Wake Forest did exactly what it was supposed to do against the FCS team on its schedule, wrapping up the nonconference portion of its schedule with an unblemished record.
Regardless of Elon’s standing as an FCS program, the Deacons’ performance — a 49-7 win and more than tripling the Phoenix in offensive yardage — was an impressive one Saturday.
Here are five takeaways from the game:
1. Newman’s surge
Wake Forest’s redshirt junior quarterback erupted again, this time becoming the third quarterback in program history to throw five touchdown passes in a game and the third quarterback to win seven of his first eight career starts for the Deacons.
Newman completed 27-of-35 passes for 351 yards against the Phoenix, was never sacked — though, his most-impressive play of the game might’ve been escaping a sack early in the third quarter — and only needed to play one drive in the second half to put this game away.
Coach Dave Clawson was bothered by the interception Newman threw in the end zone, but also said a few of his incompletions weren’t his fault. There’s room for further development for Newman within the Deacons’ offense, as the Graham product ranks in the top 10 of college football for passing yards (1,278) and TDs (12).
“Football is one of those things that, OK, just because you did something doesn’t mean that skill is cemented. You’ve gotta continue to work on it, fine-tune it, work it against different looks and we have the benefit of experience right now,” Clawson said.
2. Getting pressure early
Wake Forest had two sacks against Elon, down a tick from the four it had at Rice and six against North Carolina. That seemed to be expected, though, based on defensive coordinator Lyle Hemphill and Clawson’s appraisal of how quickly quarterback Davis Cheek could get rid of the ball.
What seemed to be a difference early in the game, though, was that the Deacons still got a few shots at Cheek and made him uncomfortable — to the point that he was 9 for 18 for 74 yards, 40 of those coming on Elon’s lone score.
Justin Strnad and Shamar McCollum recorded sacks, both in the first half. Rondell Bothroyd and Luke Masterson also capitalized on pass rushes to deliver hits on Cheek early.
3. Top two receivers
Newman’s top two targets, Sage Surratt and Scotty Washington, are engaged in a heated — but friendly — back-and-forth of which can have more receiving yards.
So far, it’s 2-2. Washington had 141 yards on nine catches against Elon, and Surratt had 112 yards on eight catches. Surratt was Wake Forest’s receiving yards leader against Utah State and North Carolina; Washington led the Deacons at Rice.
“Obviously if one person has a good game, it’s on the other person to have a good game the next week,” Washington said. “But playing alongside a guy like Sage is tons of fun. We have a competition going between us, see who can get the most yards, so that’s what’s going on between us.
“We’re just having a bunch of fun playing together.”
4. Kenneth Walker III (again)
For the third straight game, the freshman running back led Wake Forest in rushing.
Walker had nine carries for 91 yards, scoring on an explosive 20-yard run in the third quarter, and added a 15-yard catch-and-run. On the same drive as his touchdown, he fumbled and was able to recover it — the only perceivable negative in his performance.
“He makes cuts, he makes people miss, he has good vision,” Clawson said of Walker. “He’s gotta protect it. … He’s a good football player, he’s a back. He’s got good vision and instincts, can make people miss, can catch the football. He’s improving without the ball, he’s getting better in protections and better overall with the offense. “
Wake Forest’s backfield also became whole again with the return of Cade Carney, who missed the last two games with an injury. He had seven carries for 39 yards, with Clawson saying he wanted Carney to get comfortable and gain confidence in recovering from his injury as the ACC opener looms.
5. A.T. Perry’s debut
Speaking of confidence, redshirt freshman A.T. Perry hauled in his first career catch and later his first career touchdown for the Deacons.
He’s a lanky 6-foot-5, 190-pounder who has flashed potential in spring and fall camp practices. Clawson said Perry has been “a little frustrated, wishing he’s played more,” so the 17-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter could be a boost.
“Coming in his freshman year, I was elected as his big brother. … It’s kind of been a rocky start in his time here, and I’m just real proud of him,” Washington said of Perry. “My first few years here, I feel like it was all about confidence, playing with confidence.
“And that took a little while, but now, just gotta take it how it comes.”