Turnovers haunt Wake Forest in bowl loss

The Demon Deacons finished their season at 4-5 after a loss in Charlotte's Duke Mayo Bowl

Wake Forest wide receiver Jaquarii Roberson tumbles into the end zone for a touchdown as Wisconsin safety Scott Nelson, right, falls to the turf during the Duke's Mayo Bowl in Charlotte. (Jeff Siner / The News & Observer via AP)

CHARLOTTE — During the regular season, Wake Forest’s Sam Hartman was one of the most reliable quarterbacks in the nation, throwing just one interception.

On Wednesday in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl, he threw three in the fourth quarter and four after halftime, helping spur Wisconsin to a 42-28 win over the Demon Deacons.

Hartman threw interceptions on three straight drives, spanning the third and fourth quarters, then had another pass picked off later in the fourth quarter.

Wisconsin flirted with a pick-six all half long, as Hartman had to make the touchdown-saving tackle twice, and the Badgers returned interceptions inside the Wake 3-yard line as many times. The Hartman turnovers led to three Wisconsin touchdowns, breaking open a game that Wake Forest led 21-14 early in the second half.

Wisconsin set Charlotte bowl game records for interceptions on defense and rushing touchdowns, running in five scores on the day.

The loss dropped Wake to 4-5 on the season, the Demon Deacons’ first losing season since 2015, Dave Clawson’s second year as Wake Forest head coach.

Three thoughts

1. Wake Forest nearly doubled Wisconsin’s offensive output, gaining 518 yards to the Badgers’ 266. Wake seemed ready to blow Wisconsin out, jumping out to a quick 14-0 lead, but the Deacs weren’t able to make the lead stand up.

“I really thought we should’ve come out of the half up 21-7 or 21-14,” Clawson said. “We missed some throws, missed some open guys. Wisconsin is a steady program that doesn’t beat themselves.”

2. Clawson’s message to the team after the game — and season — was to reflect on everything the Deacs have been through.

“This is a group that stuck together for 183 days, six game cancellations, 61 COVID tests,” he said. “From a season overview, I’m really proud of them. We competed with one of the better football programs in the country. Our players are smart. They know why we lost. You can’t throw four interceptions, have a punt blocked and give up a long kick return.

“The game went from a competitive football game that we should’ve won to a noncompetitive one. I’m excited about the future of our program. We should be good in ’21, but ’21’s a long time from now. This one’s gonna sting.”

3. Wisconsin linebacker Jack Sanborn was voted game MVP. Sanborn led Wisconsin with 11 tackles, six solo stops and two tackles for loss. He also had an interception, returning it three yards and setting up a field goal attempt that was blocked.

Wake Forest linebacker Ryan Smenda led all players with 16 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss, and teammate Nick Anderson had seven solo stops.

Number to Know

4 in 12 — After throwing one interception in his first 261 passes of the year, Hartman threw four in a 12-pass sequence as Wake Forest’s offense melted down in the second half.

They Said It

“Football is a game where the team that makes fewer mistakes usually wins, and they made a lot less mistakes than we did. … What happened was a hard-fought, competitive game got out of hand because of miscues.”

— Demon Deacons coach Dave Clawson

Player of the Game

Jaquarii Roberson, Demon Deacons — The wide receiver led Wake Forest with eight catches for 131 yards and three touchdowns, all game highs. His yardage was the fourth-highest in Charlotte bowl history. Teammate Donavon Greene added six catches for 122 yards, and Taylor Morin had five catches for 91.

Critical thinking

The game matched a pair of teams that were much better than their records indicated. Wake and Wisconsin both entered with .500 records and decidedly losing margins against COVID. The two teams were plagued with postponements and cancellations all season long, which derailed what could have been special years for both.