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Third Down Efficiency Leads Wake Forest over Boston College

By Dave Holcomb
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With junior Jamie Newman behind center, anything seems possible for the Demon Deacons.

The last two times Wake Forest started 4-0 in 2016 and 2017, the Demon Deacons laid eggs in Week 5 and couldn’t take their undefeated record into October.

But with junior Jamie Newman behind center, anything seems possible for the Demon Deacons, and their 5-0 fantasy became a reality with a 27-24 road victory against Boston College on Saturday. Wake Forest is 5-0 for the first time under coach Dave Clawson and for the first time since 2006.

Newman didn’t have his best game passing, but the reason why he’s so dangerous is his ability to beat opponents in multiple ways. On Saturday, he defeated Boston College with his legs, leading the Demon Deacons with 102 rushing yards, which included a 50-yard scamper on a third-and-1 attempt.

That conversion midway through the second quarter seemed to turn the tide of the game. Wake Forest jumped out to a 10-point lead in the first stanza, but then Boston College answered with the next 10 points. Newman’s long run helped Wake Forest avoid punting on a third straight possession.

Newman didn’t reach the 200-yard mark through the air until late in the fourth quarter, but big plays on third down was his specialty in Chestnut Hill on Saturday. He converted five third downs on the ground. Furthermore, 10 of his 21 completions in the game moved the chains on third down.

One will conclude with some simple math that Newman either threw or ran for a first on third down an incredible 15 times. Wake Forest, who came into Saturday with the 24th-best third-down efficiency in the country through four weeks, was 17-for-24 on third down, with Newman leading the way, being part of about 88 percent of the conversions.

That 50-yard scamper sparked quite a run of third-down success for the Demon Deacons. In the second half, Wake Forest went 10-for-14 on third down, and Newman threw both of his touchdown passes on the pivotal down too.

In addition to his 102 rushing yards, Newman was 21-for-33 with 243 passing yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Wake Forest is now 8-1 when he starts.

To Boston College’s credit -- other than looking helpless in just about every third-down situation on defense -- the Eagles hung around with the Demon Deacons. They regrouped in the second quarter to tie the game at 17 by halftime, and it was just a three-point affair heading into the fourth. Running back A.J. Dillon led the way with 159 rushing yards.

But two mistakes from the Eagles cost them the game or a chance in overtime.

First, the Eagles lined up to kick a game-tying field goal with 13:11 remaining, but the Boston College special teams unit was slow getting into position and took a delay of game penalty. That turned a 43-yard field goal into a 48-yard try, which didn’t even have a chance because the snap was low from the long snapper. The short snap forced Eagles holder Dennis Grosel into a scramble drill, and he threw a desperation pass down the field that fell incomplete.

In a game where Boston College ended up losing by three, that play obviously looms very large. The other mistake, ironically, came on third down.

It looked like the Eagles finally made a third-down stop, as Newman’s pass to Scotty Washington fell incomplete early in the fourth quarter, stalling the drive at the Boston College 27-yard line. However, the officials called two offsetting penalties -- a defensive holding against the Eagles -- on the play, giving Wake Forest another crack at a third-down conversion.

On a day where the Demon Deacons were better than 70 percent on third down, a second shot for Wake Forest was absolutely not what Boston College coach Steve Addazio wanted.

Newman took advantage of the second opportunity, throwing a 27-yard touchdown pass to Washington on the very next snap. Washington led Wake Forest with 94 receiving yards on five catches with a touchdown.

Boston College answered that score with its own touchdown to pull back within three, but on the next Wake Forest possession, the Demon Deacons converted three more third downs, which burned Boston College’s three timeouts and all but 28 seconds off the clock.

Because of an excellent Wake Forest punt, Boston College took over at its own 5-yard line with under 30 seconds left and no timeouts. The Eagles’ inability to stop Newman on third down didn’t allow Boston College’s offense enough time to drive into field-goal range.

With the way the schedule unfolds now for Wake Forest, after a bye week, the Demon Deacons will face their next three opponents, Louisville, Florida State and N.C. State (with another bye week in between), at home, and then visit Virginia Tech on Nov. 9. With the way those teams are playing, it’s quite possible Wake Forest rolls to a 9-0 start.

That sets up a potential matchup between two undefeated teams, Wake Forest and Clemson, on Nov. 16. With the Tigers struggling against North Carolina on Saturday, suddenly, Clemson doesn’t seem as invincible.

Maybe the ACC Atlantic Division race isn’t finished after all.