5 final takeaways from Wake Forest’s win in the Birmingham Bowl
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — It was already established by Coach Dave Clawson, in the aftermath of Wake Forest’s dismantling of Duke in the regular-season finale, that given the context of the Deacons’ season, just reaching a bowl game was an accomplishment.
Now the Deacons have a third-straight bowl victory to make their 7-6 season taste sweeter.
“With all the injuries and firings, stuff like that, it’s up in the air. You just want to finish strong. That’s what’s been going on for the last year,” senior receiver Alex Bachman said. “I know as a senior I was going to give it my all these last couple of months, as did the rest of the seniors.
“So that’s what we told them (Friday) night. Coach Clawson called out a couple of the seniors and what they had done for the program, and it just wouldn’t be right for us to go out and not finish the way we did.”
Here are five final takeaways from Wake Forest’s nail-biting 37-34 win over Memphis in the Birmingham Bowl:
1. Jamie Newman’s clutch gene
The redshirt sophomore quarterback has now directed last-minute touchdown drives to win games twice in his first four career starts. In the fourth quarter on Saturday, Newman completed 5 of 7 passes for 94 yards and ran for the game-winning touchdown with 34 seconds left.
“I mean all year, even when Sam (Hartman) was playing, Jamie was prepared. Even when he wasn’t healthy, he was going everything he could to get back healthy, prepared his butt off. He seized the moment,” linebacker Justin Strnad said. “He’s taken advantage of everything. He’s played great the four weeks he’s played. I mean, he’s absolutely balled and I’m happy for him, because he deserves it.”
Newman and Hartman seem bound to continue their quarterback battle from fall camp this spring, summer and next fall camp. As impressive as Hartman was at the helm as a freshman, Newman shined in wins at N.C. State, at Duke and in the Birmingham Bowl.
2. Alex Bachman’s, too
The senior needed 9 yards in the Birmingham Bowl to reach 1,000 for his career.
He wound up with 171.
Bachman made some of the biggest plays by a receiver this season in his final game for Wake Forest. His 28-yard catch-and-run on fourth-and-4 on the Deacons’ opening set up Sage Surratt’s touchdown catch. Bachman’s 49-yard catch on the first play of the Deacons’ second second-half possession set up Nick Sciba’s 49-yard field goal. And then Bachman hauled in catches of 49 and 20 yards on the game-winning drive, leading to Newman’s game-winning score.
In his 47 games before the Birmingham Bowl, Bachman had one with more than 100 yards — last season’s loss at Notre Dame, in which he had 116 yards. With Greg Dortch sidelined, Wake Forest needed a receiver to fill a play-making void and in stepped Bachman.
“For me to be able to look back and know that maybe I saved the best for last, it’s a pretty cool feeling,” Bachman said. “I give it all to God. I prayed (Friday) night, ‘God, whatever you’ve got planned for me, let’s make it a good one tomorrow. Just help me compete and play to the best of my ability,’ and He did that for me today. I’m very thankful for that.”
3. The defense’s evolution
Wake Forest’s defense gave up touchdown drives of 76 and 98 yards on Memphis’ first two possessions.
For the rest of the game, the Deacons gave up 204 yards and one offensive touchdown — the Tigers also scored on a pick-6 and a kick return.
“Coming into the game we knew we were going to get hit in the mouth a couple of times in this game and it was just, what team’s going to respond better to adversity?” Strnad said. “We just had to make the adjustments. We went into the locker room at halftime, (defensive coordinator Lyle) Hemphill, the defensive staff guys made great adjustments.”
Strnad led Wake Forest with 11 tackles, giving him 105 for the season. Cameron Glenn, Willie Yarbary and Boogie Basham all had sacks, and Demetrius Kemp and Chuck Wade Jr. had interceptions (with Wade’s coming on a two-point conversion attempt).
4. Running back records
Senior running back Matt Colburn II returned after missing the last two games and ran for 61 yards on 14 carries. He finished his Wake Forest career with 2,528 rushing yards, which is the sixth-most in program history.
And now Cade Carney will have a chance to climb that list as a senior next year.
Carney had 51 yards against the Tigers, putting his season total at 1,005 yards. It’s the first 1,000-yard season for a Deacons running back since Chris Barclay in 2005. Carney has 1,826 yards in his career, which is 15th all-time.
5. More record keeping
Wake Forest’s offensive explosion last year was well-documented, with program records for points (459) and offensive yards (6,055) in a season.
From that team, the Deacons lost a four-year starter at quarterback, the most-productive tight end in ACC history, a slot receiver who filled in for Dortch in the final five games and their left tackle in the season-opening game this season.
The Deacons ended this season with 427 points and 5,847 yards, both the second-highest totals in program history.