Wake Forest found more than a victory on Saturday afternoon at Florida State. It also found its potent running game that turns its offense from dangerous to downright lethal.
When Saturday’s game started the Demon Deacons were ranked 104th in rushing, but racked up 171 yards on the ground in the 31-21 win over the 23rd-ranked Seminoles.
They aren’t 104th anymore.
The victory pushed the Demon Deacons to 15th in the latest Associated Press poll, and their running game helped them get there.
“I told (Christian Turner) all week when we hand the ball to the running backs we can help the game tremendously,” said sophomore running back Justice Ellison, who had a career day with 114 yards on 18 carries with one touchdown. “It was a phenomenal performance by Christian. I think the offensive line did a wonderful job. And the thing that people don’t see is how well our receivers block down field.”
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Turner, who along with Ellison, are the co-starters for Coach Dave Clawson’s team came up big as they continued to milk the clock and chew up the yardage with four long, sustained drives that led to scores. Turner had 20 carries for 64 yards but the work he did in the final drive that kept the clock moving netted a field goal from Matthew Dennis that was the biggest drive of the game.
During the 18-play, 66-yard drive Turner had 12 carries and he looked as fresh as anybody each time he got the ball.
“We thought we could run the ball against them,” Clawson said. “We thought it was really important that we were balanced because of the way we threw the ball last week (against Clemson)…. What a day our O-line had and what a day our backs had.”
The Seminoles made sure that quarterback Sam Hartman was not going to beat them deep so Hartman and offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero adjusted accordingly. It also didn’t hurt that the offensive line of DeVonte Gordon, Loic Ngassam Nya, Michael Jurgens, Sean Maginn and Je’Vionte Nash were exceptional as they constantly opened holes.
“We were bullying them for a while,” Hartman said about his experienced offensive line.
What set the tone in the first half was how many plays the Demon Deacons were able to run. They wound up running 50 plays and Clawson said he thought this was a good sign for possibly wearing the Seminoles’ down by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.
Hartman, who owns just about every passing record at Wake Forest, heaped praise on Turner and Ellison and the offensive line after Saturday’s performance.
“I think we know inside the locker room that those guys are the workhorses…,” Hartman said about the running backs. “Receivers, quarterbacks always get a lot of love for the big, flashy plays, but none of that happens without the work of the O-line, the running backs and the tight ends.”
When the Demon Deacons are balanced between the pass and the run, Hartman summed it up best. “We ran the ball very efficiently and our playbook stays very open when that is happening,” he said.
On two of Wake Forest’s touchdown drives on Saturday there were long, sustained drives with 13 plays and 12 plays. And then on the clinching field goal by Dennis they went 18 plays and chewed up more than six minutes on the clock.
“What a gutty, tough character drive by our guys,” Clawson said about the 18-play drive that ended any chance of a comeback by the Seminoles.
The Demon Deacons ran 85 plays on offense to the Seminoles 63 to shorten the game in their favor.
As for the relationship between Turner and Ellison, there’s a sense that whoever is in the game can deliver.
“When Christian Turner’s in there I feel like I’m in the game,” Ellison said. “It’s like I feel like a father and son. And when I’m in the game it’s like a father-son. It’s a great atmosphere and we’ve built that relationship.”
Clawson says they are both the starters but there’s no set time for when each of them gets their chances.
“They are 1A and 1B and whoever has the hot hand,” Clawson said. “We have two starting tailbacks and they are both really good players.”
On the sidelines Turner and Ellison are constantly in each other’s ear telling them what’s going on with the opposing defenses.
“Every time I come to the sidelines we are telling each other what we saw,” Ellison said. “We encourage each other to remember who we are giving the glory to.”
Coach Mike Norvell of Florida State didn’t mince words about Wake Forest’s offense after the loss. “It’s a good offense,” he said about Wake Forest’s offense that is averaging 40.4 points per game that ranks third in the ACC. “It’s one that it does challenge you, stresses you.”
If the running game continues to be impressive there’s more stress coming to the rest of Wake Forest’s opponents.