NC State football 2021 schedule countdown: No. 6, Wake Forest
Introducing a 12-part series in which we rank NC State’s 2021 strength of schedule from the easiest opponent (No. 12) to the most challenging (No. 1).
Checking in at No. 6 is Wake Forest, the Wolfpack’s 10th opponent this fall.
The Pack is scheduled to face the Demon Deacons in Winston-Salem on Saturday, Nov. 13 at a time to be announced.
Head Coach: Dave Clawson (8th season) — 40-45 (.471)
2020 Record: 4-5
Clemson — L, 37-13
at NC State — L, 45-42
Campbell — W, 66-14
Virginia — W, 40-23
Virginia Tech — W, 23-16
at Syracuse — W, 38-14
at North Carolina — L, 59-53
at Louisville — L, 45-21
Duke's Mayo Bowl
Wisconsin — L, 42-28
2017 — 74th
2018 — 61st
2019 — 56th
2020 — 61st
2021 — 66th
2020 Season Review
All and all, Wake Forest met its expectations 2020. The Demon Deacons were picked to finish 10th in the preseason ACC Media poll, and that exactly what they did, finishing in 10th place of the final conference standings with a 3-4 record in league play.
Wake's end-of-season overall record of 4-5 doesn't exactly tell the story of how solid this team was last fall. The Deacs claimed quality wins over Virginia and Virginia Tech. They also lost close calls in one-possession games against NC State and UNC. Flip those results, and you're looking at a team that would have gone 5-2 against the ACC.
The Demon Deacons had a second-half lead in the Duke's Mayo Bowl, only to allow 28 unanswered points, which was mostly caused by four costly interceptions by Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman, who threw three of them in the second half.
NC State opened its 2020 season with Wake Forest in what turned out to be a down-to-the-wire contest. The Wolfpack's win gave it the necessary confidence to rattle off an 8-4 season, which included a program-record seven ACC wins. Had that game gone the Demon Deacons' way, who knows how last year could have gone for head coach Dave Clawson's team.
Did You Know?
•NC State is 67-41-6 all-time against Wake Forest. The Wolfpack won the last meeting with a 45-42 victory in its season opener in Carter-Finley Stadium last fall.
•NC State head coach Dave Doeren is 4-4 against the Demon Deacons during his eight seasons in Raleigh. The Pack lost to Wake in Doeren's first season in 2013 but went on to win three straight from 2014-2016. The Deacs returned the favor by winning three straight from 2017-2019, playing spoiler to two nine-win NC State teams in 2017 and 2018. Doeren was able to even the record against the Tobacco Road rivals with a much-needed win to begin last year's campaign.
•NC State-Wake Forest is now tied for the longest continuous rivalry in college football along with Oklahoma-Oklahoma State. The Wolfpack-Demon Deacons rivalry was already the longest-running in the ACC, but last year's cancellations of the annual Wisconsin-Minnesota game and the Clemson-South Carolina game catapulted the respective North Carolina and Oklahoma in-state rivalries to the top. NC State had played Wake Forest in every season since 1910, and the first meeting dates back to 1895.
Last season was Wake Forest's first with a losing record under Clawson since 2015, his second year with the program.
With all of the returning talent coming back, particularly on offense, the Demon Deacons will be expected to get back to a winning record in 2021.
Wake Forest ranks 18th among FBS teams in terms of overall returning production this season according to ESPN's Bill Connelly's SP+ metric. The Deacs rank 8th in returning offensive production and 54th in returning production on defense.
Last year's starting quarterback, Hartman, will be back. He completed 58.2 percent of his passes for 2,224 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions last season. Four of his five interceptions came in the Deacons' bowl game, and the other was thrown in the regular-season finale. Prior to that point, Hartman had thrown eight touchdowns with no interceptions. He also ran in two touchdowns.
Wake also returns its leading rusher from last year, redshirt junior running back Christian Beal-Smith. The 5-10, 201-pounder ran for 732 yards (5.2 yards per rush) and five touchdowns. He also caught five balls for 42 yards.
The Demon Deacons' most explosive offensive weapon, however, will be redshirt junior receiver Jaquarii Roberson. In just nine contests, he reeled in 62 receptions for 926 yards and eight touchdowns. Averaging 102.9 receiving yards per game, he led the ACC and was the only player in the conference to average more than 100 receiving yards per contest last fall.
Wake Forest will lose last year's sacks leader, defensive end Carlos "Boogie" Basham, who was drafted by the Buffalo Bills with the No. 61 overall pick in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. The Deacs also lose last year's tackling leader, linebacker Jacquez Williams.
Freshman defensive back Nick Andersen will be Wake's top returning tackler in 2021. He produced 63 tackles, one for loss, four interceptions, five pass breakups and one fumble recovery last fall.
Why No. 6 In The Countdown?
Doeren arrived at NC State in 2013, and Clawson took the job at Wake one season later. The Wolfpack had the Deacs' number in Clawson's first three years on the job, but the rivalry has been very competitive ever since.
In the past four meetings, three have come down to one-possession games.
Both of these squads will have competitive offenses with plenty of returning production, but NC State should have the edge on defense.
Considering at least one of these teams has scored 30 or more points in six of the last seven meeting, a shootout should be expected. Ultimately, however, the Wolfpack should have enough talent on defense to get the stops it needs to extend the winning streak in the rivalry to two.
There's only one disclaimer to this game, as most Wolfpack fans already know. In recent memory, NC State has struggled in Winston-Salem, regardless of who is favored and by how much entering the contest. In the past nine meetings between the two schools in Winston-Salem, Wake Forest has won eight.