The Wake Forest Demon Deacon football team took a prescribed bye week off last week following the first six games of the season. They liked it so much they also decided to take last Saturday off in order to make sure they were healthy for the final few games of the season. The only problem with this method was that this week the ACC schedule actually required Wake to play a game. To compound things even more the opposing Syracuse Orange showed up en force and following sixty minutes of absolutely brutal football the scoreboard showed 30-7 in favor of the visitors from New York.
For the sake of starting on a positive note let's take a look at what the Demon Deacons did well in their home ACC opener. After going three and out on the first possession and quickly getting the ball back, John Wolford and the offense drove the ball 91 yards in 13 plays while draining over six minutes off the clock to take a 7-0 lead on a touchdown pass to Cam Serigne. Serigne did a beautiful job finding a gap in the coverage and the Wolf put a ball right on the numbers to get the Demon Deacons on the board first and break an offensive touchdown drought stretching back nearly 10 full quarters. The drive was truly a thing of beauty and it appeared, at least for the moment, that the Wake Forest offense was going to break out of their offensive slump against a mediocre conference opponent and get things back on track. Unfortunately this drive was the definition of a statistical aberration and the #Clawfense fell flat on its face for the rest of the game.
Well now that we've focused on the positives from the game, the second drive, let's move on and analyze what happened the rest of the game. First and foremost let me give some credit to the defense. Even though they weren't playing their sharpest football, they held Syracuse to only 16 points and with an offense that even ranked around the 20th percentile in the nation, would have provided the Demon Deacons a legitimate opportunity to win the football game. The bad news for the defense is that their offensive counterpart is the worst in the FBS and for the fourth time in seven games failed to put up even 200 yards of offense - one of the lowest bars you could possibly use as an "achievement" for a team in the highest division of college football.
Indeed the Wake Forest defense gave up only one touchdown while the Wake Forest offense, in large part because of a comically poor blocking scheme which allowed linebacker Dyshawn Davis to come through untouched and absolutely obliterate John Wolford thus knocking him out of the game, gave up two touchdowns and let the Syracuse defense outscore the Syracuse offense. All-in-all I was very impressed from what I saw from freshman A.J. Long of Syracuse but it was quite clear he did have a better supporting cast than what John Wolford's group of guys brought to the table. Long was able to get outside the pocket when necessary, set his feet, and convert on seemingly every single third down they attempted (the Orange actually finished 9-19 on third down conversions) and ultimately was a driving force in getting Syracuse the victory.
While we're on A.J. Long I need to bring up the one thing seemingly everyone was talking about during the game (if you watched on tv) which is how bad the commentary and production was for this contest. I knew things were off to a bad start when the crew was talking about freshman running back Dez Wortham at the beginning of the game and flashed up a picture of senior cornerback Kevin Johnson, but things really only got worse from there as the cameraman missed multiple plays by focusing on the wrong thing, the production staff was showing replays that didn't show what happened and missed multiple plays, the first down marker was not in the correct place on multiple plays, the down and distance to gain was consistently incorrect throughout the first quarter, and the announcers seemed to know exactly one player's name on both teams: freshman quarterback A.J. Long. The low point of the commentary, at least in my opinion - and you can please share your favorite bloopers in the comments if you have any particularly engaging thoughts on the ACC Network crew or whatever crew this was that performed like a 7th grade middle school news broadcast, was when the color guy attempted to put words into a defender's mouth who just made a tackle and ended up shouting in the booth "he's like I'M A BALLER!!!" I couldn't cringe hard enough sitting in my apartment 1,000 miles away.
Back to football, as Rob covered pretty well already, Wolford got knocked out of the game on a hit where Dyson went untouched around the outside after Wolf assigned Wortham to the wrong man in the backfield. Offensive lineman Will Smith went to block the second level of defenders (as if we ever get to the second level with this offense) and Dyson just came in on the blind side and drilled Wolford. Fortunately Wolf is okay but he was out for the rest of the game for precautionary measures. That was the turning point of the game as Syracuse took that interception to the house to take an insurmountable 17-7 lead (17 points is absolutely insurmountable for this offense) and the Deacs could have just packed it in for the second half.
Through seven games now, Wake is averaging 206 yards of total offense (last in the nation by 42 yards per game) and is averaging an astonishingly low 3.29 yards per play - the lowest yards per play I can find of any team in the FBS dating back to 2000. So normally I'm quite prone to hyperbole and am willing to turn the most nondescript story into a harrowing tale of valor and chivalry, but in this case the Wake Forest offense might literally have one of the worst offenses of all time. They are certainly the worst offense in the nation this year, and it is not even close, but I struggle to imagine how many times an FBS team could have possibly finished around 200 yards in total offense over the course of an entire season. Well buckle up folks because with seven games in the books and over half the season statistically weighted with our current stats, Wake is barely over the Mendoza line for total offense.
I really don't want to think that much more about the Syracuse game because it just showed that Wake has nearly no chance the rest of the year. We can't run the football, we can't set up a blocking scheme that even allows the quarterback time to drop more than one or two steps before having to run for his life, and we don't have enough talent on that side of the ball to mitigate the dreadfully poor performance of the offensive line. So it's cliche, but it really just is what it is. Wake just needs to suck it up and take their medicine and admit that the rest of this season is about personal growth, individual achievement, and an opportunity for younger guys to show they can compete against fellow ACC competition moving forward.
Speaking of competing against ACC competition, one guy we ALL know is a downright COMPETITOR performed at a pretty high level yet again on Saturday. I'm of course talking about the one and only Alex Kinal who even outdid himself this week by booming a career-long 65 yard punt on his second attempt which pinned the Syracuse back inside their own ten. He joked earlier this week at media day that he had no idea that he had broken the Wake Forest punt record until a couple guys on the team told him and that his real focus is on flipping the field and getting good position on his punts. Well he performed quite well on Saturday averaging 44.9 yards a punt on eight attempts and was an instrumental part in making sure Syracuse didn't just utterly blow us out of the water any more than they did.
Kinal has now punted in 19 conference games and has had fewer than five punts in exactly one of those games, against Duke his freshman year. To put that into perspective, he has punted the ball at least eight times in eleven conference games, including a whopping six conference matchups where he has hit double digits. Let's see where the eight punts against Syracuse brings the #KinalKount up to: