Missouri (6-6) takes on Wake Forest (7-5) in the Gasparilla Bowl on December 23 in this first-ever inter-school game as Mizzou looks set to break above .500 for the first time since 2018.
Wake Forest’s attack is undoubtedly the team’s strength, but it also has weaknesses.
We will discuss those strengths and weaknesses here.
1.) Sam Hartman
The best player on the team and probably the strongest player is the quarterback Sam Hartman. The redshirt junior quarterback had a rib removed earlier this year and missed the team’s season opener with blood clot issues. It didn’t stop him from taking third-team honors in the All-Atlantic Coast Conference.
In 11 games, Hartman completed 247 of 392 passes (63%) for 3,421 yards, 35 touchdowns, and 11 interceptions. He added 114 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
The Demon Deacons got off to a good start this season going 6-1 in their first seven games and much of that had to do with Hartman without his aforementioned week one absence.
From games two through seven, Hartman completed 65% of his passes for 1,755 yards, 21 touchdowns, and three interceptions. This included a six-touchdown, 337-yard game in a 51–45 double overtime loss to Clemson. Wake Forest averaged 41 points per game during that six-game span.
“The quarterback is a really good player,” Missouri defensive tackle Darius Robinson said. “From what I’ve seen on tape, I think he could be one of the best players we’ve played against this season.”
Hartman isn’t as dynamic in the run game as some of the other quarterbacks Mizzou faced this season, such as Arkansas’ KJ Jefferson and that of Florida Anthony Richardsonbut he is an accurate passer who specializes in throwing tight spirals and sometimes throwing his receivers open on shorter routes, though he can throw a relatively nice deep ball.
He helped Wake Forest finish the regular season as the nation’s 10th-highest scoring offense with 314.6 yards per game and the 16th-highest scoring offense with 36.8 points per game.
2.) Deep receiving core
In Mizzou’s final game against Arkansas, the Mizzou secondary had to worry about Arkansas’ size when it came to their starting position, players who were all 6-2 or larger, including Jefferson. When the Tigers face the Demon Deacons in Tampa, they will face a similar size and more balanced receiving core.
Wake Forest has five players with 500 or more receiving yards this season.
Wide receiver AT Perry was named to first-team All-ACC honors after leading the Demon Deacons with 70 receptions for 980 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Standing at 6-5 and weighing 205 pounds, Perry uses his size to his advantage. He has decent hands, does well when it comes to making catches in traffic and has good vertical speed. Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson uses the spread offense designed to get wide receivers into space and while Perry is capable of that, he only had 134 of his 980 yards on the catch. That’s a decent indication of how much of Perry’s production gets into tight spaces in cover or on the sidelines.
Donovan Greene, the team’s second-leading wideout stands at 6-2 and weighs in at 210 pounds. He recorded 36 receptions for 615 yards and six touchdowns.
Wake Forest’s third leading wide receiver Jamal Banks is also 6-4 and weighs 208 pounds. Banks was named an All-ACC honorable mention after recording 39 receptions for 564 yards and eight touchdowns.
Taylor Morin and Ke’Shawn Williams are smaller receivers at 5-10, but they are not easy covers by any means. Morin recorded 44 receptions (second on the team), 545 yards and seven touchdowns, while Williams recorded 39 receptions for 553 yards and a touchdown.
3.) Good at details
The Demon Deacons are tied for 14th in first-down offense with 308 and they are tied for 19th in third-down percentage at 465. They are tied for 39th in red zone offense making 54 of 62 (87%) chances converted with 42 of the team’s 54 red zone scores being touchdowns. They are also tied for 16th in penalties with an average of 4.67 per game, taking 56 on the season.
The reason these stats matter is because of how they affect the Tigers and their defense. Mizzou’s defense is his team’s strength, but the defense has struggled to some extent in the last three games of the season.
It had a historically bad day against Tennessee, conceding 66 points. It conceded just 14 points to New Mexico State but Mizzou’s head coach Eli Drinkwitz and defense coordinator Blake Baker were not satisfied with the game which looked sloppy at times. The defense played better against a top-20 offense in the Razorbacks, limiting them to 27 points, but that win can be largely credited to the Missouri offense playing its best game of the season against a Power 5 opponent.
Conversely, The Tigers also rank 27th in scoring defense, tallying 25 points per game and rank 28th in total defense with 337.1 yards allowed per game. They rank 27th in first-down defense and 28th in third-down defense at 33% which is good, but they also rank 122nd in red zone defense allowing opponents 32 out of 35 (91%) red zone attempts turnovers with 23 of those scores being touchdowns.
All of these stats were when Mizzou had starters in safety Martez Manuel and starting defensive ends Isaiah McGuire and DJ Colman to play. The team will not have any of those three since they entered the NFL Draft and opted out of playing the bowl game.
McGuire was a second-team All-SEC selection and led the team with 7.5 sacks to go with 39 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, and a pair of fumbles. Coleman recorded the second most sacks with 4.5 to go with 37 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, and three forced fumbles in three starts and 12 games played. Manuel was third in sacks with four to go with 49 tackles, 10 tackles for loss, one deflection, and a forced fumble.
1.) Leave on run back
The Demon Deacons will have the All-ACC third team running back Justice Ellison play at their disposal. He had 149 rushes for 635 yards (4.3 yards per game) and five touchdowns. However, they will not have to run back Christian Turner, who decided to enter the transfer portal. He was part of the team’s 1-2 run in running back with Ellison and in 12 games played, he led the team in rushing touchdowns with seven and had 128 carries for 516 yards. He also added five receptions for 39 yards and a touchdown.
Wake Forest was already ranked as the 92nd best rushing offense in the nation with 132.5 yards per game and Turner averaged 43 of those yards per game. This makes the team more one-dimensional than it already was. The Demon Deacons want to pass the ball and with one of the two leading rushers, it becomes clearer that the honor will probably be to pass the ball even more than before.
2.) Demon Deacons on the roll
It was previously reported that Wake Forest won six of the first seven and averaged 41 points per game during that stretch. It would lose four of its next five, including a three-game losing streak, the first three-game losing streak for the program since 2020. The team averaged 30.4 points per game during that span, which would still be good for the 56th highest-scoring offense. The caveat would be that the Demon Deacons are tied for 93rd in scoring defense, allowing 29.25 points per game.
During the second half of the season’s skid, they lost two one-possession games, dropping their record to 1-3 in one-possession games, with that lone victory being a 37-36 victory over Liberty in week three.
This game is a story of two different stories for the teams that will play in it. Mizzou started season 2-4 and finished 4-2 while Wake Forest started season 5-1 and was as high as No. 10 before quickly falling down the rankings after going 2-4 in the back part of the season .