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Giveaways, penalties cost Wake Forest against Florida State

Photo by Logan Stanford/Icon Sportswire

It’s been a decade since Wake Forest met Florida State with the Demon Deacons having the better record of the two teams, but make no mistake: Wake Forest was the big road underdog in this matchup in Tallahassee.

Analysts expected a close game, but things had to go perfectly for the Demon Deacons to win. They did not; Wake Forest turned the ball over three times, allowed five sacks and committed costly penalties in the kicking game in its 17-6 loss to Florida State on Saturday.

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson made it clear to the ESPN announcers prior to the game that the Demon Deacons had to win the turnover battle in order to leave Tallahassee with a victory. Ironically, Wake Forest did just that, forging a plus-1 differential, but a more specific detail within that differential is that it wasn’t a 1-0 or 2-1 count. Florida State committed four turnovers while Wake committed three. The location and circumstance of turnovers matter, so the fact that Wake surrendered the ball three times was still far too many to pull the upset. The Demon Deacons also failed to take advantage of the turnovers they were able to induce.

Florida State scored 10 of its 17 points off two turnovers while Wake Forest scored only two field goals off four takeaways. The Demon Deacons began drives inside Seminole territory three times during the second half, and they managed just two field goal tries — one missed — and three total points.

That miss from junior kicker Mike Weaver hit the left upright. It was costly because a make would have brought Wake Forest within eight points (17-9) with 5:00 left in the fourth quarter.

Coming into the game, we believed the Wake Forest red-zone defense was going to make a difference in this contest. It turned out the Seminoles’ red-zone defense was the one that shined to an even greater degree on Saturday.

Florida State held Wake Forest to three field goal attempts and six total points on three trips inside the FSU 20. The Seminoles also had three red zone opportunities, but they were able to find the end zone twice and add a field goal.

Red zone defense did make a huge difference, but not in the way Wake Forest was hoping.

Earlier in the game — before his late field goal miss — Weaver also made a costly mistake on a kickoff. After the Demon Deacons tied the game 3-3, his ensuing kickoff went out of bounds and gave the Seminoles the ball at their own 35. Florida State eventually punted, but field position was still flipped. Wake Forest took over at its own 10-yard line and fumbled, leading to a Seminole touchdown and a 10-3 score for the home team.

The most costly special teams blunder, though, was a holding penalty on Wake Forest’s second opportunity for a score. The Demon Deacons came into Saturday with the worst kickoff return team in the ACC, but Florida State also has one of the worst coverage teams in the conference.

Something had to give, and it appeared as though senior kick returner John Armstrong had taken Florida State’s kick all the way to the end zone, but it was called back due to a holding penalty. Rather than score its first touchdown at Florida State since the George W. Bush administration, Wake Forest took over at its own 20. On the first play of the drive, junior quarterback John Wolford threw an interception.

Those mistakes were costly, especially in light of the Demon Deacons’ inability to generate much offense. Wake Forest mustered just 252 yards and has now been held without a touchdown in 20 straight quarters at Florida State. Wolford was 16-of-34 for 184 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. Freshman running back Cade Carney led the team with 33 rushing yards.

Expectations were low for Wake Forest coming into this one, and the team is still 5-2 even with the loss. The Deacs have three very winnable games still remaining; they should easily make their first bowl game since 2011. However, Wake Forest has to feel a little disappointed it couldn’t avoid mistakes in a close game against a ranked opponent.

Wake Forest has made significant strides this season. Saturday in Doak Campbell Stadium, the Demon Deacons learned where they must continue to improve.

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