Wake Forest was derailed the past couple of seasons by North Carolina in notable matchups.
Now No. 15 North Carolina might have lots at stake when the teams collide Saturday night in Winston-Salem, N.C.
The Tar Heels (8-1, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) can clinch the ACC’s Coastal Division and a date with Clemson in the league championship game with a victory — if that isn’t solved based on other results earlier in the day.
Much of North Carolina’s success this season has come with its 5-0 road record, the program’s highest road win total since 1997. This will be the Tar Heels’ last road game of the season.
“And after last year’s team was 0-6 (away from home), for this team to be sitting here 5-0 is very, very impressive,” coach Mack Brown said.
Wake Forest (6-3, 2-3) is coming off back-to-back road losses that knocked the Demon Deacons out of the rankings for the first time this season.
Demon Deacons quarterback Sam Hartman has been turnover-prone of late, tossing three interceptions in each of the past two games. Still, he has 96 career touchdown passes.
“We’re a team that can’t turn the football over,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said.
The losses to Louisville and North Carolina State were defined by giveaways. There are corrections for the Demon Deacons to make.
“Was it their good play or our poor play?” Clawson said. “Usually when you lose, it’s a little bit of both.”
Even without those issues, Hartman might be overshadowed in the leadup to this game by Tar Heels quarterback Drake Maye. The North Carolina freshman has thrown for 31 touchdowns and rushed for four more.
There is some support brewing for a Heisman Trophy campaign for Maye.
“I think we’ve got to finish the season to see,” Brown said. “I think it’s too early.”
Brown said he has instructed offensive coordinator Phil Longo to limit the number of called rushing plays for Maye. Keeping him injury-free and on the field is a priority.
“He’s going to have enough runs when protection (falls apart) and they’re covered,” Brown said, “so let’s not add to that.”
Brown’s staff also might need to find a plan to combat Wake Forest redshirt junior receiver A.T. Perry, who racked up career highs with 12 catches and 159 receiving yards last week at NC State.
North Carolina might be counting on keeping the Demon Deacons in check in the first half.
“The defense continues to play much better in the second half than the first half with the adjustments the coaches are making,” Brown said.
North Carolina leads the series 71-36-2. That includes victories the past two seasons at home in high-scoring matchups. Last year’s clash ended at 58-55, though it was a nonconference meeting between the ACC teams. This season’s game counts in the league records.
Perry made two touchdown catches as part of his 129 receiving yards in the 2021 meeting.
The 2020 game ended in a 59-53 final with the Tar Heels erasing a 21-point, second-half deficit.
–Field Level Media