In a start and stop and start again game – triggered by a 100-minute, field-emptying stall due to lightning and a serious downpour that turned 11 am into something that looked like 8 pm – Wake Forest ran over Vanderbilt today, 36-20.
After the prolonged stoppage of play as the skies cleared and the sun came out, Wake Forest (2-0) took advantage of three first-half Vandy turnovers – two interceptions and a fumble recovery on a punt play – to race ahead of Vanderbilt for a 24-14 halftime lead.
On the first Vandy possession – before the prolonged delay – defensive back Malik Mustapha picked off a slow-floating errant pass on Vandy’s first possession in the first quarter and returned it 50 yards setting up Wake’s field goal by Matthew Dennis.
In one of the game’s most pivotal moments, Brendon Harris, who transferred from Vanderbilt to Wake Forest, recovered a fumbled punt and dashed in for a TD from 40 yards late in the half.
And in the second quarter, Dashawn Jones also picked off a pass to stall a Vandy drive. These turnovers were a bit of a surprise given the Vandy quarterback, A.J. Swann, has a reputation for not throwing the ball to the other team. And the miscue hurt his squad today.
“The game came down to turnovers,” said Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson.
Mustapha said while the defense played well he thinks they’ve only “scratched the surface” of how well they could defend this season. He said the defense used a disguised strategy that led to the big interception.
Griffis solid at QB
Offensively, Mitch Griffis continued his accurate passing (17 for 26 and 196 yards), throwing for two touchdown passes. In the first half, he connected on probably his best throw of the season, a beauty to Jahmal Banks for an eight-yard TD pass as he fell on his back in the end zone. Ke’Shawn Williams (5 receptions for 92 yards) caught a 30-yard touchdown in the third quarter to put the game out of reach.
Young runners emerge
The Wake Forest running game was effective for the entire game led by Demond Claiborne (26 rushes for 165 yards) and Tate Carney (13 runs for 117 yards). Both ran as if they were vying for the starting position (which they are) and wanting more playing time – and that motivation produced consistent gains.
Claiborne, a sophomore, broke tackles and slashed constantly. And freshman Carney, seeing his first action as a Demon Deacon, bulled his way and showed he has a keen sense of how to run the football and grind out extra yards. His longest went for 73 yards in the third quarter after breaking a tackle near the line of scrimmage.
“That’s one of the best games we’ve had running the ball here in a long time,” said Clawson. “We knew we were going to have the run the ball based on how we were defended. And we made big catches and conversions on third downs.”
He said his team took a step forward above last week’s win against Elon.
This sophomore and freshman tandem are formidable and will be around for several years at Wake. As the clock ran down the final minutes, these two guys couldn’t be stopped from gaining good yardage chunks. And they’re supportive of each other.
“I love Tater,” said Claiborne about his teammate in the backfield. “He inspires me.”
The two stars in the backfield today filled in for the usual starter, Justice Ellison, who was out with an injury.
The offensive line, anchored by Luke Petitbone and DeVonte Gordon, blocked effectively all game long.
Still giving up explosive plays
As well as they played overall, throughout the game Wake Forest struggled to defend Vandy’s star wide receiver Will Sheppard (8 catches for 87 yards) — one of the nation’s best — who hauled in two second-quarter touchdown catches of 9 and 11 yards.
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