THE MATCHUP: PITT (6-4) VS WAKE FOREST (5-5)
WHEN: 12:00 P.M. EST
WHERE: BB&T FIELD, WINSTON-SALEM, NC
HOW TO WATCH: AT&T SPORTSNET
HOW TO LISTEN: 93.7 THE FAN & THE PITT IMG SPORTS NETWORK
On Saturday, the first ever gridiron showdown between Pitt and the Wake Forest Demon Deacons will take place in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and what a game it could be for the Panthers.
A win over Wake Forest would secure Pitt’s first-ever Coastal division championship, a feat which seemed unlikely prior to their recent three-game winning streak. Although the Panthers can still earn the division title with a win in the season finale or by having other divisional foes like UVA suffer defeat, they can avoid a must-win scenario against Miami by defeating the Demon Deacons.
Wake Forest, in its fifth season under Dave Clawson, is one win away from bowl eligibility. In a year plagued by season-ending injuries, they hold wins over Rice, Louisville and NC State, and have fallen to the likes of Boston College, Notre Dame, Florida State and Syracuse. They will enter Saturday with both momentum and rest after last Thursday’s win at top-25 opponent NC State.
Wake Forest implements an up-tempo, spread offense centered on the run-pass option. In fact, Pat Narduzzi asserted that there will be an “RPO every down, first down to third down” earlier this week. The Demon Deacons rank 31st nationally in total yards-per-game (451.6) and 44th in points-per-game (31.8). Averaging 215.8 yards-per-game on the ground (t-28th), the “R” in RPO has been the more effective half of the option.
True-freshman quarterback Sam Hartman commandeered the Demon Deacon’s offense for the first nine games of 2018 before sustaining a season-ending leg injury against Syracuse. In Hartman’s place, redshirt-sophomore Jamie Newman will make his second start after leading Wake to a win over NC State last week. Against the Wolfpack, the 6-foot-4-inch, 230-pound dual-threat quarterback completed 22-of-33 passes for 297 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. On the ground, he rushed for 44 yards on 13 carries, with a long of 27. He may not have won the positional battle before the season, but if his lone start is an indicator of what Newman can do on the football field, Wake Forest will be just fine with him at quarterback.
Wake’s top receiver and overall playmaker is the 5-foot-9-inch, 170-pound Greg Dortch. Lining up in the slot, Dortch is the type of undersized and explosive receiver that thrives in a modern-day spread offense. The redshirt-sophomore ranks 6th nationally in receptions-per-game (7.5) and 20th in receiving yards (921). He also has a pair of punt returns for touchdowns and averages 20.8 yards-per-return on kickoffs. When Dortch – a 2017 second-team All-ACC all-purpose player – is on the field, opposing fans should hold their breaths.
Redshirt-freshman Sage Surratt, coming off of a 109-yard receiving performance against NC State, is Wake’s second-leading receiver with 33 receptions for 478 yards and 2 touchdowns. And tight end Jack Freudenthal, with 4 touchdown receptions, is a player outside of the wide receivers that poses a threat through the air.
Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall may form the top running back duo in the ACC, but the Demon Deacons’ Matt Colburn II and Cade Carney are impressive, too. Although Colburn II has slightly more carries and yards, they contribute rather evenly and have amassed 1,367 yards and 11 touchdowns on 274 carries.
Up front, the offensive line is led by a pair of redshirt-seniors: center Ryan Anderson, a second-team All-ACC honoree in 2017; and left guard Phil Haynes, a third-team All-ACC honoree last year. As a unit, they are allowing a subpar 2.8 sacks-per-game (t-105th in FBS) in pass protection, but they are paving the way for the aforementioned top-30 rushing attack.
Everyone, including Wake Forest, knows that Pitt intends to run the ball on Saturday. The question is: can the Demon Deacons do anything about it?
Considering that Wake ranks 103rd nationally in run defense, it seems unlikely that they will be the team to end Pitt’s impressive slew of rushing performances. However, the Demon Deacons did shut down NC State’s running game last week, conceding just 47 yards on the ground, so it remains a possibility.
If for some reason the run game is to stall for Pitt, the Demon Deacons can be beaten in other ways, though; Wake ranks 123rd in the FBS in pass defense, allowing 282.7 yards-per-game through the air. Teams also find the endzone frequently against them, and their 35.8 points allowed-per-game is tied for 110th.
With the Demon Deacon’s below-average run defense and a pass rush that is tied for 86th national in sacks-per-game (1.8), the defensive line isn’t getting the job done this year. Carlos Basham, Jr., at defensive end, leads the team in sacks with 3, and has also contributed 7 tackles-for-loss. In the middle, Willie Yarbary is undersized for a defensive tackle (6-feet-1-inches, 285 pounds), but he holds 7 tackles-for-loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery.
Redshirt-junior Justin Strnad leads the linebackers from the middle, registering 78 tackles (team-lead), 7.5 tackles-for-loss (team-lead), 1.5 sacks and 1 forced fumble. He is joined by Buck linebacker Luke Masterson and Rover linebacker Demetrius Kemp.
The Demon Deacons have only four interceptions on the season (t-116th), and their secondary owns just two of them. Free safety Cameron Glenn has put forth some strong performances in 2018, though, and his 76 tackles, 5 tackles-for-loss, 1 sack and 1 forced fumble reflect it. Meanwhile, junior cornerback Essang Bassey is third on the team in tackles (66), which typically is not a good sign. However, Bassey’s 1 interception and impressive 12 passes-broken-up show that he provides impactful coverage.
|Points Per Game||29.9||29.6||31.8||35.8|
|Yards Gained Rushing||2815||2013||2436||2268|
|Yards Lost Rushing||246||293||278||232|
|Average Yards Per Rush||6.5||4.4||4.4||5.2|
|Average Yards Per Game||256.9||172.0||215.8||203.6|
|Average Yards Per Game||139.4||244.9||235.8||282.7|
|Average Yards Per Play||6.5||5.9||5.4||6.2|
|Average Yards Per Game||396.3||416.9||451.6||486.3|
|KICK RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||20-525||24-492||22-441||30-712|
|PUNT RETURNS – RETURN YARDS||13-119||18-130||28-333||18-197|
|INTERCEPTION – RETURN YARDS||7-123||5-67||4-111||10-15|
|KICK RETURN AVERAGE||26.3||20.5||20.0||23.7|
|PUNT RETURN AVERAGE||9.2||7.2||11.9||10.9|
|INTERCEPTION RETURN AVERAGE||17.6||13.4||27.8||1.5|
|FUMBLES – FUMBLES LOST||13-7||19-7||8-6||9-7|
|PENALTIES – YARDS||67-671||54-440||43-453||59-524|
|Average Per Game||67.1||44.0||45.3||52.4|
|PUNTS – YARDS||42-1672||38-1607||61-2502||63-2509|
|NET YARDS PER PUNT||35.8||37.6||36.8||33.0|
|TIME OF POSSESSION PER GAME||31:15||28:45||27:59||32:01|
|4th Down Percentage||50%||52%||55%||50%|
|SACKS BY – YARDS||25-181||20-148||18-102||27-156|
|Colburn II, Matt||145||698||4.8||5||74|
|Wade, Jr., Chuck||24||50||2.0||0||0||1||0.0|
|Basham, Jr., Carlos||25||46||7.0||0||2||0||3.0|
Pitt enters Saturday as 7-point favorites to win the first meeting between the two teams. The game kicks off at noon on AT&T SportsNet, and radio listeners can tune in to 93.7 the Fan. As always, Pittsburgh Sports Now and its staff will provide in-game updates and observations via Twitter.