The Wake Forest football team is coming off its biggest victory of the Dave Clawson era last Saturday. But as the Deacons head to Notre Dame for a game that has the potential to be even more significant to their emerging program, they’ll be without the player that made the biggest contribution to that win against Louisville.
Greg Dortch set a school record by catching four touchdown passes against the Cardinals while amassing 216 all-purpose yards in earning ACC Receiver and Rookie of the Week honors. But he also suffered an abdominal injury that required surgery and will force him to miss the rest of his redshirt freshman season.
So what will Wake do to compensate for the loss of its best, most explosive offensive threat?
About all it can do — plug the next man in and hope for the best.
In this case, that next man up is Tabari Hines.
“We are very fortunate. Tabari Hines is a really good football player,” Clawson said earlier this week. “He has made a lot of plays here.”
Hines, a 5-foot-10, 175-pound junior, actually beat out Dortch for the starting job out of preseason camp before suffering a minor injury that set him back.
He led the Deacons with 38 receptions for 447 yards and three touchdowns last season and is second on the team with 18 for 250 yards through eight games this year and he averaged 25.8 yards per catch in a win against Utah State.
While his numbers pale by comparison to the 53 catches for 722 yards and nine scores amassed by Dortch, his quarterback John Wolford said he has confidence in his new top receiver.
“Obviously Greg has done a great job and were all praying for him,” Wolford said. “I think he’s doing well right now and we feel for him. But in terms of football, it’s next man up and Tabari is a tremendous talent.
“He came into the year as the starter. The fact that he beat Greg out tells you how talented he is. Tabari has played a lot of football and he’ll be ready to go this Saturday. He’s champing at the bit so it works out for him.”
In addition to Hines, the Deacons also have other receiving options in sophomore Scotty Washington, senior Cam Serigne and junior Chucky Wade.
Washington averages 19.9 yards on his 17 catches, Serigne, Wake’s all-time leader in receptions for tight ends, has five touchdown grabs while Wade has made 13 catches.
“We will miss Greg. He was having a great year,” Clawson said. “We have depth now. I think we are better prepared to deal with this than we have ever been before. I wish we had him, but I think we are really fortunate to have a player of the caliber of Tabari Hines ready to fill in. Tabari played a bunch of snaps and had a great play against Georgia Tech.”
It is uncertain when during Saturday’s game Dortch suffered his injury. He received attention from team trainers in the second quarter, when he lunged to the pylon for his second touchdown of the day. But he returned shortly thereafter and scored two more times on his way to a 10-catch, 167-yard performance.
According to Deacons spokesman Steve Shutt, Dortch didn’t begin to show symptoms of an injury until about 30 minutes after the game.
“He’s a football player, so he’s crushed and disappointed, But the great thing is he’s only a redshirt freshman,” Clawson said of Dortch. “He has more years of football and it happens. It’s not like he did anything foolish or stupid. It was just one of those injuries that occurred playing football. Physically, he’s doing much better. Every indication is that it went as well as it could go and we have every reason to believe that we will have him back for the spring.”
Dortch isn’t the only Wake player that will miss Saturday’s game at Notre Dame. Running back Cade Carney and safety Jessie Bates III are also nursing injuries, though not the season-ending variety.
The Deacons (5-3) need one more win to earn bowl eligibility, but are 0-3 all-time against the Irish.