clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

I didn't realize an offense could be as bad as Wake Forest's was. But there's hope!

Head coach Dave Clawson has been in situations kind of like this before. While this offense is going to need years of work, this defense could buy it some time.

Confused? Check out the advanced-stats glossary here.

1. This isn't new territory

Wake Forest went 3-9 last season, ranked 101st in the F/+ ratings (behind Texas State, FIU, FAU, UL-Monroe, Kansas, and head coach Dave Clawson's former team, Bowling Green), and scored an almost impossibly low 178 points. It was the Demon Deacons' worst point total since 1996. Wake wasted a strong defense with one of the worst offenses in recent history (they scored 13 or fewer points in a game six times and never topped 24), and furthered the tumbling that marked the last half-decade of the Jim Grobe era.

After going 28-12 from 2006-08, Grobe managed one bowl bid and no winning records in his final five seasons. Clawson took over, saw minimal talent among the upperclassmen, and handed the team to freshmen. The results were horrendous and could have been worse -- only a 2-2 record in one-possession games (impressive considering the youth) kept the win total as high as it was.

That's the bad news. The good news is that Clawson has been here before and probably isn't alarmed about having to take his time.

The 47-year-old is already on his fourth head coaching job, and all of them have required foundation repair. He went 0-11 in his first year at Fordham and 3-8 at Richmond, and after inheriting an experienced Bowling Green squad and going 7-6 in his first year, he went 2-10 in his second.

Some coaches do wonderful work with what they inherit but struggle to maintain progress when the program is completely theirs. Clawson is the opposite. Before he reached Wake Forest, he was 24-47 all-time (a .338 win percentage) in his first two years at a each school and 66-33 (0.667) in years three to five. By his fourth year at Fordham, he had the Rams in the FCS quarterfinals. In year four at Richmond, the Spiders won the FCS title. In year 5 at BGSU, he won 10 games and a MAC title.

Clawson takes his time and wins. The question is whether he can keep up that trend at one of FBS' hardest jobs.

Wake's alumni base is absurdly small compared to its power-conference brethren, and there will always be limited revenue and minimal historical pull for recruits. Clawson didn't have to worry about recruiting against Florida State or Clemson when he was at Fordham. At Richmond, he wasn't losing program saviors to Virginia Tech. At each of his first three stops, he was able to quickly build talent that was equal or superior to his conference rivals. That's not going to happen in Winston-Salem.

Still, while a national title might not be in the plans, wins are. That he and his staff were able to maintain a top-40 defense in his first year was a nice sign, but patience is going to be required when it comes to fixing an offense that was almost too awful for words. That they won a game that was scoreless at the end of regulation -- 6-3 over Virginia Tech in double overtime -- is both apt and misleading; usually when your offense is this bad, the defense gives out.

With only four opponents projected worse than 60th (none after October 1), Wake's win total probably isn't going to improve much. But the defense is experienced enough to maintain form, and the offense has almost no choice to progress. If the Deacs can improve into the 70s or 80s this year, they could be positioned to make the Year 3 surge that Clawson patented in his former jobs.

2014 Schedule & Results

Record: 3-9 | Adj. Record: 2-10 | Final F/+ Rk: 101
Date Opponent Opp. F/+ Rk Score W-L Percentile
Performance
Adj. Scoring
Margin
Win
Expectancy
28-Aug at UL-Monroe 97 10-17 L 6% -35.4 0%
6-Sep Gardner-Webb N/A 23-7 W 51% 0.5 96%
13-Sep at Utah State 52 24-36 L 37% -7.7 7%
20-Sep Army 121 24-21 W 41% -5.5 53%
27-Sep at Louisville 23 10-20 L 18% -21.1 0%
4-Oct at Florida State 15 3-43 L 6% -37.1 0%
18-Oct Syracuse 80 7-30 L 21% -19.2 12%
25-Oct Boston College 36 17-23 L 18% -21.1 1%
6-Nov Clemson 14 20-34 L 34% -9.8 2%
15-Nov at NC State 55 13-42 L 7% -34.5 0%
22-Nov Virginia Tech 33 6-3 W 62% 7.0 65%
29-Nov at Duke 51 21-41 L 31% -11.7 6%

Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
S&P+ 11.1 128 23.5 37
Points Per Game 14.8 127 26.4 63

2. Semi-interesting at home, wretched on the road

Wake's 2014 schedule was conducive to wringing out as many wins as possible. Both Gardner-Webb and Army, the two worst teams on the slate, came to Winston-Salem, and Syracuse (the second-worst team in the conference) and Virginia Tech (a team with an offense bad enough to let Wake stick around) visited as well.

Sure, the trips to UL-Monroe and Utah State were cruel and unusual, but Wake was good enough defensively to win three games at home despite playing only two teams ranked worse.

  • Average Percentile Performance (home): 38% (~top 80 | record: 3-3)
  • Average Percentile Performance (road): 18% (~top 105 | record: 0-6)

The road trips were ritual slaughter. Wake couldn't score one offensive touchdown against UL-Monroe. The Deacs lost by 12 points to Utah State, by 40 to a Florida State cruising in third gear, and by a combined 49 to in-state rivals NC State and Duke. The trip to Louisville was semi-encouraging -- Wake led 10-7 heading into the fourth quarter -- but only because of a fumble recovery touchdown; Wake was outgained 421-100, and it was only a matter of time before Louisville pulled away.

When you're a young team, you're going to stink on the road. We'll see if that changes.

Offense

FIVE FACTORS -- OFFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.70 125 IsoPPP+ 59.6 128
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 26.2% 128 Succ. Rt. + 75.2 128
FIELD POSITION Def. Avg. FP 31.5 99 Def. FP+ 97.0 101
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.3 125 Redzone S&P+ 89.1 96
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 20.8 ACTUAL 21 +0.2
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 128 128 128 128
RUSHING 127 128 128 128
PASSING 109 107 74 117
Standard Downs 128 127 128
Passing Downs 128 126 128
Q1 Rk 121 1st Down Rk 128
Q2 Rk 128 2nd Down Rk 123
Q3 Rk 105 3rd Down Rk 128
Q4 Rk 128

3. You could tell from the opening snap

Moving from previewing Ohio State on Monday (first in Success Rate+, first in IsoPPP+) to Wake Forest on Tuesday (last in both) is like changing sports.

You could tell from the first game that Wake wasn't going to have a single thing to offer opposing defenses. The Deacs took a 7-0 lead on ULM because of a blocked punt recovered in the end zone but went three-and-out on four of their first five possessions (the other possession: a six-and-out that featured one first down). A 22-yard pass set up a field goal near the end of the first half, but not another Wake possession gained more than 16 yards.

Wake gained 94 yards against ULM, 1.9 per play, and ULM won because of a pick six and a late-game drive against an exhausted defense. The Demon Deacons managed five first downs against a defense that ranked 62nd in Def. S&P+. They had no way of pushing the Warhawks off of the ball, the receivers were able to make nothing happen after rare completions, and Wake's freshman quarterback got sacked six times in 28 pass attempts.

Not every performance was that bad, but Wake managed to to average more than 4.1 yards per play just three times -- against Gardner-Webb, Army (the second-worst defense in FBS according to Def. S&P+), and Duke. The passing game had semi-efficient moments, but the run game ... damn ... I didn't realize a run game could be this bad. In about 19 carries per game, Wake running backs managed to gain five or more yards in about four of them. That put infinite pressure on a true freshman quarterback.

Experience increases, but athleticism doesn't. With a sophomore quarterback, two sophomore running backs, a receiving corps featuring sophomores and juniors, and a line that boasts up to four sophomore or junior starters, this is still a young offense, one that stands to improve. But if there's a lack of pure talent, the ceiling will remain pretty low.

And the scary part of how bad Wake looked wasn't how bad the Deacs looked in the present tense -- it was how little hope there was for improvement.

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2015 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Comp Att Yards TD INT Comp
Rate
Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
John Wolford 6'1, 205 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8435 214 367 2037 12 14 58.3% 55 13.0% 4.2
Tyler Cameron
10 16 55 0 0 62.5% 3 15.8% 1.1
Kyle Driscoll 6'1, 190 RSFr. NR NR
Kendall Hinton 6'0, 185 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8528
Kyle Kearns 6'2, 190 Fr. 4 stars (5.8) 0.8677

4. If last year didn't ruin John Wolford, nothing will

John Wolford survived and is evidently coming back for his sophomore season. That is a success story. To say Wolford was thrown into the deep end is to ruin that cliché for any future use; a three-star true freshman, Wolford was asked by Clawson and coordinator Warren Ruggiero to start from the first day in the hope that early struggle would lead to future success.

That always looks good on paper, but when you get sacked 55 times and throw 14 interceptions, that can derail whatever you are envisioning. With no line and receivers that lacked separation, Wolford was asked to do too much, and his performance was predictably awful.

If there's hope, it's that his final game might have been his best. Against Duke in a 41-21 loss, he completed 24 of 36 passes (67 percent) for 251 yards, three scores, and no picks. Yes, he was also sacked four times (that goes without saying) and only averaged 5.8 yards per pass attempt, but improvement is improvement. The fact that he was still standing and playing well was a wonderful sign.

While two of Wolford's top three targets leaving isn't a happy thing, the fact that Matt James and E.J. Scott combined to average 5.6 yards per target (57 percent catch rate, 9.8 yards per catch) makes the losses palatable. Tight end Cam Serigne might have been Wake's most interesting weapon as a freshman, and the combination of juniors Jared Crump and Jonathan Williams, redshirt sophomore Tyree Harris, and South Carolina graduate transfer K.J. Brent should be more than capable of matching that meager production.

And in theory, if the running game ranks 100th instead of dead last, Wolford will be making fewer passing-downs throws and might actually be able to find a few open receivers before getting hit. But that might be pie-in-the-sky thinking.

(Meanwhile, if Wolford were to get hurt, then the snaps would go to either a redshirt freshman walk-on or another true freshman. But let's not think about that. Granted, the freshmen are pretty intriguing -- Kendall Hinton is a strong athlete who was in for spring, and Kyle Kearns was a four-star via Rivals -- but still.)

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Rushes Yards TD Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Opp.
Opp.
Rate
Fumbles Fum.
Lost
Isaiah Robinson RB 5'10, 215 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8308 94 166 3 1.8 4.2 17.0% 2 1
Dezmond Wortham RB 6'0, 205 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8391 84 240 0 2.9 3.5 27.4% 0 0
Orville Reynolds RB
52 116 0 2.2 6.2 13.5% 0 0
John Wolford QB 6'1, 205 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8435 49 122 0 2.5 1.9 28.6% 5 3
E.J. Scott WR
6 39 1 6.5 8.4 50.0% 0 0
Kevin Sousa QB
5 10 0 2.0 4.3 20.0% 0 0
Tyler Cameron QB
4 20 0 5.0 6.5 25.0% 1 1
James Ward RB 5'10, 195 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8134
Rocky Reid RB 6'0, 220 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8643
Matt Colburn RB 5'9, 186 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8321
Tyler Bell RB 5'11, 205 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8013







Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Target
Rate
%SD Yds/
Target
NEY Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Matt James WR-X
75 35 341 46.7% 23.5% 54.7% 4.5 -112 4.5 51.2
Cam Serigne TE 6'3, 245 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7938 70 49 469 70.0% 21.9% 52.9% 6.7 -114 6.7 70.4
E.J. Scott SLOT
67 46 451 68.7% 21.0% 47.8% 6.7 -98 6.7 67.7
Jared Crump WR-S 6'3, 205 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8162 46 26 280 56.5% 14.4% 39.1% 6.1 -42 6.0 42.1
Tyree Harris (2013) WR 6'3,185 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8414 29 16 162 55.2% 7.8% 41.7% 5.6 -48 5.8 20.7
K.J. Brent
(South Carolina)
WR 6'4, 192 Sr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8568 13 9 111 69.2% 2.9% 38.5% 8.5 4 6.8 16.7
Jonathan Williams WR-X 6'3, 185 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8307 13 7 98 53.8% 4.1% 61.5% 7.5 10 7.8 14.7
Isaiah Robinson RB 5'10, 215 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8308 12 7 27 58.3% 3.8% 33.3% 2.3 -59 2.3 4.1
Orville Reynolds RB
11 8 15 72.7% 3.4% 54.5% 1.4 -80 1.4 2.2
Brandon Terry WR-S
9 7 93 77.8% 2.8% 55.6% 10.3 11 10.5 14.0
Dezmond Wortham RB 6'0, 205 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8391 8 6 19 75.0% 2.5% 37.5% 2.4 -52 2.8 2.9
Devin Pike TE 6'6, 245 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8422 7 3 8 42.9% 2.2% 42.9% 1.1 -32 1.5 1.2
Steve Donatell TE 6'6, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8112
Brendan O'Neil TE 6'4, 235 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8052
Cortez Lewis WR 6'1, 200 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8107
Tabari Hines WR 5'10, 165 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8347
Bowman Archibald TE 6'5, 245 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8632
Steven Claude WR 6'2, 190 Fr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8631
Scotty Washington WR 6'5, 210 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8544
Chuck Wade WR 6'0, 200 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8251
Alex Bachman WR 6'0, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8035

5. Pretty good in 2017?

For obvious reasons, Clawson loaded up on running backs and wide receivers in his 2015 class. And from a "throwing numbers at a problem" standpoint, odds are decent that a couple will be good.

And if we assume incompetent freshmen might turn into semi-competent juniors and seniors, then with a veteran quarterback and improved line, there might be enough athletes to make something of the offense by 2016 or, more likely, 2017.

2015, however, will be about figuring out who can do damage in 2017. I'm not sure Isaiah Robinson and Dezmond Wortham are on that list. Robinson gained 85 yards in 22 carries against Army and Louisville (a meager 3.9 yards per carry average) but gained just 90 yards in his other 76 carries. Wortham took over and gained 68 yards in 12 carries against Florida State ... and 172 in 72 carries the rest of the way. They combined to gain only 46 yards in 20 pass targets, as well. It was difficult to divvy out fault between the runners and the blockers, but they were all bad.

Both Robinson and Wortham were low- to mid-three-star recruits according to the 247Sports Composite, so perhaps there is still a base of talent, but the floor is open for an incoming freshman like big Rocky Reid or Matt Colburn if they show promise in fall camp.

The receiving corps seems to have more promise (which is not the worst thing when you're in a pass-first offense), but it's going to take a while to figure out what incoming freshmen like Steven Claude, Chuck Wade, and big Scotty Washington can offer.

Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 47.3 1.36 0.88 21.9% 53.3% 36.8% 64.8 11.0% 13.1%
Rank 128 128 128 128 121 128 123 125 123
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. Career Starts Honors/Notes
Dylan Intemann RT 6'5, 305 Sr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8469 28
Cory Helms C
24
Antonio Ford LG
21
Josh Harris RG 6'4, 310 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8131 12
Tyler Hayworth LG 6'4, 325 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8191 8
A'Lique Terry C 6'1, 310 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8316 7
Will Smith LT 6'5, 305 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8281 4
Hunter Goodwin RG
3
Joel Suggs LT 6'6, 300 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8121 0
Cameron Gardner RT 6'5, 285 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7892 0
Taylor Chambers OT 6'8, 300 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8170 0
Justin Herron OL 6'5, 285 RSFr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8472
Nick Luedeke OL 6'5, 265 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8119
Nathan Gilliam OL 6'5, 280 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8519
T.J. Haney OL 6'6, 330 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8414

Defense

FIVE FACTORS -- DEFENSE
Raw Category Rk Opp. Adj. Category Rk
EXPLOSIVENESS IsoPPP 0.83 50 IsoPPP+ 109.5 43
EFFICIENCY Succ. Rt. 39.0% 35 Succ. Rt. + 105.2 44
FIELD POSITION Off. Avg. FP 29.7 76 Off. FP+ 98.0 88
FINISHING DRIVES Pts. Per Trip in 40 3.8 19 Redzone S&P+ 120.3 17
TURNOVERS EXPECTED 21.8 ACTUAL 19.0 -2.8
Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 41 43 44 43
RUSHING 83 48 34 68
PASSING 12 44 64 37
Standard Downs 56 53 75
Passing Downs 12 36 7
Q1 Rk 35 1st Down Rk 54
Q2 Rk 80 2nd Down Rk 65
Q3 Rk 24 3rd Down Rk 10
Q4 Rk 33

6. Wasting a strong defense

SIGN UP FOR OUR COLLEGE FOOTBALL NEWSLETTER

Get all kinds of NCAA Football stories, rumors, game coverage, and pictures of Puddles in your inbox every day.

Clawson brought both of his coordinators from Bowling Green, and while Ruggiero struggled to maintain BGSU's form with the talent he inherited, Mike Elko found more to work with. He inherited a defense that had ranked 33rd in Def. S&P+ in 2013 and navigated it to a No. 37 ranking. Considering how much the D was asked to do, that's impressive.

It was also cruel. Wake Forest allowed 5.4 or fewer yards per play on seven occasions (the national average was around 5.8) but went 2-5 in those games.

The Demon Deacons' stats were an interesting mix. They were aggressive against the run, aiming for efficiency while occasionally getting gashed, but they were conservative against the pass, focused on preventing huge gains. Once they could leverage an opponent into passing downs, they were tremendous at closing drives, but efficient passing attacks could keep the Deacs on their heels.

The front seven returns all but one primary contributor, and the run defense should expect to improve, which is encouraging. But that one player (end Zachary Allen) was Wake's best pass rusher, and when combined with significant turnover in the secondary, the pass defense will almost certainly regress.

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs

LY/carry
Pass.
Downs

LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs

Sack Rt.
Team 103.1 2.78 2.91 37.6% 75.6% 20.1% 102.1 3.7% 9.9%
Rank 48 41 33 48 108 54 62 89 23
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Zachary Allen DE
12 49.0 7.1% 11.0 5.0 0 1 0 0
Wendell Dunn DE 6'3, 250 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8367 12 30.0 4.3% 7.5 0.5 0 2 2 0
Josh Banks DT 6'4, 275 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8192 12 27.5 4.0% 7.5 4.0 1 2 1 0
Tylor Harris DE 6'4, 305 Sr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8185 10 17.5 2.5% 3.5 1.0 0 0 1 0
Shelldon Lewinson NT 6'2, 260 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8087 12 14.0 2.0% 3.0 2.0 0 0 0 0
Duke Ejiofor DE 6'4, 275 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8200 10 11.0 1.6% 2.0 2.0 0 1 0 0
Desmond Floyd DE
10 9.5 1.4% 2.0 1.5 0 1 0 0
Zeek Rodney NT 6'1, 295 So. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8735 10 4.5 0.7% 2.0 1.5 0 0 0 0
Ali Lamot DE 6'2, 265 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8191
Rashawn Shaw DE 6'3, 250 RSFr. 3 stars (5.7) 0.8578
Willie Yarbary DT 6'2, 270 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8152
Chris Stewart DE 6'3, 260 RSFr. 2 stars (5.2) NR
Chris Calhoun DE 6'4, 240 Fr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8423
Paris Black DE 6'3, 240 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8420
Elontae Bateman DT 6'2, 275 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8032








Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Brandon Chubb BUCK 6'1, 245 Sr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7685 12 81.0 11.7% 6.5 3.0 0 3 2 0
Marquel Lee MIKE 6'3, 235 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8013 12 70.0 10.1% 12.0 4.0 0 1 1 0
Hunter Williams ROV 6'0, 220 Sr. NR NR 12 45.5 6.6% 7.0 1.0 1 2 0 0
Grant Dawson MIKE 6'1, 225 So. NR NR 12 10.5 1.5% 0.5 0.0 0 1 0 0
Jaboree Williams LB 6'0, 240 So. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8178 12 10.5 1.5% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Julian Thomas-Jackson OLB 6'4, 220 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.7700 11 5.0 0.7% 0.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Steve Donatell ROV 6'6, 230 Jr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8112 12 5.0 0.7% 1.0 0.0 0 1 1 0
Teddy Matthews BUCK 6'3, 240 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.7833 10 3.0 0.4% 1.0 0.0 0 0 0 0
Zack Wary LB 6'4, 220 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8448
Kalin McNeil LB 6'1, 225 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8185
Justin Strnad LB 6'2, 205 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8067
Nate Mays LB 6'1, 210 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8029








7. A potentially nasty front seven

Is there such a thing as an aggressive bend-don't-break defense? That's kind of what Wake pulled off.

The Demon Deacons were pushovers in short-yardage situations and were passive on standard downs pass defense; they stiffened in the red zone and graded out much better on passing downs. All of that screams "bend don't break."

But in attacking the run on standard downs and the quarterback on passing downs, they made an above average number of havoc plays; four members of the front seven had at least three sacks, and six had at least 3.5 non-sack tackles for loss. And in the secondary, five defensed at least four passes.

That the front seven's almost entirely intact is exciting. Marquel Lee enjoyed a breakout season, managing lovely havoc stats from the middle linebacker position, and both of his battery mates, Brandon Chubb and Hunter Williams (combined: 13.5 tackles for loss, six passes defensed) did damage as well. They're all back, as are every defensive tackle (including lanky play-maker Josh Banks).

If Wake can figure out the end position, this front seven will be one of the ACC's best. Losing Zachary Allen hurts the pass defense; sophomore Wendell Dunn proved excellent against the run but had only 0.5 sacks. If Wake has to blitz more, that could expose the secondary to big plays.

Perhaps the key, then, is Duke Ejiofor. The big sophomore end had two sacks in limited opportunities last fall and two more in the spring game.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Rivals 247 Comp. GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Ryan Janvion SS 5'11, 190 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8116 12 84.5 12.2% 7 0 0 6 1 0
Anthony Wooding, Jr. WHIP
12 46.5 6.7% 1.5 0 0 5 0 0
Thomas Brown WHIP 6'3, 220 Jr. NR NR 12 44.0 6.4% 6 2 0 3 2 0
Kevin Johnson CB
12 38.0 5.5% 3.5 0 1 6 0 0
Merrill Noel CB
12 35.0 5.1% 0 0 3 3 0 0
Brad Watson CB 6'0, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8069 12 14.5 2.1% 0 0 0 4 0 0
Josh Okonye CB 6'0, 200 So. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7992 12 13.0 1.9% 1.5 0.5 0 0 1 0
Zach Dancel (Maryland) S 6'0, 205 Sr. 2 stars (5.1) 0.7000 10 12.5 1.5% 1 0 0 2 0 0
Jalen Latter SS 6'0, 190 Jr. 2 stars (5.2) 0.8086 11 9.5 1.4% 0 0 0 2 0 0
John Armstrong DB 5'9, 165 Jr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8116
Deonte Davis CB 5'10, 185 Jr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.7519
Thomas Dillon DB 5'10, 180 So. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8104
Cameron Glenn S 6'1, 200 RSFr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8289
Demetrius Kemp S 6'1, 205 RSFr. 3 stars (5.5) 0.8210
Dionte Austin DB 6'0, 165 Fr. 3 stars (5.6) 0.8675
Amari Henderson S 6'1, 175 Fr. 2 stars (5.3) 0.8256
Jessie Bates S 6'2, 185 Fr. 2 stars (5.4) 0.8129








8. Got cornerbacks?

First things first: the safety position should be fine. Wake returns two of the most successfully aggressive safeties in the ACC in Ryan Janvion and Thomas Brown (combined: 13 tackles for loss, nine passes defensed). They are used almost as linebackers, and as long as the cornerback position holds up, they could put up lovely stats again.

But will the corners hold up? First-rounder Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel are gone, which means that younger players like Brad Watson and Josh Okonye will be asked to shoulder a heavy load. And if they can't, then Elko will have almost no choice but to turn to freshmen and redshirt freshmen.

If the run defense is as good as it could be, this should still be a top-50 defense, especially with these safeties. But there will probably be more big pass plays.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Alexander Kinal 6'4, 205 Sr. 81 43.6 0 24 27 63.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB OOB TB%
Adam Centers 6'0, 195 So. 42 62.0 14 3 33.3%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2015
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Mike Weaver 6'1, 180 So. 19-19 12-14 85.7% 3-5 60.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2015
Year
Returns Avg. TD
John Armstrong KR 5'9, 165 Jr. 22 20.3 0
Tyler Henderson KR 5'9, 180 So. 9 20.3 0
Jared Crump PR 6'3, 205 Jr. 18 7.2 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 20
Field Goal Efficiency 38
Punt Return Efficiency 79
Kick Return Efficiency 87
Punt Efficiency 7
Kickoff Efficiency 22
Opponents' Field Goal Efficiency 99

9. Wasting a strong special teams unit

It's hard to rank in the top 40 on defense and the top 20 in special teams but still rank in the triple digits overall. But at the least, it proves that the offense needs only to be competent for the team to be salty.

And while the defense has questions, special teams returns intact. Alexander Kinal is a wonderful weapon at punter (which makes him almost by default Wake's best offensive player), and place-kicker Mike Weaver was promising for a freshman. The return game could stand to improve but wasn't an outright weakness.

2015 Schedule & Projection Factors

2015 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. S&P+ Rk
3-Sep Elon NR
12-Sep at Syracuse 73
19-Sep at Army 126
26-Sep Indiana 81
3-Oct Florida State 17
10-Oct at Boston College 49
17-Oct at North Carolina 44
24-Oct N.C. State 48
30-Oct Louisville 32
14-Nov at Notre Dame 16
21-Nov at Clemson 15
28-Nov Duke 54
Five-Year F/+ Rk -18.7% (98)
2- and 5-Year Recruiting Rk 65 / 63
2014 TO Margin / Adj. TO Margin* -2 / 1.0
2014 TO Luck/Game -1.2
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 14 (7, 7)
2014 Second-order wins (difference) 2.4 (0.6)

10. Improvement on paper, at least

When you hire Clawson, you're acknowledging that your next couple of seasons are going to be pretty barren. He doesn't take short cuts, and he's willing to suffer if it means breakthroughs.

That's good because Wake Forest isn't likely to improve much in the win column. The Deacs will be a significant underdog in every ACC game, and if they don't go 3-1 against Elon, Syracuse, Army, and Indiana, they will need an upset just to match last year's total even if they improve.

At the same time, Wake might be starting as few as five seniors. Experience should mean improvement on offense, and any gains could be doubled in 2016. With another solid defense and good special teams, I would expect Wake to improve into the 80s or 90s overall.