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1. Difficult jobs remain difficult, even when you do them well for a while
The sun set on the Jim Grobe era in Winston-Salem just as the defense was beginning to figure things out. After ranking 11th in Def. F/+ in 2008, Grobe's Demon Deacons fell to 98th in 2010, and after two years in the 60s and 70s, it surged to 41st last fall.
Defensive tackle Nikita Whitlock remained fascinating, making plays at defensive tackles despite a complete lack of size. The secondary, though banged up here and there, did a solid job of preventing big plays. Despite size and depth issues, Wake Forest's defense was creative and effective. It deserved a better fate.
The Grobe era ended in 2013 because the offense crashed through floors like a sitcom bathtub in an apartment complex. Every time you thought it reached the bottom, it crashed through another floor. The Deacs entered the season with a renewed focus on running the ball ... right up until they realized they couldn't run. They tried passing, then lost their only receiver to injury. And then they played Florida State.
2. A symbolic end
Wake Forest's 30-0 win over Florida State in Tallahassee in 2006 was as symbolic as it was useful; it forced everybody to realize that the Demon Deacons really might win the ACC that season -- they did exactly that a month or so later -- and represented the beginning of the high-water mark for Grobe at Wake. His Deacs would attend three more bowls over the five seasons that followed their trip to the 2007 Orange Bowl, and they spent parts of the 2007-08 season ranked, but that was undoubtedly the peak.
It made sense, then, that a game against Florida State would represent the symbolic end of the road. Wake Forest allowed just 4.1 yards per play to a Seminole offense that wouldn't allow under 5.8 the rest of the way. But in 25 passes, Wake quarterbacks completed seven to Wake receivers and six to Florida State defenders. In the span of 20 seconds, FSU returned an interception for a touchdown, then returned a fumble for a touchdown. And to cap it all, when Wake finally scored on a 23-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, FSU's Kermit Whitfield returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown, capping a 59-3 Wake defeat.
Wake's 17 full possessions against Florida State: punt (three-and-out), interception, interception, interception, fumble, punt, punt (three-and-out), interception, punt (three-and-out), interception, interception, punt (three-and-out), punt (three-and-out), punt (three-and-out), field goal, punt (three-and-out), punt (three-and-out). Longtime starting quarterback Tanner Price went 1-for-4 for three yards and three interceptions. He was replaced by Tyler Cameron, who went 5-for-19 for 63 yards and three picks. Patrick Thompson went 1-for-2 but lost three yards.
Teams have gained fewer than the 166 yards Wake gained that day, but this really might have been one of the worst offensive performances in the history of college football.
Wake was competitive in its final two losses of the year, but the end was obvious. Grobe retired and was replaced by Bowling Green head coach Dave Clawson.
This is a lengthy preamble intended to show you exactly what Clawson inherits. His secondary is athletic and deep enough to handle the move to a 4-2-5 alignment. Both starting cornerbacks, Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel, are among the best in the ACC.
That's the good news. The bad news is everything else. Whitlock and two other defensive line starters (including end Zach Thompson, who had 12 tackles for loss and five sacks) are gone. The top two receivers, including Michael Campanaro (the only one that mattered) are gone. Three of last years four primary rushers are gone. Price is gone. The leading returning passer (Cameron) and rusher (Dominique Gibson) and three returning receivers (Jonathan Williams, Jared Crump, and Tyree Harris) are sophomores, none of whom actually distinguished themselves in 2013. Virginia transfer E.J. Scott, who caught three of 14 passes in 2013, might be a starting wideout.
This is probably going to be a bad team for a while. Grobe took Wake to unexpected heights during his tenure, but eventually a really hard job got the best of him. And now it gets to be really hard for someone else.
3. Clawson's been here before
The good news, as it were, is that rebuilding is nothing new for Clawson. In the five years before Clawson took the head coaching job at Fordham in 1999, the Rams had gone 15-38. They went 3-19 in Clawson's first two years, then went 10-3 and reached the Division 1-AA quarterfinals two years later.
He moved on to Richmond to salvage a program that had gone 10-3 in 2000 but just 9-24 since; after a 3-8 start, he went 9-4 in Year 2 and reached the 1-AA quarterfinals again, then went 11-3 and reached the semis two years later.
After spending 2008 as Phil Fulmer's offensive coordinator at Tennessee, he took the Bowling Green head coaching job. Since going 20-6 in 2003-04, the Falcons had slid backwards, going just 24-24 from 2005-08. It took him a little while to get going; he was just 14-23 three years into the job. But BGSU went 8-5 in 2012, then went 10-4 and destroyed Northern Illinois to win the MAC last fall.
Again, this is a really hard job, and we'll see what Clawson does with it. But the man knows how to salvage and rebuild. This will be his fourth attempt at doing it, and he's succeeded in each of the previous three.
2013 Schedule & Results
|Record: 4-8 | Adj. Record: 4-8 | Final F/+ Rk: 81|
|Date||Opponent||Opp. F/+ Rk||Score||W-L||Adj. Score||Adj. W-L||5-gm Adj. Avg.|
|29-Aug||Presbyterian||N/A||31-7||W||16.4 - 22.1||L|
|6-Sep||at Boston College||65||10-24||L||11.7 - 25.2||L|
|14-Sep||UL-Monroe||109||19-21||L||24.3 - 25.7||L|
|21-Sep||at Army||100||25-11||W||23.4 - 20.7||W|
|28-Sep||at Clemson||16||7-56||L||17.7 - 32.1||L||-6.5|
|5-Oct||N.C. State||92||28-13||W||29.5 - 25.0||W||-4.4|
|19-Oct||Maryland||63||34-10||W||32.2 - 26.5||W||-0.6|
|26-Oct||at Miami||36||21-24||L||23.7 - 25.3||L||-0.6|
|2-Nov||at Syracuse||75||0-13||L||6.8 - 24.7||L||-4.7|
|9-Nov||Florida State||1||3-59||L||7.2 - 11.4||L||-2.7|
|23-Nov||Duke||41||21-28||L||15.5 - 30.6||L||-6.6|
|30-Nov||at Vanderbilt||50||21-23||L||25.1 - 23.2||W||-7.4|
|Points Per Game||18.3||116||24.1||38|
|Adj. Points Per Game||19.5||118||24.4||32|
4. A waste of a good defense
If you pair Wake's 2011 offense (47th in Off. F/+) with its 2013 defense (41st in Def. F/+), you get a downright solid team.
Instead, despite having every reason to fall apart, the Wake defense played well with no support whatsoever in 2013. The national average for yards per play was about 5.7 in 2013; Wake allowed more than 5.7 yards per play just twice (6.9 to Clemson, 5.8 to Miami) and allowed 5.0 or fewer seven times. They allowed 28 or fewer points in 10 of 12 games. And aside from a brief offensive renaissance (relatively speaking) against NC State and Maryland, the offense never once played at an even average level.
- Adj. Points Per Game (first 3 games): Opponent 23.4, Wake 17.5 (minus-5.9)
- Adj. Points Per Game (next 5 games): Opponent 25.9, Wake 25.3 (minus-0.6)
- Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Opponent 22.5, Wake 13.7 (minus-8.8)
The defense might have enough speed to play reasonably well again in 2014, but there is simply no obvious, quick fix for the O.
|FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||38.5%||102||Succ. Rt. +||87.6||104|
|FIELD POSITION||Def. Avg. FP||31.7||103||Def. FP+||95.4||103|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||4.1||77||Redzone S&P+||94.7||83|
|Q1 Rk||101||1st Down Rk||102|
|Q2 Rk||109||2nd Down Rk||125|
|Q3 Rk||122||3rd Down Rk||100|
Note: players in bold below are 2014 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.
|Tyler Cameron||6'3, 220||So.||3 stars (5.7)||7||24||85||0||3||29.2%||1||4.0%||3.0|
|Patrick Thompson||6'2, 210||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||4||6||12||0||1||66.7%||0||0.0%||2.0|
|Kevin Sousa||6'3, 230||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Michael Radford||6'3, 215||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Travis Smith||6'1, 210||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|John Wolford||6'1, 210||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
5. Six quarterbacks, no quarterbacks
Offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero followed Clawson from Bowling Green, where he held the same title. By 2013, Ruggiero had installed a rather fun, diverse BGSU attack. Their top four running backs combined to average 30 carries per game while six players were targeted by passes at least twice per game.
The Falcons were efficient and did their defense all sorts of field position favors; they ran and passed an average amount (slightly more runs than normal on standard downs, slightly more passes than normal on passing downs) and played at a pace typical to FBS football in 2013. They fell behind schedule on occasion, but in then-sophomore Matt Johnson, they had a play-maker who could bail them out.
If such a signal caller exists on the roster in Winston-Salem, lord only knows who it may be.
Including sacks, the two returning, experienced Wake quarterbacks attempted 31 passes last season, gained 90 yards, and had seven more completions than interceptions. By virtue of a) once committing to Michigan, b) not playing last year, and c) having a decent spring, junior Kevin Sousa might be the most attractive option on the table. And if redshirt freshman Michael Radford or one of two incoming freshmen want to break through in August, resistance from the bottom to the top of the depth chart will be minimal.
|Dominique Gibson||RB||5'10, 205||So.||3 stars (5.7)||53||138||1||2.6||3.7||17.0%|
|John Armstrong||FL||5'9, 165||So.||3 stars (5.5)||14||70||0||5.0||2.7||42.9%|
|Orville Reynolds||RB||5'9, 185||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||9||36||0||4.0||1.7||55.6%|
|Tyler Cameron||QB||6'3, 220||So.||3 stars (5.7)||8||26||0||3.3||1.5||50.0%|
|James Ward||RB||5'10, 170||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Dezmond Wortham||RB||6'0, 205||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Isaiah Robinson||RB||5'9, 224||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Tyler Henderson||RB||5'9, 180||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Sherman Ragland III||WR||37||20||154||54.1%||9.9%||69.4%||4.2||-112||4.7||19.7|
|Jonathan Williams||WR||6'4, 180||So.||3 stars (5.5)||31||17||221||54.8%||8.3%||59.3%||7.1||-3||6.1||28.2|
|Jared Crump||WR||6'3, 190||So.||3 stars (5.6)||30||16||176||53.3%||8.1%||57.7%||5.9||-38||5.9||22.5|
|Tyree Harris||WR||6'3, 180||So.||3 stars (5.5)||29||16||162||55.2%||7.8%||41.7%||5.6||-48||5.8||20.7|
|Orville Reynolds||RB||5'9, 185||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||24||12||166||50.0%||6.5%||58.3%||6.9||0||6.9||21.2|
|John Armstrong||FL||5'9, 165||So.||3 stars (5.5)||15||7||47||46.7%||4.0%||36.4%||3.1||-54||1.7||6.0|
|E.J. Scott (Virginia)||WR||5'11, 185||Sr.||3 stars (5.5)||14||3||30||21.4%||2.9%||0.0%||2.1||-37||0.5||2.6|
|Dominique Gibson||RB||5'10, 205||So.||3 stars (5.7)||12||8||87||66.7%||3.2%||70.0%||7.3||-8||6.7||11.1|
|Matt James||WR||6'5, 220||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||12||4||39||33.3%||3.2%||60.0%||3.3||-32||3.7||5.0|
|Zach Gordon||TE||6'5, 245||So.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Brendan O'Neil||TE||6'4, 220||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Cam Serigne||TE||6'3, 215||RSFr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Kameron Uter||WR||6'4, 215||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Devin Pike||TE||6'6, 225||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Jaylan Barbour||WR||5'10, 165||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
6. Lots of sophomores
The good news for 2014 is actually good news for 2016. Whoever emerges as go-to weapons this fall will probably still be around a couple of years from now. Grobe gifted Clawson a pretty decent set of young options, from running backs Dominique Gibson (sophomore) and Dez Wortham (redshirt freshman), to redshirt freshman tight end Brendan O'Neil, to sophomore receivers Jonathan Williams, Jared Crump, Tyree Harris, and John Armstrong. Williams averaged 7.1 yards per target last fall, and considering the degree of difficulty, that might have been more like 9.1 in a good offense.
Senior Orville Reynolds, a receiver in 2013, emerged as the likely go-to running back, but as you see, the junior class almost doesn't exist for Wake, and a ton of sophomores will see playing time.
That goes for the line as well, where three sophomores -- Cory Helms, Tyler Hayworth, and Josh T. Harris -- saw time in the starting lineup last fall. Helms and Harris are particularly intriguing, and SB Nation recruiting expert Bud Elliott told me he really likes incoming freshman A'lique Terry. Again, if Wake can keep this unit together moving forward, there could be some exciting improvement in 2015 and beyond.
|Dylan Intemann||RT||6'5, 310||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||15|
|Cory Helms||C||6'4, 290||So.||3 stars (5.6)||11|
|Antonio Ford||RT||6'4, 310||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||9|
|Tyler Hayworth||LG||6'4, 310||So.||3 stars (5.5)||7|
|Hunter Goodwin||LT||6'6, 300||Jr.||3 stars (5.5)||3|
|Josh T. Harris||RG||6'4, 290||So.||3 stars (5.6)||2|
|Will Smith||OT||6'5, 300||So.||3 stars (5.5)||0|
|Joel Suggs||OT||6'6, 300||So.||2 stars (5.3)||0|
|Cameron Gardner||OT||6'5, 275||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Taylor Chambers||OT||6'8, 300||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Justin Herron||OL||6'5, 285||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|A'lique Terry||OL||6'1, 300||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE|
|Raw Category||Rk||Opp. Adj. Category||Rk|
|EFFICIENCY||Succ. Rt.||40.5%||43||Succ. Rt. +||99.7||53|
|FIELD POSITION||Off. Avg. FP||28.4||102||Off. FP+||97.5||88|
|FINISHING DRIVES||Pts. Per Trip in 40||3.7||14||Redzone S&P+||116.4||19|
|Q1 Rk||45||1st Down Rk||30|
|Q2 Rk||44||2nd Down Rk||37|
|Q3 Rk||34||3rd Down Rk||36|
7. A familiar mentality
Wake's 2013 defense was based around sturdy, bend-don't-break principles, with unspectacular success rates, minimal big-play damage, and strong red zone performance. When you are outmanned, it is probably the most reliable way to play defense, and Wake did it very well. The Deacs were ninth in IsoPPP+ (an opponent-adjusted measure of the magnitude of successful plays) and allowed only 3.7 points per trip inside their 40. Despite consistently receiving awful field position from the offense, they were able to mitigate damages.
Bowling Green's defense produced a similar dynamic with its defense last year (91st in Success Rate+, 54th in IsoPPP+, 3.3 points per trip inside their 40), albeit from a 4-2-5 structure. Coordinator Mike Elko also followed Clawson to North Carolina from Ohio, and while the switch from 3-4 to 4-2-5 could be rather awkward (especially considering the glut of interesting redshirt freshmen at linebacker), the mentality won't change much.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Josh Banks||DT||6'4, 250||So.||2 stars (5.4)||10||11.0||1.6%||2.0||1.0||0||3||1||0|
|Desmond Floyd||DE||6'5, 255||Jr.||3 stars (5.6)||11||9.0||1.3%||3.0||1.0||0||3||0||0|
|Tylor Harris||DT||6'4, 285||Jr.||2 stars (5.4)||11||7.5||1.1%||2.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Zachary Allen||DE||6'2, 240||Sr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Johnny Garcia||DT||6'4, 260||Sr.||NR|
|Rashawn Shaw||DE||6'3, 240||Fr.||3 stars (5.7)|
|Zeek Rodney||DT||6'1, 265||Fr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Willie Yarbary||DT||6'2, 270||Fr.||2 stars (5.4)|
|Chris Stewart||DE||6'3, 245||Fr.||2 stars (5.2)|
8. If injuries are going to hit a unit ...
... it better not be the defensive line. A relative strength of last year's defense, it must replace its top three tacklers, which is asking a lot of a unit that really only played those three guys with regularity.
Last year's chief backups are back, but they combined for 27.5 tackles, barely 40 percent of what Whitlock produced on his own. There are some rather exciting players who could emerge up front -- Zachary Allen was a square 4-3 peg in a 3-4 hole, and incoming freshman Rashawn Shaw was highly touted -- but there just aren't many to go around. With a couple of injuries, you could see either walk-ons or outmanned true freshmen on the two-deep.
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Brandon Chubb||ILB||6'1, 240||Jr.||2 stars (5.3)||12||72.0||10.3%||3.0||0.0||1||2||0||0|
|Hunter Williams||OLB||6'0, 230||Jr.||NR||11||28.5||4.1%||2.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Teddy Matthews||ILB||6'3, 225||So.||3 stars (5.5)||12||17.0||2.4%||1.0||1.0||0||0||0||0|
|Marquel Lee||ILB||6'3, 200||So.||3 stars (5.5)||11||9.0||1.3%||0.0||0.0||0||0||0||0|
|Steve Donatell||OLB||6'6, 225||So.||3 stars (5.6)||3||2.5||0.4%||0.5||0.5||0||0||0||0|
|Lance Virgile||OLB||6'2, 220||RSFr.||3 stars (5.6)|
|Wendell Dunn||OLB||6'3, 210||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Ali Lamot||OLB||6'2, 200||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Duke Ejiofor||OLB||6'4, 220||RSFr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Jaboree Williams||LB||6'0, 210||Fr.||3 stars (5.5)|
|Rivals||GP||Tackles||% of Team||TFL||Sacks||Int||PBU||FF||FR|
|Ryan Janvion||SS||5'11, 190||So.||3 stars (5.5)||12||78.0||11.2%||2.5||0||1||0||0||0|
|Kevin Johnson||CB||6'1, 175||Sr.||2 stars (5.3)||12||48.5||7.0%||0||0||3||12||1||0|
|Merrill Noel||CB||5'10, 180||Sr.||3 stars (5.6)||11||44.5||6.4%||1.5||0||3||6||3||0|
|Anthony Wooding, Jr.||FS||6'2, 185||Sr.||NR||10||30.5||4.4%||1||0||0||1||0||0|
|Allen Ramsey||CB||6'0, 190||Jr.||3 stars (5.7)||10||14.5||2.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Thomas Brown||SS||6'3, 215||So.||NR||11||11.0||1.6%||0||0||0||0||0||1|
|Brad Watson||CB||6'0, 170||So.||2 stars (5.4)||12||8.0||1.1%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|Deonte Davis||CB||5'10, 170||So.||2 stars (5.3)||9||7.0||1.0%||0||0||0||1||0||0|
|Jalen Latter||CB||6'0, 185||So.||2 stars (5.2)||12||3.0||0.4%||0||0||0||0||0||0|
9. Depth in the back
As I mentioned, there are quite a few athletic redshirt freshmen currently occupying outside linebacker roles, but in terms of proven depth, the Wake secondary is easily the standout. That Elko basically wants to utilize a permanent nickelback is fortuitous because he's got the guys to do it.
Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel have combined for 8.5 tackles for loss, 11 interceptions, and a whopping 57 pass break-ups in their careers; they are active, aggressive play-makers for a defense that needs them. Meanwhile, Ryan Janvion was instrumental in Wake's successful big-play prevention as a redshirt freshman, and thanks to injuries, others like Anthony Wooding, Jr., Allen Ramsey, and Thomas Brown saw solid playing time as well. Wake may only have one unit playing at a high level within the ACC, and opponents may not actually have to pass much on the Deacs this fall, but the secondary really is a keeper.
|Alexander Kinal||6'4, 210||Jr.||86||39.7||6||34||23||66.3%|
|Chad Hedlund||6'1, 185||Jr.||46||62.1||9||0||19.6%|
|Chad Hedlund||6'1, 185||Jr.||26-26||7-9||77.8%||1-3||33.3%|
|John Armstrong||KR||5'9, 165||So.||8||18.8||0|
|Jared Crump||PR||6'3, 190||So.||5||7.4||0|
|Special Teams F/+||69|
|Field Goal Efficiency||52|
|Punt Return Efficiency||84|
|Kick Return Efficiency||89|
|Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency||31|
2014 Schedule & Projection Factors
|13-Sep||at Utah State||49|
|4-Oct||at Florida State||1|
|15-Nov||at N.C. State||66|
|Five-Year F/+ Rk||-7.8% (83)|
|Two-Year Recruiting Rk||57|
|TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin*||-2 / 4.3|
|Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.)||10 (5, 5)|
10. An unfair schedule
By October 4 of his first season on the job, Dave Clawson will have taken his team on the road to play a tricky, unorthodox mid-major (ULM), a relative mid-major powerhouse (Utah State), a new conference foe that has gone 23-3 in the last two years (Louisville) and the defending national champions (Florida State). Granted, there are also two innately winnable home games on the docket (Gardner-Webb, Army), but holy smokes that is quite the diverse, challenging slate right out of the gates.
Then again, the schedule really doesn't matter this fall. This is a Year 0 situation if ever one existed. It's going to take a while for Clawson to get his pieces in place, and he's proven in previous stops that he's not into shortcuts. He went a combined 3-19 in his first years at Fordham and Richmond, and while he may get to 3-9 in 2014, he won't get too far beyond that.
His sophomore class is intriguing and could become leaders of a resurgent team in a couple of years, but he just doesn't have the weapons this time around. This is a hard job, but it's going to be extra hard in 2014.