College Sports

What’s the best way for Wake Forest to contain Texas A&M and star Christian Kirk?

WheneverTexas A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk (3) touches the ball, he might not give it up until he reaches the end zone.
WheneverTexas A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk (3) touches the ball, he might not give it up until he reaches the end zone. AP

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said it in jest, but if he could’ve made it a reality, would he? You betcha.

Speaking to reporters on Thursday, a day before his Demon Deacons face Texas A&M in the Belk Bowl at Bank of America Stadium, Clawson was asked about the Aggies’ junior receiver Christian Kirk.

“I’m gonna meet with him afterwards and convince him that he should probably not play in this game,” Clawson jokingly said of Kirk. “I was hoping an announcement was coming today that he’d decided to forgo the bowl game.

“Once you guys leave, I’m going to go work on that.”

And while it has become customary in recent years for high-profile college players like Kirk to skip bowl games and protect their health for the NFL draft, the 5-foot-11, 200-pound receiver (who has been projected as high as the first round) isn’t following suit.

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Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford accounted for over 3,400 yards of offense and 35 touchdowns this season. Davie Hinshaw dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

So the question then becomes how Wake Forest, whose defense allows more than 250 yards through the air each game, plans to shut down a talent like Kirk. Although he’s only caught 58 balls for 730 yards and seven touchdowns this season, he’s also recorded over 650 return yards and two more scores that way. Or in other words, if the man touches the ball, he might not give it up until he reaches the end zone.

“He is as gifted and as talented a receiver as we have faced all year,” Clawson said. “When you have talent like that on the other side of the field, you’re not going to shut people down.”

But if Wake Forest can’t shut down Kirk and the rest of the Texas A&M’s stable of pass catchers, how do they beat the Aggies?

Outscore them instead.

Now that’s much more likely. The Deacons average better than 30 points per game (as does Texas A&M, for what its worth), mainly thanks to the prolific connection between quarterback John Wolford and tight end Cam Serigne. Both were named to ACC All-Conference teams (Serigne to the first team, Wolford to the second) this year, their last with the program. Wolford accounted for over 3,400 yards of offense and 35 touchdowns this season, and Serigne was the beneficiary on 444 of those yards and eight of those touchdowns.

Whether they can build on that connection will undoubtedly go a long way toward deciding who wins Friday’s bowl.

“We want to go out and score 50, 60, whatever it may be. Enough to get us the win,” Wolford said. “If they start scoring points, we’ve got to be able to go out there and match it.”

The one differentiating factor for both these high-powered offenses – and potentially the only unit keeping this game from turning into a shootout – is Texas A&M’s defensive line. Led by Landis Durham and his 8.5 sacks, that wall is going to have the unenviable task of shutting down Wolford (and as a byproduct, Serigne, too). But considering the Aggies are tied for third in the nation in sacks with 3.33 per game, it would be remiss to say they won’t get to Wolford at all.

“He can make plays with his arm, but even bigger plays running downfield and scrambling,” Durham said. “We’re really just looking to take that away.”

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“I’m gonna meet with him afterwards and convince him that he should probably not play in this game,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson jokingly said about Texas A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk at Thursday’s Belk Bowl news conference at the Charlotte Convention Center. Davie Hinshaw dhinshaw@charlotteobserver.com

So to recap: Wake Forest probably isn’t going to stop Kirk. Texas A&M probably isn’t going to stop Serigne. Which means it comes down to the Aggies’ defensive line – hit Wolford hard, and early, and often, and maybe give your team enough of a cushion. ...

Or don’t, and let the shootout commence.

“I don’t want it to go like that, and if it does, we’re going to have to make more stops than them, of course,” Durham said. “But as far as our defense goes, we’re hoping to go out there early and shut all that down.”

Brendan Marks: 704-358-5889, @brendanrmarks

Texas A&M vs. Wake Forest

Where:

Bank of America Stadium

When:

Friday, 1 p.m.

TV/Radio:

ESPN

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