Sam Hartman is back and No. 19 Wake Forest aims for another victory on Saturday when it hosts Liberty in Winston-Salem, N.C.
Hartman, the fifth-year quarterback for the Demon Deacons (2-0), missed the season opener after having surgery to remove a blood clot. He was cleared to return to play last week and threw for 300 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-25 win over Vanderbilt.
“It was great having Sam back,” Deacs’ coach Dave Clawson said. “I thought he played really well. He had command of the offense and obviously was a big factor in why we won.”
With his scores through the air against Vanderbilt, Hartman became the active career leader in touchdown passes among Power 5 quarterbacks with 76, trailing only Jarret Doege of Troy’s 79 among FBS passers.
Hartman also needs just 197 passing yards to become Wake’s all-time leader.
Yet, Liberty (2-0) doesn’t seem to fear Hartman all that much.
“Every quarterback folds under pressure,” said Liberty senior defensive tackle Dennis Osagiede. “They have that (run-pass-option) thing where they hold it. And that’s cute and all, but at the end of the day, if you put pressure in a guy’s face, he’s going to make some type of indecisive throw.”
Liberty’s coaches offered a bit more respect for Hartman.
“He’s easily the best quarterback we’ve played since I’ve worked here,” Liberty co-defensive coordinator Josh Aldridge said. “He’s got a great arm and quick release. He’s seen every look you could possibly give him, but we’re going to give him our best shot.”
Indeed, Wake Forest is scoring 44.5 points per game. Last year — when the Deacs won 11 games and the Atlantic Division in the ACC — they averaged 41 points, fourth-best in FBS.
Liberty’s offense hasn’t been as potent, but the Flames defense appears to be the best Wake has faced so far. The Flames are 10th-best nationally in passing yards allowed (125.5 per game), and second in turnovers forced (4.5 per game).
Liberty is coming off a 21-14 home win over UAB and opened the season with a quadruple-overtime road win at Southern Miss — a game in which the Flames forced five turnovers.
“This defensive line and linebacker group will be the best we’ve faced this season,” Wake offensive lineman Sean Maginn said. “Obviously they have confidence with what they’ve said this week, and they should have confidence.”
Two of Liberty’s offensive playmakers — running back T.J. Green (lower body) and wide receiver CJ Daniels (ACL) — are recovering from injuries and are expected to return to action.
Under head coach Hugh Freeze, the Flames are 28-11, have won three consecutive bowl games and are 2-6 against Power 5 opponents. Liberty is playing in its final season as an independent and will join Conference USA next season.
Although the schools are just 150 miles apart, this is the just the third meeting all-time between the Flames and the Deacs, and the first since Liberty moved up to the FBS. Wake is 2-0 in the series.
–Field Level Media