Deacons seeking 4th consecutive bowl appearance

From 2009 to 2015, Wake Forest’s football program struggled to find its footing as the Demon Deacons finished with a losing record in each of those years.

Under the tutelage of head coach Dave Clawson, the Demon Deacons have enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence at of late. Wake Forest has won at least seven games over the previous three years and has capped each of those seasons off with a bowl victory.

Indeed, expectations have increased in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. The Demon Deacons would break their school record with a fourth straight bowl appearance this season.

“Going to a bowl and winning a bowl game is the expectation,” WF running back Cade Carney said during his team’s weekly press conference. “We expect to do that, not taking it for granted that we are going to get there. We expect to take that next step as far as tradition goes for the season. ... I just want to win. I want to win 10 games and I want to be playing for an ACC Championship. I just want to be playing in December and January.”

Carney is one of six returning starters from a Wake Forest offense that ranked second in school history in scoring offense (32.8 points per game) and total offense (449.8 yards an outing). The Demon Deacons will look to build on last year’s offensive success, starting with their home and season opener against Utah State on Friday night at 6 o’clock.

The powerful 5-foot-11, 215-pound senior tailback will be a focal part of a Wake Forest offense that averaged 213.7 ypg on the ground during the 2018 campaign. Carney became the Demon Deacons’ first 1,000-yard rusher since 2005 when he amassed 1,005 yards and scored eight touchdowns on 188 carries a year ago.

“They have a quality back coming back,” USU head coach Gary Andersen said during Monday’s press conference. “The offensive line wants to be physical and get up in your face. They play football the right way and they’re a tough-minded football team. They’re tough, physical and want to play every snap, whether it’s going their way or not.”

Wake Forest’s offensive line is pretty big — three of the starters are 6-5 or 6-7 — and experienced, led by two returning starters in seniors Nathan Gilliam (right guard) and Jake Benzinger (right tackle). Graduate student Justin Herron, the starting left tackle, missed essentially all of last season with an injury, but leads the team with 38 career starts.

Wake Forest’s O-line will be tasked with protecting quarterback Jamie Newman, who came on strong at the end of last season as he led his squad to three wins in its final four contests. Now-sophomore Sam Hartman was the Demon Deacons’ starting signal caller for the first nine games last fall.

Newman, a 6-4, 230-pound redshirt junior, seized the job from Hartman and has been named the starter in 2019. Newman completed 59.6 percent of his passes last season for 1,083 yards and nine TDs, vs. four interceptions. No. 12 also rushed for 247 yards and four scores on 64 attempts.

“He’s a big guy,” USU defensive tackle Devon Anderson said of Newman. “He’s not scared of contact and I respect his size. I watched him help his team come back from when they were down a lot in the Memphis game last year. He had a lot of poise in that game as he brought his team back and they ended up winning the game, so I do have a lot of respect for him. He’s a big cat.”

Indeed, Newman was instrumental in Wake Forest rallying past Memphis for a 37-34 victory in last year’s Birmingham Bowl. USU’s head coach has recently watched film from that game.

“Memphis jumped offsides, (Wake) had a big pass play and the next play, the (Newman) kid gets hit five times and runs right through the tackles and scores a touchdown,” Andersen said. “He’s a competitor and, in that point of the game, it was a couple of touchdowns for Memphis and (Newman) got them right back in the game in two plays.”

Newman has some big targets at his disposal in the passing game as projected starters Scotty Washington and Sage Surratt are 6-5 and 6-3, respectively. Surratt finished second on the team in receptions a year ago with 41 for 581 yards and four TDs. Washington didn’t have a big 2018 campaign, but hauled in 45 catches for 711 yards and a trio of TDs in 2017.

The Demon Deacons also welcomed back starting tight end Jack Freudenthal, who snared five TDs catches as a junior. Freudenthal initially joined Wake Forest’s program as a walk-on.

Wake Forest returns five starters on the defensive side of the ball, including all-conference performers in cornerback Essany Bassey (second team) and linebacker Justin Strnad (honorable mention). The Demon Deacons did have their struggles defensively in ’18 as they allowed 33.3 ppg and 458.5 yards of total offense an outing.

Bassey only picked off three passes during his first three seasons in Winston-Salem, but broke up an impressive 31 passes as a sophomore and junior. No. 21 made 73 tackles a year ago, 53 of the solo variety, and has two career defensive touchdowns.

“He has good pre-snap awareness,” Andersen said of Bassey. “What I hear from our coaches on that side of the ball is he appears to be a student of the game. ... When he gets into a position to get into a 50-50 ball or a contested ball, he does a very nice job of getting his hands in position or making the hit that causes issues to keep the ball in control by the receivers. ... He’ll probably be playing football for a very long time.”

Wake Forest’s other starting corner is Amari Henderson who, like Bassey, has 28 career starts. The senior recorded 47 tackles and broke up 10 passes in ’18, and ranks seven in the program record books with 31 career PBUs. Bassey ranks fifth with 34.

Justin Strand, a redshirt senior, paced the Demon Deacons with 105 tackles last fall. No. 23 also broke up five passes and tallied 8.5 tackles for loss.

Carlos Basham Jr. started 12 games at defensive end last year, while rover Luke Masterson was in the starting lineup six times.

The 6-5, 275-pound Basham Jr. tied for first on the team with 11.0 TFL, ranked second in sacks (4.5) and was fourth in tackles (64). No. 9 also recovered a pair of fumbles and blocked a kick. Masterson chipped in with 52 tackles and one INT a year ago.

“Boogie (Basham) has had a great fall camp,” Strand said. “... He is a great hustle player and he can get after the quarterback as a great pass rusher, so we look forward to getting him after the quarterback this year.”

On special teams, Wake Forest welcomes back one of the premier kickers in the ACC in sophomore Nick Sciba. Sciba didn’t miss a PAT as a freshman and was successful on 19 of 22 field goal attempts. No. 4 has made 11 consecutive FGs.

Senior punter Dom Maggio ranks second on the team with 37 career starts. Maggio, who was a honorable mention all-league selection in ’17, has a solid career average of 42.6 yards.

jturner@hjnews.com Twitter: hjtrebek

Jason Turner is a sports reporter for The Herald Journal. He can be reached at jturner@hjnews.com or 435-792-7237.