The Wake Forest football team missed out on an opportunity to make an early statement in the ACC’s Atlantic Division on Thursday by losing its conference opener to Boston College.
Saturday, the Deacons have another chance to make a positive impression — this time on the national stage — when Notre Dame makes its second-ever trip to BB&T Field.
“This is a top-10 team coming to Winston-Salem,” Wake coach Dave Clawson said of the eighth-ranked Irish. “It’s a nationally broadcast game. Notre Dame has talent. It’s a very skilled football team across the board. We have to rise up and meet the challenge.”
The Irish (3-0) would appear to be vulnerable after barely escaping an upset bid by Vanderbilt last week. It took a late fourth-down pass breakup deep in Notre Dame territory for coach Brian Kelly’s team to escape with a 22-17 victory.
Like Vanderbilt, Wake tried to rally late after falling behind BC in the second half. But the Deacons were unable to overcome a pair of stalled drives in the red zone and an inability to cover the Eagles’ receivers downfield in suffering a 41-34 loss.
Unheralded BC quarterback Anthony Brown threw five touchdown passes in the game, all covering 27 yards or more.
Though Clawson said he and his players are “excited to bounce back” and called playing Notre Dame at home “a good opportunity” for his program, Wake will need to shore up its defense — especially its pass defense — to have any shot at earning its first win against a top-10 opponent since a win against Tennessee in 1946.
“We just have to get in, watch film and practice like we play,” senior safety Cameron Glenn said in the aftermath of the BC loss. “We’ve got to get better. We’ve got to get it done by any means.”
To listen to Clawson at his regular weekly press conference Tuesday, that means some lineup changes may be imminent. According to the coach, the only one in the secondary whose job is safe heading into practice this week is cornerback Essang Bassey.
“If guys aren’t doing what we’re asking them to do, we’ve got to let other people compete for it, even if that means taking redshirts off and playing those guys,” Clawson said. “Because the way we’re playing on the back end right now is not OK. We’ve got to get it fixed. We’re giving up plays, playing really poorly back there.”
The defensive backfield isn’t the only area in which new faces might be used for the Deacons on Saturday.
Now that Kendall Hinton has served his three-game suspension for an offseason violation of team rules, the one-time starting quarterback is now eligible to return to the lineup. And Clawson definitively said the junior would see action against the Irish.
The only question is where.
Hinton is listed on Wake’s depth chart as the second-team quarterback behind freshman Sam Hartman, who looked like a freshman for the first time in his three starts Thursday against BC. But he spent considerable time during preseason camp working as a wide receiver and kick returner.
Clawson wasn’t ready to provide any hints as to what role Hinton will play now that he’s back as a member of the team in good standing. Chances are, it will be in multiple capacities.
“Kendall is such an athlete,” said Cade Carney, one of two Deacon running backs — along with Matt Colburn — to rush for better than 100 yards in the loss to BC. “He’s one of those guys that if you can find a way to get him on the field, you need to, because he’s so hard to tackle.”
Hinton’s versatility could be a major boost to an offense that rolled up 512 yards against BC, but went 5 of 22 on third down and came away with just a pair of field goals on three second-half drives inside the 10-yard line.
That inability to get into the end zone allowed the Eagles to pull away after the teams played to a 21-all draw after two periods.
“We moved the ball but didn’t score enough points,” Clawson said.
“Notre Dame has a great defense and they’re ranked No. 8 for a reason,” wide receiver Sage Surratt added. “We’re going to have to bring our ‘A’ game.”