Deacons anxious to find out how good they really are

After opening the season against overmatched Presbyterian, Wake Forest will get its first real test when it travels to BC on Saturday

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons celebrate after the college football game against the Presbyterian Blue Hose at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, NC, Thursday, August 31, 2017. The Wake Forest Demon Deacons defeated the Presbyterian Blue Hose 51 - 7. (Eamon Queeney / North State Journal)

Wake Forest’s first real football game came last Thursday against Presbyterian. Its first real test will come Saturday at Boston College.

That’s when coach Dave Clawson will get a better idea of whether his Deacons were as good as they looked in their 51-7 rout of the Blue Hose or if the opposition in the season opener was simply that overmatched.

“There is still a lot to learn,” Clawson said earlier this week. “(Presbyterian) was a game that we had a lot of personnel advantages. This is a week that the personnel on both teams is going to be similar.

“Every time we’ve played against BC, it’s come down to the last possession all three of my years here. So these have been close, hard-fought games. BC plays with a physicality on both sides of the line of scrimmage that we have not faced yet this year. So it will be a chance for us to see how physical we can play and how we match up against two very good lines.”

As dominant as Wake was in its record-setting effort on Thursday, the victory was tempered by the fact that it came against an FCS opponent that won only two games last season and was playing for the first time under a new coach.

In BC, the Deacons will face a conference opponent that’s almost a mirror image of themselves.

Both teams enjoyed modest success in 2016 and are looking to parlay the momentum from bowl victories into a rise up the ACC Atlantic Division standings this year. Both also gave hints that they might not be as offensively challenged as they’ve been in the past.

Wake used the passing of quarterbacks John Wolford and Kendall Hinton, and a breakout performance from redshirt freshman receiver Greg Dortch to ring up the most points in BB&T Field history against Presbyterian. A day later, BC unveiled a new up-tempo attack in which freshman Anthony Brown threw the ball 42 times — twice as many as last year’s average — while completing 26 for 191 yards and two touchdowns in a 23-21 road win at Northern Illinois.

Those are notable numbers for two teams that tied for last in the ACC in scoring a year ago and managed just a single field goal between them in a 3-0 Deacons’ win the last time they met at Chestnut Hill two seasons ago.

“I think they’re very, very improved on offense,” Clawson said of the Eagles. “So this will be a very challenging game for us.”

Like Clawson, though, BC coach Steve Addazio isn’t quite sure what to expect from his young team as it takes a step up in competition.

“I think we want to continue to improve all over the place,” Addazio said. “From week one, two, to three, those are big growth weeks. I think we were able to pull out of that game enough things that pointed out accurately where we needed to grow.”

Addazio is especially anxious to see how his young quarterback handles the challenge of facing the bigger, more physical defense Wake will throw at him Saturday. The same can be said for the Deacons’ young new star Dortch, who caught two touchdown passes and had a 96-yard kickoff return for a score called back because of a penalty in his first college game.

“Game One he had some success,” Clawson said. “He knows going against our defense in practice and certainly when you look at BC on film, the space isn’t going to be as wide. We’ve got to make sure that we take care of the ball and protect the football in tight spaces. But he is off to a good start.”

So are both teams. But only one of them will continue that way following a pivotal divisional matchup that has traditionally gone down to the wire.

“This is a ring game,” Wake running back Matt Colburn said. “Our goal is to win the ACC championship and in order to do that, this is a game we need to win. This will be a huge game for us.”