No. 23 Wake Forest set for Sam Hartman’s return at Vanderbilt

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Wake Forest’s time without star quarterback Sam Hartman turned out to be short. The question now for the 23rd-ranked Demon Deacons heading into Saturday’s trip to Vanderbilt is how long it takes their offense to find last season’s high-efficiency and prolific form.

The Demon Deacons (1-0) beat VMI last week with Hartman out due to a blood clot near the collarbone that had sidelined him indefinitely, leaving Mitch Griffis to earn the win in his first career start. But the school announced Tuesday that Hartman had been medically cleared to return and he was back atop the depth chart for the trip to face the Commodores (2-0), enough to swing the point spread

“We’re getting back our captain and one of our best leaders that we’ve ever had here, and a really good football player,” coach Dave Clawson said. “I think more than anything they’re just happy for him because they know how important it is to him.”

Hartman guided the Demon Deacons to 11 wins and a trip to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game last year, leading an offense that ranked among the best in the Bowl Subdivision ranks. Hartman’s play was also a key reason why Wake Forest cracked the top 10 of the AP Top 25 last year, too.

“We’re all juiced up for it,” linebacker Ryan Smenda Jr. said.

The Commodores, off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 2018, rolled past Hawaii 63-10 in their opener. But coach Clark Lea wasn’t happy with how his Commodores cruised to the finish of last week’s 42-31 win against Elon and sees that as another area for growth.

“This is a great opportunity for us to go against the program that’s kind of set the standard here recently with respect to balancing being a great academic school and playing high-level college football,” Lea said. “For us, we’re still so young as a program and I think the first two games are indicative of this.”

Things to know about Saturday’s Wake Forest-Vanderbilt game:

TOUGH STRETCH

This starts a tough stretch for Vanderbilt leading into Southeastern Conference play.

The Commodores are the only FBS team scheduled to play three straight games against teams that played for their conference title last season. Next up is a game against reigning Mid-American Conference champion Northern Illinois before opening league play against No. 1 Alabama.

Vanderbilt is among 11 teams with at least five opponents from the preseason AP Top 25.

OFFENSIVE VANDERBILT

Having a game in hand on the rest of the SEC certainly helps, but Vanderbilt currently leads the league by averaging 512.5 total yards while ranking third in scoring at 52.5 points.

Vanderbilt has scored 105 points, which it didn’t reach until the second quarter of its eighth game last season. The Commodores have scored 42 points in consecutive games for the first time since 2005.

Third-year quarterback Mike Wright, named the starter at SEC media days in July, has been a big key. He already has combined for 10 touchdowns, topping the nine he scored last season.

SMENDA’S RETURN

Smenda didn’t play last week because he was serving a one-game suspension after picking up his third targeting call last year in the Gator Bowl win against Rutgers. The fifth-year linebacker will make his season debut in this one and entered the year as the team’s leading career tackler (238).

STREAKING DORES

Lea’s specialty before being hired by his alma mater was defense, and the Commodores have notched at least one takeaway in 11 straight games going back to last season. They now have 12 interceptions with six recovered fumbles in that span. Three fumbles have been recovered combined over the first two games.

PENALTY WATCH

Clawson was clearly irritated by the “awful” penalties from the opener against VMI, which included flags that negated an offensive and defensive touchdown. Wake Forest finished with seven penalties for 69 yards.

“In a lot of ways it’s an ideal opener,” Clawson said of the win against the Keydets of the Championship Subdivision. “We won the game and we got to play a lot of different people. And yet there were a lot of teachable moments that we have to get corrected as we step up the level of play.”

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.