Deuces: the #22 Deacs down the Keydets 44-10
Preview: VMI Keydets vs #22 Wake Forest University Demon Deacons
College football is back, and we are back in Winston-Salem, NC.
There's plenty of excitement with the start of the 2022 season as the #22 Wake Forest University Demon Deacons take on the VMI Keydets. However, there's a major question surrounding the Deacs as quarterback Sam Hartman remains out due to a non-football related injury. Coming off a season for the ages (4228 passing yards with 39 passing touchdowns and 11 rushing touchdowns), one of the team's captains and key leaders, as well as arguably one of the top returning players in the ACC and country does not have a scheduled return date.
This means all eyes are on Mitch Griffis as he takes the helm of an offense which averaged 41 points per game in 2021 on their way to an 11-3 record, the ACC Atlantic Division crown, and a win the Gator Bowl. Key returning skill position players include All-Conference and Biletnikoff Award (watch) AT Perry (71 receptions for 1293 yards and 15 touchdowns), running back and leading returning rusher Justice Ellison (541 rushing yards/5.1 yards per carry/7 touchdowns), and wideout Taylor Morin (43 receptions for 621 yards with 5 touchdowns) are among those ready to ignite one of the country's more explosive offensive units. On defense, leading returning tackler Ryan Smenda, Jr. (linebacker) is serving a one game suspension (for a targeting call in the Gator Bowl), so linebacker Chase Jones (47 tackles) and defensive back Caelen Carson (31 tackles and 2 interceptions) look to set a strong defensive tone, including improving on last year's rushing defense (allowing an average of 195.4 yards per game), including building upon a team strength of forcing turnovers (29 overall).
VMI is coming off a 6-5 season with a 2021 offensive performance putting up about 31 points per game (31.3). Quarterback Seth Morgan (2138 passing yards with 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions) leads an offense including top returning running back Rashad Raymond (481 yards/5.4 yards per carry) and top returning receiver Leroy Thomas (527 yards/9.6 yards per reception). The team defense looks to improve on last year's 33.2 points per game (allowed) as well as allowing 443.6 yards per game; leading returning tacklers Stone Snyder (11 tackles against FBS schools) and Christian Dunn (6 tackles against FBS schools) are prepared to do their part in slowing down the Deacons' offense.
Game recap: #22 Wake Forest (1-0, 0-0) defeats VMI 44-10 (0-1, 0-0)
While VMI would have the first possession of the game, it's Wake who takes control in the 1st quarter.
The Deacs' Matthew Dennis would give the team an early 3-0 lead with a 33-yard field goal (10:43 mark). After steady play by the defense, Christian Turner's electrifying 35-yard run would hit paydirt and give Wake a 10-0 lead (5:04 mark). At the 2:04 mark, a nifty 23-yard touchdown pass by Mitch Griffis Taylor Morin in the far corner of the end zone puts the team on top 17-0.
The Keydets would have a more competitive 2nd quarter as their defense limits the Deacs to a pair of field goals (31 and 33 yarders by Matthew Dennis). At the conclusion of the 1st half, Jerry Rice (no relationship to the Mississippi Valley State alum and NFL Hall of Famer) would convert a 42-yard field goal (as he missed a field goal attempt in the 1st quarter) to make it a 23-3 game.
Wake would start with the ball in the 2nd half, and after a sustained drive, Christian Turner's 1-yard plunge (his 2nd touchdown of the game) extends their lead to 30-3 (9:46 in the 3rd quarter). VMI responds with a switch at quarterback which pays immediate dividends. A solid drive led by Collin Ironside concludes with his 34-yard touchdown pass to Grant Swinehart to make it a 30-10 game (2:01 in the 3rd quarter).
However, Griffis would march the Deacs immediately downfield, closing out the scoring drive with a strike to a wide-open Blake Whiteheart for a 27-yard touchdown reception, building the lead back up to 37-10 with 22 seconds left in the quarter. They would add another score at the 11:44 mark of the 4th quarter, as Griffis' 14-yard touchdown pass to Jahmal Banks makes it a 44-10 game and close out the scoring for the game.
While the time of possession matchup is fairly even (31:47 for Wake compared to 28:13 for VMI), Wake's offense generates more than twice as many total yards as VMI's (506 to 222). The Deacs' run game (212 yards/5.2 yards per carry) and passing game (294 passing yards) clearly outperforms the Keydets' (83 rushing yards/2.6 yards per carry along with 139 passing yards). One area of concern raised by Wake head coach Dave Clawson is the number of penalties (7 for 70 yards), including multiple holding penalties (and another which cost the team a potential pick-6); in fielding our question on the run defense (which allows 2.6 yards per carry), he notes they committed an extra defensive player in the box and in general, limit big plays (including plays over the top). Quarterback Mitch Griffis fields our question about how his execution in the short and intermediate game helped him get into a rhythm. He credits the offensive line and backs (who allow 1 sack) and receiver play, along with his focus on doing his job and simply executing (as he goes 21 for 29 for 288 passing yards, with 3 touchdowns).
The Deacs are paced by Christian Turner (13 carries for 100 yards and 2 rushing touchdowns) and Justice Ellison (13 carries for 80 yards). In the passing game, receivers Taylor Morin (5 receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown), Donavon Greene (5 receptions for 63 yards), and Blake Whiteheart (2 receptions for 50 yards and a touchdown) are key contributors.
VMI's Rashad Raymond is limited to 8 carries for 38 rushing yards, and Grant Swinehart (2 receptions for 42 yards and a touchdown) is the main threat in the passing game. Collin Ironside (6 for 9 with 60 yards and a touchdown) provides the team with a spark as Seth Morgan is limited to 79 passing yards (completing 13 of 27 attempts).
Wake travels to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt (1-0, 0-0) on September 10th at 12pm CST. VMI has their home opener on September 10th at 1:30pm EST against Bucknell.
Notes: All video and photos are recorded by Andrew Snorton.
Video: The first video captures Wake Forest entering Truist Field at Wake Forest. The second video captures pre-game as the Class of 2026 as well as the 2022 edition of the Demon Deacons make their way to the field. The third video is a snapshot of some of the 1st half action between the Keydets and the Deacs, as Wake Forest would have a 23-3 lead at halftime.
Photos: The first set of photos showcase Wake Forest making the "Deacon Walk" as they greet the fans before getting ready for pre-game.
The first row (all rows going left to right) include snapshots of the Class of 2026 entering the field and the Deacon driving his trademark motorcycle to "rev up" the fans. The second row shows the Deacs entering the field, Mitch Griffis directing the offense, and Sam Hartman on the sidelines (with his return date TBD). The third row shows VMI quarterback Seth Morgan leading the offense, Wake players celebrating Christian Turner's first rushing touchdown of the game (and season), and Donavon Greene (returning to the field after a season ending injury in 2021) making his presence felt. The fourth/bottom row consists of Wake's Jahmal Banks getting ready to run the next play, Ke'Shawn Williams lining up at the line of scrimmage, and A.T. Perry getting ready for the next play.