By now, I’m sure you’ve heard the news. Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman has been ruled out of the upcoming College Football season with a ‘non-football-related’ medical condition. What we don’t know yet, is what exactly the condition is and how it will affect his chances of taking his game to the next level. We wish Sam Hartman nothing but the best and a speedy recovery with the issue he’s dealing with.
What we do know, unfortunately, is that Wake Forest will not be the first or last team to lose a player before the start of the season (or during) through injury and/or personal reasons. This moment, while devastating to Hartman and his teammates, has presented an opportunity to the sum of the program to elevate their game and play their hearts out for their fallen quarterback.
The Ewing Theory is a theory that has not been proven by science but gets talked about among fans consistently. The theory is that when a team loses its star player through injury, the team rallies around him and elevates their game to the level needed to win the contest. This Wake Forest situation - while dealing with amateur athletes - has the exact recipe the Ewing theory thrives on.
So how can Wake Forest survive this unfortunate event? Let’s take a look:
Next Man Up
Sam Hartman’s production is going to be hard to replicate. He led the Demon Deacons to an 11-3 record last season, while winning the ACC Atlantic Division title and the Gator Bowl. He threw for a school-record 4,228 yards and 39 touchdowns.
The next man up for the Demon Deacons is Mitch Griffis. Who? Mitch Griffis.
Griffis, a three-star dual-threat recruit out of Ashburn, VA, is a third-year player (still a red-shirt freshman - got to love NCAA eligibility loopholes) that appeared in four games last season, attempting only two passes. There is no book on him. Nor is there a book on his now backup, Michael Kern. Kern served as Hartman’s backup last season and appeared in three games, completing two of five pass attempts for 67 yards.
The Offensive Line
Wake Forest’s offensive line will need to be the team’s MPV. They return all five starters from last season, and they will need to protect Griffis like their life depended on it and give him a tad bit longer to make the right reads in the passing game. But more importantly, the offensive line will need to take their game to a level of nasty they have yet to show.
Wake Forest finished 10th in the ACC in rushing yards per game, averaging 160.5. That number, while crazy to think, must be upwards of 200 yards per game if the Demon Deacons want to be competitive this season.
The offensive line needs to consistently win battles and create holes, needs to hold their blocks in pass-protect and they need to stay discipline and avoid getting flagged for holding which will put the offense in a terrible spot.
The Skill Positions
The other positive on offense is that Wake Forest bring back a ton of skill at the receiving and running back positions. In fact, they bring back 2,318 yards of receiving and 23 touchdowns (led by A.T. Perry - 1,293 yards and 15 touchdowns). They also bring back two running backs in Justice Ellison and Christian Turner who each ran the ball more than 100 times for just over 500 yards.
Wake will also have to continue winning on third down. Last season, Wake converted 53.3 percent of their third down attempts, which was fourth best in the country.
Playmakers make plays and whether it’s the NFL or College ranks, getting the ball to your skilled guys as quickly as possible is never a bad scheme.
And lastly, it’s easy to say Wake Forest should go into damage control and set the bar to something low like a six-win season, but if we look at the schedule, they may be able to achieve more. VMI in week one is a great way to iron out the kinks with Griffis and find out what the team really has. Vanderbilt in week two is tricky, but the Commodores have won a grand total of five games over the last three seasons, and they don’t exactly strike fear into anyone’s eyes. Liberty will be tough but will be a very winnable game. Army and Boston College to begin October are two games that this Wake team can win and the same goes for the final two weeks against Syracuse and Duke - two teams who offer very little.
By my count, that’s a seven-win season and that’s impressive given how quickly the complexion of this season changed for the Demon Deacons.