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Wake Pass Catchers Look Forward to Pinstripe Bowl

By Dave Holcomb
SouthernPigskin.com
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Donavon Greene and the Wake Forest wide receiver depth should play a major role in the Pinstripe Bowl against Michigan State.

Wake Forest football didn’t exactly end the season as it hoped.

The Demon Deacons couldn’t start 9-0 like most expected, losing two games before facing Clemson on Nov. 16. Then against the Tigers, Wake Forest was far from the challenge some anticipated -- or the Clemson haters hoped -- losing 52-3.

Then after rebounding against rival Duke, Wake Forest couldn’t take care of business against Syracuse, who had already failed to reach bowl eligibility before the final weekend. In total, Wake Forest lost four of its last seven games, including three of its final four.

However, the Demon Deacons can still win nine games in a season for the first time since 2007 with a victory in the Pinstripe Bowl. Also, one positive emerged out of the final three games -- first-year receiver Donovan Greene.

The freshman wideout and the Wake Forest wide receiver depth should play a major role in the Pinstripe Bowl against Michigan State.

Although it came in a loss, Wake Forest passed for 421 yards in its last regular season game at Syracuse. Granted, the Orange pass defense finished as the third-worst in the ACC in 2019, but the 421 yards was still the most they had allowed all season.

Greene received more snaps against Syracuse because of a shoulder injury to star sophomore wide receiver Sage Surratt, who missed the final three games.

Surratt led Wake Forest with 1,001 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns despite sitting out the last three weeks. He was arguably the ACC’s best wide receiver, as he finished first in the conference in receptions and yards per game.

He was also only two receiving touchdowns behind Clemson’s Tee Higgins for the ACC lead despite his sitting out the final part of the season, and Higgins had an extra game (the ACC Championship) help him reach 13 touchdowns. Surratt was one of three Wake Forest players to make the 2019 All-ACC football team.

It’s impossible to replace someone as talented as Surratt with one other player, and Wake Forest is 1-2 without him this season. But the 421 passing yards was just three yards shy of a season high for Wake Forest despite Surratt not playing.

Greene played the biggest part in replacing Surratt in that game, leading the Demon Deacons with seven catches for 172 receiving yards.

The freshman arrived at Wake Forest as a 4-star prospect in the 2019 recruiting class, but he didn’t play until Week 12 versus Clemson. Without Surratt, he finally received his chance at game action.

Greene started slowly and then exploded against Syracuse. It’s a small sample, but in three games, he averaged 22 yards per catch. Five of his 10 receptions went for more than 20 yards, and that’s including a 75-yard touchdown at the Carrier Dome.

Assuming Surratt returns for his junior season, he and Greene will be a formidable receiving duo in the ACC next season. For the Pinstripe Bowl, Wake Forest will have to settle for Greene and Kendall Hinton being that duo (assuming Hinton plays in the bowl game).

Hinton dealt with his own injuries throughout 2019, but he edged Surratt in receptions with 70 and finished second for Wake Forest with 953 receiving yards. His 95.3 receiving yards per game was second only to Surratt in the entire ACC.

The senior wideout is more of a possession receiver, averaging 13.6 yards per catch, but that’s the perfect compliment to Greene. Hinton posted 11 catches for 88 yards against Syracuse.

Greene and Hinton should give Michigan State plenty to handle in the Pinstripe Bowl, but the Wake Forest wide receiver group has more depth to offer. Senior Steven Claude also had his best game against Syracuse, posting five catches for 83 yards.

Tight end Jake Freudenthal can chip in when needed as well. He finished sixth in the ACC among tight ends with 23.4 receiving yards per game -- 31 receptions, 281 yards and four touchdowns.

The Michigan State defense didn’t perform as poorly against the pass as Syracuse did this season, but the Spartans allowed 210.6 passing yards per game, which was ranked ninth in the Big Ten.

Exploiting that weakness with Greene for big plays and Hinton on shorter passes to keep the chains moving will be key to Wake Forest earning its ninth win.