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1. "We don’t really know from year to year."
My first book, Study Hall: College Football, Its Stats and Its Stories, was released last week. I spoke to quite a few coaches for it, and Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe was a particularly enjoyable interview. I thought I would use some of Grobe's quotes throughout this piece.
Grobe on compiling the talent to compete in the ACC:
We just tried to take the personnel we had and tried to be a little bit different. Defensively, we really felt like we didn’t have the personnel to be in a 3-4, so we actually went to a 3-3 look and played 5 DBs. And that really helped us for a couple of years. It was totally different than what others had in our league. We went back to four-man front when we got some big guys.
Our thoughts at both places [Ohio and Wake Forest, the two programs for which he has been head coach] were to initially try our best to be a little unique.
We've really gotten to be a program that … we don’t really know from year to year. It’s hard at Wake Forest because of the academics. At a place like Wake Forest, you just go recruit the best players you can, and your schemes might change year to year. That’s not what you like to do, but it’s something you have to do.
Like Duke, Wake Forest is a pretty tough job. The academic standards are high, the fanbase isn't that big, and there is no proven history from which to pull when trying to sway recruits. Despite a series of pretty decent hires -- John Mackovic (1978-80) and Al Groh (1981-86) would go on to decent success elsewhere, Bill Dooley (1987-92) had won quite a few games at North Carolina and Virginia Tech before arriving in Winston-Salem, and Jim Caldwell (1993-00) went to a Super Bowl as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts (with help from a pretty good quarterback) -- Wake has very much struggled to maintain success.
The Demon Deacons reached 14th in the country and finished 8-4 in 1979 under Mackovic, then went 5-6 the next year. Dooley won 13 games in his first two years, then won eight in his next three. Dooley went 8-4 in his final season, then handed the reins to Caldwell, who went 9-37 in his first four seasons. He eventually patched together a 7-5 season in 1999, then went 2-9 in 2000 and was done.
Wake Forest had been to just five bowls when Grobe arrived in 2001 and hadn't been successfully strong since the 1940s. The odds were stacked against him, and with this backdrop, his accomplishments -- five bowl games, a 28-12 run from 2006-08, the 2006 ACC title, and the simple fact that a 5-7 season in 2012 was seen as relatively disappointing -- have secured his legacy. Whatever he accomplishes from here on out, he will leave Winston-Salem as one of Wake's greatest coaches.
But what does Wake have left under Grobe? The 2006-08 run was aided in part by the fact that traditional ACC powers like Florida State and Clemson didn't really have their act together; but the Demon Deacons still ranked between 28th and 45th in the F/+ rankings each year from 2006-09. They've ranked 103rd, 64th, and 107th, respectively, in the last three. They could rebound again, but is the ceiling still reasonably high, or is 60th and about six wins all they can hope for moving forward?
2012 Schedule & Results
|Record: 5-7 | Adj. Record: 2-10 | Final F/+ Rk: 107|
|Date||Opponent||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L|
|1-Sep||Liberty||20-17||W||17.3 - 27.2||L|
|8-Sep||North Carolina||28-27||W||37.9 - 21.1||W|
|15-Sep||at Florida State||0-52||L||7.0 - 35.1||L|
|22-Sep||Army||49-37||W||35.8 - 31.2||W|
|29-Sep||Duke||27-34||L||20.3 - 30.4||L|
|6-Oct||at Maryland||14-19||L||15.6 - 19.1||L|
|20-Oct||at Virginia||16-10||W||14.5 - 17.7||L|
|25-Oct||Clemson||13-42||L||16.7 - 28.9||L|
|3-Nov||Boston College||28-14||W||23.5 - 30.9||L|
|10-Nov||at N.C. State||6-37||L||6.7 - 29.0||L|
|17-Nov||at Notre Dame||0-38||L||14.7 - 41.3||L|
|24-Nov||Vanderbilt||21-55||L||22.7 - 39.3||L|
|Points Per Game||18.5||116||31.8||92|
|Adj. Points Per Game||19.4||119||29.3||73|
2. Nothing worked
Wake Forest lost two tight games in the middle of the season -- by seven points to Duke, by five points to Maryland; taking either game would have gotten the Demon Deacons to six wins. But that wouldn't have made them a good team. The offense played well exactly twice (against North Carolina and Army), and the defense (which definitely wasn't the primary issue in 2012) was still only significantly better than average three times. And both units got worse after September.
Adj. Points Per Game (first 4 games): Opponent 28.7, Wake Forest 24.5 (minus-4.2)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 8 games): Opponent 29.6, Wake Forest 16.8 (minus-12.8)
Wake went from below average to bad, and a 3-1 start begat a 2-6 finish. The Deacs were pretty young across the board, and you can talk yourself into youth when it improves late in the year. Wake's young players really didn't. And as is usually the case, injuries didn't help.
|Q1 Rk||114||1st Down Rk||106|
|Q2 Rk||112||2nd Down Rk||115|
|Q3 Rk||68||3rd Down Rk||102|
3. "We had to go to school and learn to throw the ball."
Grobe on tweaks to the offense:
Our recruiting each year is simply trying to find the best players we can find. Maybe that’s an option quarterback, maybe that’s a throwing quarterback. We were running the QB a lot, with a lot of option stuff, and we ended up with Riley Skinner, who doesn’t run but throws so well. We had to go to school and learn to throw the ball. With Tanner Price, we’ve been a throwing team.
The recruiting approach for Grobe and his staff is to find athletes and fit a system around them. In 2012, however, the offense really didn't have many awesome athletes. The Deacs were still reasonably efficient on standard downs, and they were downright awesome in the red zone, but they just weren't able to create many chances for themselves because of a complete and total lack of big play ability. It doesn't matter if you're running or passing; if you don't have the horses, you're going to struggle.
Is the outlook any rosier for 2013 in this regard? It's hard to say yes. Possession receiver extraordinaire Michael Campanaro does return; of the six receivers targeted at least three times in 2012, only Campanaro managed a catch rate of better than 57 percent, but he also only averaged 9.7 yards per catch. He averaged just 11.4 as the No. 2 receiver in 2011. He was great in an "extended handoffs" capacity, but he didn't help to stretch the field.
Meanwhile, Brandon Terry showed promise in this regard (19.3 yards per catch, four catches for 87 yards against North Carolina), but his catch rate was far too low for him to be effective. They're both back, as is sophomore Sherman Ragland III, but if there's hope for more big plays, it might have to come from a newcomer like redshirt freshman Jared Crump. From what we know about the players on the roster, big plays aren't necessarily forthcoming. And in the running game, senior Josh Harris, a solid big-play guy on the rare occasion that he got to the second level of a defense, was recently deemed ineligible for the season.
Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Tanner Price||6'2, 205||Sr.||*** (5.6)||228||410||2,300||55.6%||12||7||25||5.7%||4.9|
|Patrick Thompson||6'2, 210||Jr.||** (5.3)||5||6||21||83.3%||0||0||0||0.0%||3.5|
|Kevin Sousa||6'3, 230||So.||*** (5.7)|
|Tyler Cameron||6'3, 220||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Deandre Martin||RB||6'2, 235||So.||*** (5.6)||126||490||3.9||3.1||6||-15.4|
|Tanner Price||QB||6'2, 205||Sr.||*** (5.6)||52||147||2.8||4.2||0||-12.1|
|Michael Campanaro||WR||5'11, 190||Sr.||*** (5.7)||16||82||5.1||3.2||1||-0.7|
|Orville Reynolds||RB||5'9, 185||Jr.||*** (5.6)||5||-6||-1.2||N/A||0||-2.7|
|Dominique Gibson||RB||5'10, 205||RSFr.||*** (5.7)|
|Dezmond Wortham||RB||6'0, 205||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
4. "We’re trying to get back to being more of a running team."
Now we don’t run the ball very well because we’ve gotten used to throwing. We’re really in transition now – we’re trying to get back to being more of a running team.
At Ohio, Grobe was able to craft quite a bit of offensive success through his use of the Wishbone. A former Air Force assistant under Fisher DeBerry, Grobe was certainly schooled in the option, but he wasn't married to it; he did it at Ohio because he was attempting to do something different, not because he felt it is the only way to move the ball.
As mentioned above, Wake has turned into more of a passing team through the years, thanks primarily to the weapons it has been able to recruit. But that changes in 2013. In an effort to shake things up and perhaps manufacture a few more big plays, Wake Forest is going back to the option and good chunks of the offense it was running pre-Riley Skinner.
It's in quarterback Tanner Price to have some success as a dual-threat guy. He was known as a dual-threat in high school, and he had a couple of high-carry games early in his freshman year (10 carries versus Duke, 16 versus Stanford) before he got rocked pretty hard against Florida State, and the staff went conservative with him. Without Harris, however, Wake will be leaning mostly on youngsters to test opponents' run defenses. Sophomore Deandre Martin got experience last year, but that's pretty much it.
|Michael Campanaro||FL||5'11, 190||Sr.||*** (5.7)||107||79||763||73.8%||7.1||26.8%||58.9%||7.1||84.8|
|Sherman Ragland III||WR||6'2, 195||So.||*** (5.6)||52||23||247||44.2%||4.8||13.0%||51.9%||5.2||27.4|
|Brandon Terry||WR||6'5, 205||Jr.||*** (5.6)||37||15||290||40.5%||7.8||9.3%||62.2%||7.7||32.2|
|Deandre Martin||RB||6'2, 235||So.||*** (5.6)||20||16||135||80.0%||6.8||5.0%||45.0%||5.3||15.0|
|Spencer Bishop||TE||6'2, 240||Sr.||NR||7||3||26||42.9%||3.7||1.8%||85.7%||2.6||2.9|
|Matt James||WR||6'5, 220||Jr.||*** (5.6)||3||1||3||33.3%||1.0||0.8%||0.0%||0.4||0.3|
|Tanner Price||QB||6'2, 205||Sr.||*** (5.6)||2||2||13||100.0%||6.5||0.5%||50.0%||6.6||1.4|
|Orville Reynolds||RB||5'9, 185||Jr.||*** (5.6)||2||2||-4||100.0%||-2.0||0.5%||50.0%||-1.8||-0.4|
|Jared Crump||WR||6'3, 190||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Zach Gordon||TE||6'5, 245||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Brendan O'Neil||TE||6'4, 220||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
|Garrick Williams||C||27 career starts|
|Frank Souza||RG||6'4, 310||Sr.||*** (5.6)||14 career starts|
|Colin Summers||RT||6'5, 315||Jr.||*** (5.5)||12 career starts|
|Whit Barnes||C||6'4, 300||Sr.||*** (5.5)||11 career starts|
|Antonio Ford||LT||6'4, 310||Jr.||*** (5.6)||6 career starts|
|Dylan Intemann||LT||6'5, 310||So.||NR||4 career starts|
|Steven Chase||OT||6'6, 315||Sr.||** (4.9)||3 career starts|
|Gabe Irby||LG||1 career start|
|Devin Bolling||OT||1 career start|
|Hunter Goodwin||LT||6'6, 300||So.||*** (5.5)|
|Cody Preble||C||6'5, 280||So.||*** (5.7)|
|Tyler Hayworth||LG||6'4, 310||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Will Smith||RT||6'5, 300||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Joel Suggs||OT||6'6, 300||RSFr.||** (5.3)|
|Josh Harris||OG||6'4, 290||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
|Cory Helms||C||6'4, 290||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
5. You need five healthy linemen
It's a good sign that Grobe is still willing to tinker and make changes in a hungry search to move the ball. His misdirection running game indeed had a decent amount of success early in his Wake tenure, and it was certainly time for a change. But the change will only matter if the line can both stay healthy and improve. Between injuries and youth, the line fell apart in 2012, especially in terms of run blocking. It couldn't create chances for its backs, it couldn't keep defenders out of the backfield, and it couldn't convert in short-yardage situations. That's three strikes.
In 2013, six players with starting experience do return (50 career starts). That's certainly a good thing. The line is big and experienced. But how much can a line improve in one year, especially when a bit of a system change is involved?
|Q1 Rk||77||1st Down Rk||71|
|Q2 Rk||88||2nd Down Rk||42|
|Q3 Rk||35||3rd Down Rk||88|
6. The defense was not the problem
The 2012 Wake defense certainly wasn't very good, but it wasn't that bad either. The Deacs were reasonably efficient on standard downs, and a light but active line was able to make quite a few plays in the backfield. But even if the defense could leverage opponents into passing downs, the back seven wasn't able to make enough stops. Injuries were a hindrance -- each of the top three linemen all missed time, as did three of the top six defensive backs -- and the unit certainly regressed as the season went on. If the D can stay healthy, and if it can at least get some sort of help from the O, then there is enough experience here to at least shoot for a top-50 or -60 Def. F/+ ranking.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Zach Thompson||DE||6'5, 265||Sr.||*** (5.5)||11||39.5||5.6%||5.5||4||1||0||1||1|
|Nikita Whitlock||NG||5'11, 250||Sr.||**||10||39.0||5.5%||5.5||3||0||0||0||0|
|Kris Redding||DE||6'4, 275||Sr.||** (5.2)||11||22.0||3.1%||5.5||3.5||0||4||2||1|
|Tylor Harris||NG||6'4, 285||So.||** (5.4)||12||19.0||2.7%||4.5||1.5||0||0||2||1|
|Desmond Floyd||DE||6'5, 255||So.||*** (5.6)||5||4.0||0.6%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Johnny Garcia||DE||6'4, 260||Jr.||** (5.4)||12||1.5||0.2%||0.5||0||0||0||0||0|
|Shelldon Lewinson||NG||6'2, 245||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Josh Banks||DE||6'4, 250||RSFr.||** (5.4)|
|James Looney||DE||6'3, 275||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
7. A funky, effective line
Wake's nose guard, Nikita Whitlock, is smaller than most opponents' defensive ends. But in three years, he has racked up 30 tackles for loss and 9.5 sacks. He was dinged up last year, plus he got a bit more attention from opposing defenses, but he is a unique weapon, and Wake has shown that it knows how to use him at times.
Despite Whitlock's limited play, and despite the lack of health and depth around him, the line mostly did its job in 2012. Five different players logged at least 4.5 tackles for loss, and the Deacs were strong in both the Stuff Rate (making negative plays against the run) and Opportunity Rate (allowing runners to the second level, basically) categories. Not surprisingly, a lack of size contributed to short-yardage issues, but if you make enough plays, you can get away with that. There's a lot of experience here, and there's no reason to think the line stats will slip much. But the line will still need more help than it got last year.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Justin Jackson||ROB||6'1, 230||Sr.||*** (5.6)||12||60.5||8.5%||8.5||4||0||2||0||1|
|Mike Olson||MLB||6'3, 230||Sr.||** (4.9)||11||58.5||8.2%||3.5||1||1||2||0||0|
|Zachary Allen||ROB||6'2, 240||Jr.||*** (5.7)||12||33.0||4.6%||1.5||0||0||0||1||0|
|Brandon Chubb||MLB||6'1, 240||So.||** (5.3)||12||18.0||2.5%||1||0||0||0||0||0|
|Britt Cherry||ILB||6'1, 225||RSFr.||NR||6||0.5||0.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Josh Donatell||OLB||6'6, 225||RSFr.||*** (5.6)|
|Kevis Jones||OLB||6'2, 230||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Lance Virgile||LB||6'2, 220||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|A.J. Marshall||FS||6'0, 195||Sr.||**** (5.8)||12||58.5||8.2%||3||0||2||4||1||0|
|Kevin Johnson||CB||6'1, 175||Jr.||** (5.3)||12||46.0||6.5%||3.5||0.5||3||15||2||1|
|Merrill Noel||CB||5'10, 180||Jr.||*** (5.6)||9||28.5||4.0%||1.5||0.5||0||3||0||0|
|Duran Lowe||SS||6'0, 215||Sr.||*** (5.5)||6||22.0||3.1%||1||0||0||0||0||1|
|James Ward||SS||5'10, 170||So.||*** (5.5)||12||16.0||2.3%||1||0||0||1||0||0|
|Allen Ramsey II||CB||6'0, 190||So.||*** (5.7)||10||8.0||1.1%||1||0||1||0||0||1|
|Chuck Schlegel||FS||6'0, 175||Jr.||NR||11||1.5||0.2%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Ryan Janvion||SS||5'11, 190||RSFr.||*** (5.5)|
|Michael Stevenson||SS||6'0, 175||Fr.||*** (5.6)|
8. A decent secondary on paper
In 2011, then-freshman Merrill "Bud" Noel defensed 21 passes. In 2012, with Noel fighting injuries, then-sophomore Kevin Johnson recorded 18. In theory, this could be one hell of an active duo of cornerbacks if healthy. Throw in a former star recruit in A.J. Marshall and some youngsters with potential -- James Ward, Allen Ramsey and Ryan Janvion all drew some praise this spring -- and you can see a relatively impressive, aggressive defensive backfield coming together. But as with the offensive line, how much improvement can we expect to see in a single offseason? How much of last year's struggles (and there were certainly struggles) due simply to injury?
And how much will a solid secondary matter if the linebackers don't step up? Wake Forest's defense fell apart in blitzing opportunities, and the linebackers barely made any plays whatsoever against the pass. Players like Justin Jackson have showed potential, and the unit as a whole was pretty decent at flowing to the ball against the run, but it was perhaps the weakest unit on the defense last year, and it is the thinnest heading into the fall.
|Alexander Kinal||6'4, 210||So.||95||40.7||5||28||28||58.9%|
|Chad Hedlund||6'1, 185||So.||10-11||2-2||100.0%||1-1||100.0%|
|Orville Reynolds||KR||5'9, 185||Jr.||11||14.7||0|
|Deandre Martin||KR||6'2, 235||So.||10||17.7||0|
|Special Teams F/+||117|
|Field Goal Pct||113|
|Kick Returns Avg||124|
|Punt Returns Avg||48|
9. Don't stink at special teams
Underdog Tactics 101 tells you that you can't afford to give points away on special teams. Wake had a hell of a kickoffs weapon in Jimmy Newman and a solid punt returner in Lovell Jackson, but that was pretty much it in 2012. Kick returns were dreadful, punting was below average, and Newman wasn't as good a place-kicker as he was a kickoffs guy. Now Newman and Jackson are both gone. Wake needs to do its offense and defense as many field position favors as possible; can it?
2013 Schedule & Projection Factors
|6-Sep||at Boston College||69|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||67|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||64|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||+8 / +4.9|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||16 (8, 8)|
10. "It’s a cat-and-mouse game. It probably boils down to how good your players are."
Grobe on stats and preparation:
We’re not any different than anybody else. We look at every stat known to man. Break down game film ad nauseum. We know what you’re doing on downs, field zones, hashes. Just about every situation you can possibly imagine, we’ve got it on a stat somewhere. But how do you manage all of those stats? How do you pull it together in a gameplan that makes sense?
We’ve got what you do down to a science, but you know we’ve got it. It’s a cat-and-mouse game. It probably boils down to how good your players are.
Again, Jim Grobe's legacy is set. He and his staff have proven flexible, resourceful, and adaptable through the years, and they have proven that they can hold their own in the "cat-and-mouse game." They make major shifts in strategy based on the talent they've got on hand, and they're even willing to change longstanding policies like their approach to redshirting. They pass the Underdog Tactics 101 course with flying colors, to the point where I dedicated a good portion of my "Beating, and Becoming, Goliath" chapter to Grobe's work at Ohio and Wake.
But you still need talent. Does Wake have enough? On paper, there does appear to be more talent here than what the Deacs showed last year. Tanner Price could thrive when given a few more opportunities to run. Michael Campanaro is a lovely "seven yards on second-and-7" guy. Nikita Whitlock is unique and, when healthy, dominant at times. Whitlock has play-making help on the line. And the secondary is full of aggressive, interesting players.
Wake Forest fell apart in 2010 and bounced back with an experienced squad in 2011. It could certainly do the same, and if the Deacs can get back to a top-60 level or so, there are certainly wins to be found. Only one home game is unwinnable (Florida State), and trips to Boston College, Army, Syracuse, and even Vanderbilt aren't incredibly intimidating. But it's up to Grobe and his staff to prove that they can continue to make interesting moves and tweaks. And it's up to Price, Whitlock and company to prove that they have the talent to take advantage when the cat-and-mouse game turns in their favor. I'm not completely buying it, but I'm intrigued.