Monday, August 25, 2014

2014 season preview: Wake Forest Demon Deacons


8/28: @ Louisiana-Monroe (Thu.)
9/6: Gardner-Webb
9/13: @ Utah State
9/20: Army
9/27: @ Louisville
10/4: @ Florida State
10/11: BYE
10/18: Syracuse
10/25: Boston College
11/1: BYE
11/6: Clemson (Thu.)
11/15: @ NC State
11/22: Virginia Tech
11/29 @ Duke

Skip: Georgia Tech, Miami, North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Virginia

2013 results:

Presbyterian: W, 31-7
Boston College: L, 24-10
Louisiana-Monroe: L, 21-19
Army: W, 25-11
Clemson: L, 56-7
NC State: W, 28-13
Maryland: W, 34-10
Miami: L, 24-21
Syracuse: L, 13-0
Florida State: L, 59-3
Duke: L, 28-21
Vanderbilt: L, 23-21

Record: 4-8 (2-6); 6th, Atlantic

Projected starters:

QB: John Wolford (Fr.)
RB: Orville Reynolds (Sr.)
WR: Matt James (5Sr.)
WR: E.J. Scott (5Sr.)
WR: Tyree Harris (So.)
TE: Devin Pike (Fr.)
LT: Antonio Ford (5Sr.)
LG: Cory Helms (So.)
C: A'Lique Terry (Fr.)
RG: Josh Harris (So.)
RT: Dylan Intemann (rJr.)

DE: Zachary Allen (5Sr.)
DT: Josh Banks (rSo.)
DT: Tylor Harris (Jr.)
DE: Desmond Floyd (rJr.)
LB: Brandon Chubb (rJr.)
LB: Marquel Lee (So.)
CB: Kevin Johnson (5Sr.)
CB: Merrill Noel (5Sr.)
RS: Hunter Williams (rJr.)
SS: Ryan Janvion (rSo.)
FS: Anthony Wooding (Sr.)

K: Chad Hedlund (rJr.)
P: Alex Kinal (Jr.)

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Coach: Dave Clawson (1st season)

Media prediction: 7th, Atlantic


2013 1st team: DT Nikita Whitlock
2013 2nd team: WR Michael Campanaro
2013 3rd team: none
2013 HM: CB Kevin Johnson, S Ryan Janvion
2014 preseason: none

The Jim Grobe era is over at Wake Forest.  Grobe's heyday, in the middle of the last decade, saw the Deacons win an ACC title and go to three straight bowls, but they went to just one in the last five years and Grobe's win total declined from six to five to four in the last three.  Dave Clawson was plucked from Bowling Green to bring his no-huddle offense to Winston-Salem, and he faces a very large rebuilding challenge in his first year.

-- Offense

Evidence of that rebuilding project is under center, where true freshman John Wolford won the job in fall camp after the only other experienced option, Tyler Cameron, had a miserable beginning to go with a miserable spring.  Cameron wasn't all that good in spot duty last year, either, meaning that Wake gives VT a serious run for their money for worst quarterback situation.

Quite a bit will be placed on Wolford's shoulders, because Wake had hardly any running game last year and doesn't look like they'll have much this year, either.  Hardly anyone with any production to speak of returns; the leading returning rusher is Dominique Gibson with 138 yards and a 2.6 ypc average, but the starting role for now looks like it belongs to senior Orville Reynolds, who has bounced back and forth between receiver and tailback during his career.  Reynolds caught 12 passes last year as a receiver, but his best season carrying the ball was back in 2011.

Wake loses all-conference receiver Michael Campanaro, and nobody with more than 23 catches returns - which by the way, was good for second on the team last year.  That's possession receiver Tyree Harris, who, along with sophomore Jared Crump, owns most of Wake's returning production in the pass-catching department.  Clawson intends to use fifth-year senior Matt James rather heavily; James has eight receptions over three years in his career so far.  Wake is also getting reinforcements in the form of E.J. Scott, who was rather disappointingly underused at UVA and should give the receiving corps at Wake a talent boost.  At tight end, the position battle is so totally up in the air - and not helped by contender Zach Gordon's spinal injury that might end his football career - that true freshman Devin Pike is as good a guess as any for the job.

The offensive line also sees a true freshman jump into the most crucial position, as A'Lique Terry appears to have won the center job in fall camp.  That pushes last year's starter, Cory Helms, over to left guard.  Wake has apparently settled on Antonio Ford as the left tackle; Ford has some starts under his belt, but some are at guard rather than tackle, and he's not yet been able to hold on to a starting job for a full season.  Right guard Josh Harris (no relation to the running back that just graduated) got one start last year as a true freshman, but not a ton of snaps over the course of the season overall.  The only returning player to have started all 12 games last year is RT Dylan Intemann, making him essentially the default anchor for the line.  Wake does have Tyler Hayworth to fall back on should they need to make a change; Hayworth started eight games in 2013 as a true freshman.

Still, this line is awfully scary and it's still by far the most experienced and steady position unit on the offense.  There's honestly no reason to believe this offense can be at all consistent or productive.  Wait til next year with this group.

-- Defense

There's more hope here than on the other side of the ball, despite a totally rebuilt defensive line.  Wake is making a drastic change from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5, which moves linebacker Zachary Allen up to the defensive line to play end.  Allen missed last season after being ruled ineligible to play in 2013; before that, he was gearing up for a breakout season, and could yet have one this year.  Allen had already played with his hand on the ground quite a bit in the 3-4.  The other end of the line is a bit up in the air, with junior Desmond Floyd being just about the only experienced option but being pushed by a pair of redshirt freshmen and rather in danger of being passed up if he can't get (and stay) healthy.  Wendell Dunn is getting the biggest shot at taking that job from Floyd.  Up the middle, the Deacs likely don't have a prayer of replacing the outstanding production they got from Nikita Whitlock.  Prospective starters Josh Banks and Tylor Harris are coming from fringe rotation roles.  Banks, at least, flashed some playmaking ability last year as a reserve, collecting a sack and forcing a fumble as well.

Linebacker is a mite thin due to the change to the nickel defense, but Brandon Chubb does give the Deacs an anchoring presence.  Chubb had 88 tackles playing in the middle last year, and he'll play next to sophomore Marquel Lee.  Lee is only a sophomore and doesn't have a lot of experience, but his is a name that pops up a lot when the Wake coaches talk about which new contributors excite them.

The secondary, though, will be the strength of the defense.  Cornerbacks Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel each have a whole load of experience, and each intercepted three passes last year.  There's a lot to choose from at safety, too.  Former outside linebacker and walk-on Hunter Williams will play the rover position that characterizes the 4-2-5; Williams stepped into the starting lineup early last season and never let go of the job.  Wake also got solid work from Anthony Wooding last year, who was a starter at Air Force before transferring to Wake.  Wooding started four games for the Deacs, and is working to hold off sophomore Thomas Brown, who looks to have a bright future ahead, for his starting role.  The prize of the safety corps, though, is sophomore Ryan Janvion, who had a real breakout freshman season last year, leading the team in tackles last year with 95.

It's a strong-looking back seven, and it stacks up favorably against a lot that the league has to offer; the biggest question is for the pass rushers, because of their 23 sacks last year, Wake returns precious few of them.  Nobody with more than one, in fact.  The defensive line needs to grow up fast.  There's good coverage in the back, but the line is staking its name almost entirely on potential right now.

-- Special teams

Punter Alex Kinal is a busy boy; if he keeps up at the pace he's been going, he'll smash the NCAA record for most punts in a career sometime in the 2015 season.  He only gets 40 yards even per punt, but maybe his leg is tired.  With this offense, it looks like he'll pile up plenty more chances this year.  Chad Hedlund was only 8-for-12 on field goals last year and is locked in a battle with freshman Adam Centers for that job.

-- Outlook

Not so good, as the eight ball says.  It's gotten to where people whisper occasionally about a winless season.  That would require a loss to Gardner-Webb, which is sort of preposterous because the defense is worth a few wins and is not going to lose to Gardner-Webb.  That said, you could see this gang going 2-2 in the OOC.  And then, a fairly tough ACC crossover schedule comprised of the defending Coastal champ and VT, to go along with the Atlantic sked.  Even though I think the defense is decent, it's not going to be enough to keep Wake in the hunt most weeks.  An 0-8 ACC season is entirely within the realm of possibility, because it's really hard to see where they'll find a win.  Bowling is not in the cards, to say the least.

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