Deacons make short work of rusty ODU

Wake Forest got big performances from its best players on the way to a convincing 42-10 win its 2021 season opener

Wake Forest's Ja'Sir Taylor returns a kickoff return for a touchdown during the Demon Deacons' 42-10 win Friday over Old Dominion. (Walt Unks / The Winston-Salem Journal via AP)

WINSTON-SALEM — Wake Forest didn’t look sharp in its season opening football game Thursday. But then, it didn’t have to.

Facing an Old Dominion team that opted out of the 2020 season in response to the coronavirus pandemic and hadn’t played in 641 days, the Deacons had little trouble rolling to a 42-10 victory at Truist Field.

Sam Hartman threw for three touchdowns, Christian Beal-Smith ran for two more and Ja’Sir Taylor returned a kickoff 99 yards for another score to lead the way on a night in which coach Dave Clawson’s veteran team left plenty of rough edges to smooth out before beginning ACC play against Florida State in two weeks.

“A game like this, we could maybe not play our best and still find a way to win it. When you open up with Clemson like we did a year ago, all of your flaws get exposed right away,” Clawson said. “I’m sure there’s things we don’t do well that maybe didn’t get exposed tonight.

“It’s one of those things where whatever the schedule is, we’ll play it and we’ll make the best of it. But it’s certainly nice to be 1-0, nice to play a lot of players, see a lot of smiling faces in the locker room, and we’ll get to work on the next one.”

It didn’t take the Deacons long to establish their dominance against the rusty and outmanned Monarchs. 

And it was their best players that did most of the damage.

Beal-Smith, the team’s leading rusher last season, got things started on Wake’s second possession by outrunning the defense to the edge, turning the corner and sprinting untouched down the near sideline for a 47-yard score.

Then, following a 38-yard field goal by ODU’s Nick Rice, Taylor made his first career kickoff return a memorable one taking it back 99 yards to the end zone, breaking several tackles along the way.

Taylor nearly had another touchdown later in the half when he was tripped up inside the 10 after returning an interception 47 yards.

Then it was Hartman’s turn to take over. He first hit A.T. Perry in stride down the middle of the field for a 36-yard touchdown, then threw a two-yard fade that All-ACC receiver Jaquarii Roberson outjumped a Monarchs defender to grab to increase the Deacons’ lead to 28-3 by halftime.

From that point on, it was just a matter of whether or not Wake would cover the 31½-point spread. It did, thanks to Beal-Smith’s second touchdown midway through the third quarter and a short pass from Hartman to Ke’Shawn Williams early in the fourth.

Hartman finished the game with 184 yards on 18-of-27 passing. Beal-Smith accounted for 74 yards on 11 carries, while Roberson caught six passes for 42 yards as part of an offense that outgained ODU 348-272.

“For the first game, I think it’s what you could wish for,” Hartman said. “There were no turnovers. There were some missed throws here and there, but overall I’m happy with everyone’s performance. It’s a good sign, because we had some good plays but there’s room to improve.”

Among the most glaring areas for improvement heading into next week’s tuneup against FCS opponent Norfolk State was their short-yardage offense.

First, freshman running back Justice Ellison was stopped for a 2-yard loss from a direct snap on a fourth-and-2 play from the ODU 42. Then, just as it appeared as though Wake would add another touchdown just before halftime, Beal-Smith was denied twice from inside the 1 — the second time also off a direct snap.

The Deacons also lost a fumble, gave up a pair of sacks among the seven times they were tackled behind the line for losses, and Ivan Mora sent a kickoff out of bounds.

ODU finally got into the end zone with 2:27 remaining on a 9-yard pass from backup quarterback Hayden Wolff to tight end Isaiah Spencer that completed an eight-play, 55-yard drive against Wake’s reserves. 

“The biggest improvement during camp is between week one and week two, and then during the season it’s from week one to week two as well,” linebacker Luke Masterson said. “We’ve just got to be critical of our performance, take the stuff we messed up and improve it next week.”