Running rampant: the Deacs deliver in the ground game and earn a 36-20 win over Vandy
Preview: Vanderbilt Commodores (2-0, 0-0) vs Wake Forest Demon Deacons (1-0, 0-0)
An early season matchup of teams from the SEC and ACC with an early morning start (September 9, 2023 at 11am EST).
The Vanderbilt Commodores (2-0, 0-0) come in with momentum based on the end of the 2022 season (with wins over Kentucky and Florida) along with their early season success. Quarterback AJ Swann (452 passing yards with 5 TD's/1 Int) leads an offense averaging an impressive 41.0 points per game. While the team's leading rusher only has 89 yards in 2 games (Freshman Sedrick Alexander), the team is averaging a solid 4.2 yards per carry to provide a challenge to Wake's defense allowing 3.6 yards per carry (in their only game of the season, a 37-17 win over Elon - click HERE for our recap). The receiver tandem of Jayden McGowan (12 receptions for 142 yards) and big-play threat Will Sheppard (12 receptions for 130 yards with 4 touchdowns) are hoping to test a Wake Forest secondary who produces 2 interceptions and allows 146 passing yards in their season opener. Defensively, linebacker/anchor CJ Taylor (15 total tackles with 1 sack) and linebacker Langston Patterson (15 total tackles) lead a defense which has recorded 5 sacks and 3 interceptions (2 by safety De'Rickey Wright) along with allowing 20.5 points per game.
Wake quarterback Mitch Griffis looks to challenge Vandy's defense (allowing 247 yards per game), as he's coming off a 300-plus yard passing performance (329 passing yards with 3 TD's and 1 Int). The ground game looks to get in gear as the Commodores are allowing 127 yards per game; Demond Claiborne (70 rushing yards, 5.4 yards per carry, and 1 touchdown) along with Justice Ellison (2.7 yards per carry on 10 carries) look to provide balance and presence while receiver Jahmal Banks (108 receiving yards, 18 yards per catch, and a touchdown) and tight end Cameron Hite (91 receiving yards, 22.8 yards per catch, and a touchdown) are prepared to give the Vandy secondary a clear and present challenge. On defense, Malik Mustapha (9 total tackles) and linebacker Jacob Roberts (7 total tackles) look to build on the team's showing (3 sacks and 2 interceptions).
Game highlights: Wake's ground game and timely forced turnovers lead to a 36-20 and improve to 2-0
On the opening drive (Wake wins the coin toss, but defers to the 2nd half), the Wake defense makes an early statement. Malik Mustapha's interception and return to the Vanderbilt 10-yard line gives the Deacs an early 1st and goal opportunity. However, play is suspended due to lightning strikes in the area (for approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes).
Once play resumes, the Deacs take an early 3-0 lead thanks to Matthew Dennis' 25-yard field goal (12:50 in the 1st quarter) They would expand their lead to 10-0 early in the 2nd quarter thanks to a 7-yard touchdown pass by Mitch Griffis to Jahmal Banks.
Vanderbilt would get in the scoring column at the 10:03 mark of the 2nd quarter; AJ Swann's 11-yard touchdown pass to Will Sheppard cuts into the Wake lead (10-7).
And then there's a flurry of scoring to close out the 1st half.
Wake would conclude their drive (3:22 in the 2nd quarter) with a 1-yard plunge by Tate Carney to give them a 17-7 lead. However, Vandy would have a quick strike offense of their own as AJ Swann would direct the Commodores to a scoring drive capped off by an 11-yard touchdown reception by Will Sheppard, making it a 17-14 game.
After an apparent 3-and-out by Wake, their special teams would come up with a big play. Upon forcing a fumble on the ensuing punt, Brendon Harris scoops up the ball and hustles for a 31-yard recovery and touchdown. Wake's defense would get a second interception to close the half (as they would miss a 44-yard field goal attempt) and have a 24-14 lead.
In starting with the ball in the 3rd quarter, the Deacs would add a field goal (12:36 in the 3rd quarter) to take a 27-14 lead. Vandy would respond and drive to the Deacs' 1-yard line, but the defense makes a tremendous 4th and goal stand to maintain their lead. On the ensuring drive, a key run by Tate Carney (74 yards) would setup a 1st and goal inside the Vandy 5-yard line, but a forced fumble keeps the Commodores within 2 scores.
At the 14:54 mark of the 4th quarter, after extended review, the referees reverse a targeting/personal foul call against the Deacs' Chelen Garnes; likewise, the pass is ruled incomplete, leading to a turnover on downs to Wake. Mitch Griffis would find a wide open Ke'Shawn Williams for a 24-yard touchdown (the 2-point conversion is no good) to give them a 33-14 advantage with 11:39 left in the 4th quarter.
At the 14:54 mark of the 4th quarter, after extended review, the referees reverse a targeting/personal foul call against the Deacs' Chelen Garnes; likewise, the pass is ruled incomplete, leading to a turnover on downs to Wake. Mitch Griffis would find a wide open Ke'Shawn Williams for a 24-yard touchdown (the 2-point conversion is no good) to give them a 33-14 advantage with 11:39 left in the 4th quarter, but Wake would close out the scoring thanks to a 20-yard field goal by Matthew Dennis to secure the 36-20 win and improve to 2-0 overall.
Recap and takeaways as Wake improves to 2-0 thanks to their ground game and defense forcing turnovers
While both teams move the ball for more than 400 total yards on offense (Wake has the edge 484 to 423), the Deacs' ability to force turnovers and run the ball are integral to their win. In forcing 2 interceptions and a fumble on special teams, they are able to keep some distance from Vandy. By the same token, their improved effort in the run game (288 rushing yards and averaging 6 yards per carry) overwhelms a Commodore defense which coming into the game performs at a high level against the run.
Wake head coach Dave Clawson speaks to the overall team effort as they improve to 2-0 (you may view the full interview below):
Wake's Demond Claiborne (26 carries for 165 yards) and Tate Carney (13 carries for 117 yards and a touchdown) set the pace for the offense (as Justice Ellison is unavailable due to injury). Claiborne and offensive linesman Luke Petitbon speak to the effort on the ground:
The Deacs' Mitch Griffis (17 for 26 for 196 yards and 2 touchdowns), along with Ke'Shawn Williams (5 receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown) pace the air attack. On defense, Jacob Roberts (11 total tackles and a sack) and Calen Carson (10 total tackles) are among the defensive standouts, along with Malik Mustapha:
And even the birthday boy, Mitch Griffis, weighs in on the team's performance:
Vanderbilt's wideout tandem of London Humphreys (4 receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown) and Will Sheppard (8 receptions for 87 yards and 2 touchdowns) provide punch in the passing game, and while AJ Swann throws for 314 yards, he has 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. CJ Taylor and De'Rickey Wright both have 10 tackles.
Wake will look to improve to 3-0 as they travel to Old Dominion (September 16th) while Vandy travels to UNLV.
Notes: All video is recorded by Andrew Snorton/CCSLLC (click HERE for more details). The first photo-grid is recorded by Andrew Snorton/CCSLLC and the second photo-grid is recorded in collaboration/credited to DC Photography 336 (click HERE for more details).
You may watch all 2023 Wake Forest football video on our playlist (click HERE).