51 yards and two touchdowns, and Virginia Tech’s Ryan Willis rushed for 65 yards against Pitt.
“Jamie’s a little bigger (than Hartman),” Clawson said. “He’s a good athlete. We run similar plays. How they develop with Jamie might be a little bit different than how they develop with Sam. I mean, every quarterback is a little bit unique with their skill set. Jamie, at his height and size, he has the ability at times to lower his shoulder and run people over.”
Pitt is facing a quarterback who has proven to be a tough runner, an accurate passer and someone who can perform in a high-pressure situation. Having only started once, there isn’t much tape out there on Newman.
Still, Narduzzi doesn’t think who’s under center will make that much of a difference. He’ll be preparing the Panthers to face the Wake offense as a whole, not just Newman.
“No, I don’t think Jamie gives them a different look. I think they have an identity offense. They’re going to spread you out. They’re going to do a great job at scheming you up. They’re going to tempo you so you don’t have time,” Narduzzi said. “(Clawson) does an unbelievable job building programs. He’s put Wake Forest, in my opinion, on the map. They’re very well-coached in all phases. They do some great stuff. It’s going to be a major challenge.”