I grew up a massive Florida State fan, and I was spoiled throughout my entire childhood with great quarterback play, with Christian Ponder, EJ Manuel, Jameis Winston, Everett Golson and Deondre Francois consistently leading the Noles to successful seasons. When I was accepted to WFU last October, I had to abruptly make a mid-season allegiance switch to an ACC rival. I never thought of the Deacs as a great football program, so I had low expectations. However, led by senior quarterback John Wolford, Wake Forest fielded a strong 2017 team and ended up ironically having an even better season than FSU.
With the loss of Wolford to graduation and the three-game suspension of presumed successor Kendall Hinton, the critical quarterback role was a bit of a grey area heading into this season.
However, true freshman Sam Hartman asked to step in for Hinton, had a great game in New Orleans, passing for 371 yards and 2 touchdowns. Besides two interceptions, including a particularly regrettable one in the fourth quarter (give him a break, it was his first college game), Hartman consistently made good decisions and put the football where only his receivers could get their hands on it. He looked confident and tough, two traits you do not expect in a college debut. Hartman also showed much more mobility than I anticipated, leading the team with 64 yards on the ground. Hinton may have a battle for the starting role when his suspension ends. Perhaps I am overreacting to one game, but it seems like Hartman has a chance to become one of the best quarterbacks in the conference.
The receiving corps was the real star for the Deacs in the game, and this fleet-footed unit seems likely to only get stronger in the coming games.
Redshirt sophomore Greg Dortch, who was one of the best receivers in the 8 games he played before sustaining a serious injury last year, had a huge impact, especially in the second half. It seemed like whenever the Deacs needed a big play, Hartman would look for Dortch, a preseason All-ACC pick, who finished the game with 12 receptions for 149 yards. The elusive Dortch was vital in the special teams as well with a couple big punt returns that set up scoring drives. As impressive as those statistics are, I felt that there were many more opportunities for Dortch, and his numbers could have been much bigger. I believe by the end of the year that Dortch, who is listed at only 5 foot 9, 165 pounds, will be first team All-ACC and will be nationally recognized as one of the most electric and productive players in the country.
Senior receiver Alex Bachman continued to step up in the big moments, as he did all of last year, with 5 catches for 62 yards and 2 touchdowns. However, the big surprise was redshirt freshman Sage Surratt, who, in his first college game, finished with an eye-popping 11 catches for 150 yards, and had some sequences where he just looked like the most dominant player on the field. The receiving corps looks to become even better in the near future, as Scotty Washington, the star of the Belk Bowl last year, is coming back from injury soon. There are even rumors on campus that Hinton might be considering a move to receiver, where he can better use his impressive athleticism.
I honestly think the Deacs might have the best overall receiving unit in college football.
The offensive line looked very good against an intimidating Tulane front, keeping Hartman more or less pressure-free throughout the entire game. The experience of this line, which returns all five starters from last year's team, is really showing, and will definitely help the team against some very tough defenses coming up in Clemson and Notre Dame. The running back duo of Cade Carney and Matt Colburn consistently extended drives for the Deacs and combined for 102 yards. Carney clinched the game on a very tough run through multiple Tulane defenders to barely get into the end zone in overtime, a score that sent the south side of the campus into a frenzy.
Overall, the defense was solid. Except for 2 long touchdowns to Tulane receiver Terren Encalade, the Deacs did a good job of slowing down dangerous dual-threat quarterback Jonathan Banks. I was concerned that Banks might have a big game, but Tulane could not get any deep drives going. Senior defensive end Chris Calhoun really stood out with 12 tackles, making his presence felt throughout the game. Senior starting safety Chuck Wade had a very impressive debut on defense after switching from the receiver; it did not look like he hadn't played defense in college.
Overall, the Deacs did what they had to do, and came away with a sweet win. It was an amazing experience to roll the quad for the first time. Go Deacs!! Can't wait for the home opener on Saturday!
PS: We want Bama!!