To be honest it took me a long time to figure out what I was going to say in this week's edition of the article. There were plenty of things that happened during Saturday's game against ULM which deserved the focus of a full article, but I really don't think anything I could write about at length would do justice to what actually occurred at BB&T Field. If you read Blogger So Dear on a regular basis you might say "well Bart, you picked Wake to lose 24-14 to a team called the 'Warhawks,' how surprised could you have possibly been? We were actually closer than you thought we would be at the end!" This is all very true. I talked about how Kolton Browning is an experienced quarterback and how he had the ability to pick apart our defense and lead his team to victory. I talked about how our rush offense needed to establish itself against a pretty poor ULM defensive front to help stretch out the pass. I talked about how we needed to throw the ball downfield more so that teams couldn't just pack the box against us. While some of these things did in fact occur, it was just the way that Wake played which caused me to be so depressed about the state of the team. I was just utterly demoralized after the game ended on Saturday.
I'm normally not an optimistic person in general and prefer to think of myself as a realist (people who know me might characterize me as a pessimist), so it was a little bit surprising when I looked at this team at the beginning of the year and the pieces we had that I really thought we had a shot to have a solid season. I picked Wake to go 7-5 this season with an outside shot at 8-4 if the cookie crumbled the right way. In my mind the absolute floor for this year was to go 6-6 and make a bowl, and with games against Army, Presbyterian, BC, Syracuse, Duke, Maryland, NC State, and ULM, this was a completely realistic assessment. I looked at a team that had a quarterback coming back to start for his fourth year in Tanner Price and the weapons he had at his disposal to throw to, particularly Camp, and thought that we would be well-suited to come out with an attack which was more pass heavy and played to these strengths. We could get back to the 2006 type offense which utilized quick hitters to the wideouts to take pressure off the offensive front, which used orbit reverses to catch teams off guard, but which ultimately relied upon the run up the middle to set everything up. With Josh Harris at running back and spelled by Martin and Wilhite, I was confident that we would be able to pound it up the middle for a few yards a play and open things up.
I saw a defense who had a solid secondary with an absolute bull up front in Nikita Whitlock, and while I thought we would experience some growing pains with the rush defense, I felt good about where the defense was headed. Well I still feel that way about the defense, with the glaring exception of the play calling - but more on that later, but I think it's obvious that I was wrong about the offense. But why was I wrong? How could there have been such a disconnect between the personnel Wake has, the gameplan used, the expectations of the fans, and the performance of the coaches? I still think we have a lot of positive things to work with on the offensive front and I still think we have the ability to make some noise, but it is clear that we don't have one thing which can bring it all together: leadership from the sidelines.
Dan Collins of the Winston-Salem Journal had some great thoughts on Monday about the game and is a must-read for all Wake fans. I second everything Collins says in the article and just wanted to add a couple more things. First, our offense is ranked 109th in the country in total offense while the defense is ranked 17th. Now these stats are slightly skewed and for the same reason: we've played a ridiculously easy strength of schedule. Wait a minute though? How can we have played such an easy schedule and have such a disparity in the team ranks of our offense and defense?
The answer is simple: play calling and coaching. The best team Wake has played so far according to the Sagarin College Football rankings is Boston College who is ranked 90th. ULM is ranked 98th and Presbyterian is ranked 225th (out of 252 teams). Wake has played the easiest schedule through three games of every single team in the ACC and is somehow 1-2. and ranked 101st in the nation. Statistically speaking, Wake would be roughly a touchdown underdog to Towson on a neutral field. Yes, Towson. The defense has emerged as one of the top defenses in the ACC statistically through these three games and given who we've played so far it should have these gaudy stats. But how did the offense manage to be so poor if we've played so many bad teams? Again, it has to be play calling and coaching. Wake was at least equal in talent with each of the first three teams we played, and if we were slightly below equal in talent then we likely made up for it with the wealth of experience that we have at nearly every position on the field on offense.
I'll present Lobotzke's stats at Wake Forest without comment to show how he has been since he was promoted to the position of offensive coordinator in 2003 (currently in his 11th season at Wake). The first column is points per game, the second column is national rank:
2003: 27.9; 50th
2004: 20.9; 93rd
2005: 24.5; 71st
2006: 21.6; 78th
2007: 27.9; 58th
2008: 21.0; 95th
2009: 26.3; 66th
2010: 22.8; 91st
2011: 26.0; 68th
2012: 18.5; 114th
2013: 20.0; 99th (through three games)
The first thing I noticed in these stats was that Lobo inherited a pretty solid offense from Troy Calhoun, who is now the head coach at Air Force. These teams had solid players on the offensive line who utilized a cut blocking scheme to maximize their level of play. We put a few players into the pros who got at least a cup of tea in the NFL and one guy, Tyson Clabo, has been excellent at the professional level. Obviously the level of offensive line play has dropped off a little bit over the past few years, but it doesn't really explain how we've reached a point where we've run the ball 54 times in the last two games for 70 yards. It has to go beyond this.
The second thing I noticed in these stats was how incredible our defense was in 2007. Wake averaged 27.9 points a game, but the defense scored a whopping 10 touchdowns. These touchdowns still count towards the scoring offense and clearly skewed the statistic. That 2007 defense was one of the best, if not the best, in Wake history and they did a great job getting points on the board and getting the Deacs back to a bowl game. The rest of the time since the Orange Bowl season, the offense has been on a downward spiral. Even in Riley Skinner's senior season we were unable to crack the top half of the country in scoring offense. We started off remarkably slow that year on offense as well and managed to recover when we went to a more pass heavy spread style offense later in the season.
The previous three years the offense has been downright miserable. Last year the team averaged 18.5 points a game which was one of the worst in the country and this year's offense picked right up where we left off. In the ULM game Wake was able to move the ball at will towards the ends of the halves when we started throwing the ball downfield rather than running the ball out of unbalanced sets, but when we got back out from the half we decided to run the option three times which forced us to punt the ball right back to the Warhawks. It's so frustrating to see Wake move the ball a little bit with one style of offense and then just not go back to it until the game is over. If Wake ran their hurry up offense all game they would undoubtedly be more successful. Furthermore we have to run the ball up the middle from a traditional formation. I don't even recall us running more than three or four runs straight up the middle between the tackles. This is the most common play in the history of football and our coaching staff didn't even run it more than five times.
I talked about how the option offense has to go in last week's article so I won't rehash everything I said, other than to say that I think it's pretty clear that the entire playbook Wake worked on for the offseason and first three games of this year needs to be thrown in the trash.
I'll have an article up sometime soon with more statistics from the Lobotzke era. I had intended to write that article today but I just couldn't bring myself to do it. I'm so demoralized by simply looking at the statistics that it makes me want to stop watching Wake football. I'll give a quick spoiler from the stats I've looked up thus far: Wake's offense under Lobotzke has been absolutely abysmal in nearly every single facet.
Briefly I'll talk about the ULM game before turning to next week's opponent Army. I thought the defense looked good with the exception of some missed tackles and inability to get a stop on third down. I don't have any idea why we're running so much zone defense and lining up so far off the receivers on third down but we've been doing it for a couple years now and it just doesn't work. Browning picked the defense apart when it was in the zone and we didn't make any adjustments as the game progressed. I thought the secondary did a pretty good job of breaking up passes when they were in a position to do so but, like the offense, I felt that too often the players weren't being put in position to actually make plays because of the play call.
A new staple of the weekly piece is going to be the "Sam Swank Golden Boot". This award is given to the player who I think had the best game of the week, did something that deserves an award, or that I just arbitrarily gave away to somebody for some reason. This is in honor of Sam Swank's foot taking us almost singlehandedly to an ACC Championship. You don't have to look far for this week's winner in Michael Campanaro. I know he's kicking himself after the game because of the dropped two-point conversion and the muffed punt, but he tied his own ACC record with 16 catches for 177 yards and without him Wake would have been beat down beyond belief. Campanaro has 21 catches through two games and is likely going to shatter the Wake Forest career receptions record. Keep your head up Camp and keep doing work out there. You've been a heck of a player for the Deacs, one of my favorite ever.
I'm also going to be giving away an award each week called "Lobo's Headset" to the strangest play, worst effort, hilarious encounter, etc. that occurs during the game. This award is of course named after our fearless leader on offense Steed Lobotzke and his proclivity to get his mind set on one thing and run it over and over and over and over and over and over and well you get the picture. The winner this week goes to Justin Manton who managed to doink a 24-yarder off the uprights in the 4th quarter to keep Wake in the game. Runner up: the first drive of the second half where the Deacs went with the option leading to a three and out, right after they had driven down the field and scored at the end of the half by throwing the ball downfield.
Which finally takes us to......THE KINAL KOUNT! Sophomore punter Alexander Kinal aka Aussie aka The Weapon aka His Leg is Going to Fall Off recorded an improbable and season high 9 punts to keep himself well ahead of pace to set the all-time NCAA individual career punt record.
Punts in the 2013 season: 21 (through three games)
Career Punts: 116 (through 15 games)
Punts Needed for ACC Record: 169 (minimum of 33 games remaining. Ed. Note: I realized that I was looking at the 2008 Media Guide the past few Kinal Kounts, but as I got more serious about this, I realized I needed to find the official ACC leader. The record belongs to Ryan Quigley of Boston College who recorded 284 punts between 2008-11 for the Eagles)
Punts Needed for NCAA Record: 217 (record is 322 by Nick Harris of California between 1997-2000)
Kinal's Yearly Average: 92.5 (including this year)
Quigley's Yearly Average: 71.0
Harris' Yearly Average: 80.5
Our boy Kinal has QUITE the lead going right now, over one more punt per game than the all-time NCAA leader in career punts. I won't think about it too hard to prevent my head from exploding, but all-in-all it's actually pretty funny.
All this being said, I do think we'll beat Army next week. They're the second worst team on our schedule besides Presbyterian and Wake opened a 3.5 point favorite. I think Wake comes out ready to stop the option and wins 27-20. I think the coaching staff will come out with a more aggressive game plan than they have. I have no actual reasons to back this up other than I'm probably crazy. I'm 2-1 on predictions so far this year which is a full 33% better than Wake's record is, so there's that.
If you have any questions, corrections, comments, concerns, or fun things to say please join us in discussion below. If you take umbrage with something in the article let me know and we can smooth it out. I've settled on the name "Couldn't Be Happier" to pay homage to Ron Wellman's feelings on Wake sports. What I write in these articles are also my opinion on Wake sports so I suppose that in some twisted way we have one thing in common: we can both appreciate the joy that the phrase "couldn't be happier" brings us. Sure, we'll go with that. As always, go Deacs.