Tables turned as unbeaten Wake hosts winless FSU

Demon Deacons striving to contend in ACC's Atlantic

Wake Forest freshman wide receiver Greg Dortch has scored in each of the Demon Deacons’ four games this season, totaling five touchdown receptions. (Jeremy Brevard / USA TODAY Sports)

These are strange times in which we live.

And no, we’re not talking about presidential Tweets, national anthem debates or any of the other political footballs being thrown around the nation these days. The most outward sign of a world turned upside down, at least in the context of actual football, can be summed up in one simple sentence.

Undefeated Wake Forest will take on a Florida State team still looking for its first win of the season Saturday at BB&T Stadium.

It’s a reality the oddsmakers in Las Vegas still don’t quite believe, having established the Seminoles as a double-digit favorite.

Florida State at Wake Forest
BB&T Field, Winston-Salem  |  Saturday, 3 p.m.  |  ABC/ESPN2

That’s understandable considering that FSU’s two losses are to national championship favorite Alabama and NC State in a game that followed a two-week weather-related layoff while the Deacons’ best win came on the road against lightly regarded Boston College.

Schedules notwithstanding, coach Dave Clawson’s improving team has made significant strides as it looks to build off last year’s modest success. But for Wake to be taken seriously in the tough Atlantic Division, it will first have to prove its worthy against one of the ACC’s traditional heavyweights — especially after barely surviving against Appalachian State last Saturday.

“The tough game against App definitely gave us a mental check,” said wide receiver Scotty Washington, whose blocked field goal on the final play of the game saved the Deacons from a potential heartbreaking loss to an in-state rival.

“Going into Florida State we’ve got to believe we can win. In the past, sometimes we question if we can win, if we can really beat this team. This year we feel as if we can.”

Wake (4-0, 1-0 ACC) has played the Seminoles tough in the past. A year ago in Tallahassee, it made FSU sweat before finally dropping a 17-6 decision.

This year’s Deacons have reason for optimism, thanks to an improved offense that still ranks among the ACC’s leaders at 37.8 points per game despite taking a step back in Boone last week. They’ll also be facing an FSU team that has scored just 28 points combined in its two games and is still in the process of breaking in a true freshman quarterback.

James Blackman improved as the game went on in his first career start against the Wolfpack on Saturday. But as defensive end Duke Ejiofor noted, the youngster still has a lot to learn and is susceptible to rookie mistakes — especially when he’s put under duress.

“This is his second start and they’ve only played two games so far,” the redshirt senior said of Blackman. “He doesn’t have that much experience so we have to do a good job of getting after him and making him uncomfortable.”

Despite that confidence, Clawson knows his team won’t have it easy against a talented opponent made all the more dangerous by its first 0-2 start since 1989.

“To paraphrase Mark Twain, ‘reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated,’” Clawson said. “This is still one of the best teams and programs in the country.”

And the wounded Seminoles (0-2) are determined to prove it.

Emphatically, if possible.

“We’re trying to win,” offensive lineman Cole Minshew said Monday. “We’re trying to win by a lot if we can because we need to make that statement in order to show everyone we’re not just some scrub team.”

Saturday’s game in Winston-Salem will be the first in a difficult five-game stretch that will determine exactly how good the Deacons are this season. After playing Florida State, their schedule has them at defending national champion Clemson, at Georgia Tech, home against Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson at Louisville, then at Notre Dame.

“We’re better, but if you’re going to play in the ACC Atlantic, those teams are ahead of us and to get where we want to get, you have to beat them. And we haven’t done it yet,” Clawson said of FSU, Clemson and Louisville. “Anytime we play these games, they’re great opportunities for us to truly show we’ve moved the program forward. But these are good teams. They’ve got good players, they’re well coached. These wins are never going to come easy. … From here on out there’s no easy sledding.”