Rice football will venture outside the confines of Conference USA for a road test against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in 2018.
For the third time in school history, Rice football will square off with Wake Forest. The Owls beat the Demon Deacons in their last meeting on the gridiron, 33-17 in September of 1990. The two school’s only other meeting came the year prior to that, a 17-17 tie.
Wake Forest finished 8-5 last season, capping off their 2018 campaign with a shootout victory over Texas A&M in the Belk Bowl. Head coach Dave Clawson has consistently produced competitive football teams in a division which has produced a College Football Playoff team every year since the playoff was established in 201. They’ll get the Owls on the end of a four-game homestand whereas Rice will be playing their third straight road game.
After allowing 34 points against the Demon Deacons in series history the Owls will look to keep their undefeated streak alive in 2018. To do that they’ll have to limit one of the ACC’s surprisingly potent offenses.
Replacing quarterback John Wolford is the biggest challenge for the Demon Deacons in 2018. The four-year starter finished third in school history in career passing yards, throwing for 8,794 yards from 2014 to 2017. Kendall Hinton will be asked to lead the offense in his stead. Hinton started two games in 2015 and one in 2016. Although he hasn’t had much meaningful game action he’ll have the benefit of one of the most experienced offensive lines in the ACC to protect him.
Wake Forest didn’t have a single offensive lineman named to any of the All-ACC teams from 2012-2016. Last season they had three – center Ryan Anderson, left guard Phil Haynes and left tackle Justin Herron. The Deacs will add a trio of experienced running backs behind them, led by Matt Colburn who came 61 yards shy of a 1,000-yard season in 2017.
As for pass catchers, limiting the amount of damage caused by Greg Dortch will be a priority. As a redshirt freshman last fall, Dortch became the first player in school history with four receiving touchdowns in a single game. He’s joined by a host of other options in an offense that generally likes to spread the ball out. Seven different players had 10+ receptions last season.
The loss of defensive coordinator Mike Elko to Notre Dame following the 2016 season saw the Deacs take a step backward in defensive effectiveness. They slipped from 22.2 points per game in 2016 to 28.3 points per game in 2017. They return six starters this season – the front seven was hit noticeably hard.
Wake Forest will have to replace defensive ends Duke Ejiofor and Wendell Dunn as well as their backups. Incoming freshman end Mike Allen has shown promise in spring action, but he has big shoes to fill including 6.5 sacks combined between Ejiofor and Dunn. He’ll join the only returning starting linebacker, Demetrius Kemp, the last remaining piece from a linebacker unit that included two of the team’s three leading tacklers in 2017.
Where the Deacs will be most dangerous is the secondary. Even with the loss of Jessie Bates to the NFL, Wake Forest will have plenty of speed on the back end in 2018. Corner Essang Bassey led the ACC in pass breakups a year ago. Cameron Glenn led the team in tackles. Both are back and should be fixtures of the Deacs’ defense this year.