"We struggled to block them. We really didn't do anything well on offense." - Head Coach Dave Clawson on Wake's 17-10 loss to ULM
Well college football is back and the more things change, the more they stay the same. Wake Forest shepherded in the Dave Clawson era with a stout performance by a defense expected to be the bright spot of the 2014 Demon Deacon football squad, but an all-too-familiar anemic performance on the offensive side of the football provided Wake with an opening night loss in Monroe, Louisiana.
It wasn't so much that the Deacs lost last night which leaves a sour taste in my mouth - after all by gametime ULM was around a three point home favorite in most sportsbooks - but rather the total lack of production when Wake had the football. To a large degree it was to be expected that the offense would struggle at times. Wake started a true freshman in the season opener for the first time in school history and although he suffered some growing pains at times, John Wolford had a relatively solid night all around. Only once, the possession in the third quarter after ULM's pick six knotted the game up at 10 apiece, do I recall him forcing an ill-advised pass into a tight spot. The preceding interception was a nicely thrown ball to senior Matt James which bounced up in the air directly to a ULM defender for an easy six points. While Wolford's statline doesn't accurately reflect how he played (12-22 for 97 yards and an interception), he showed great composure in his first career start and I am thoroughly excited to watch this young man continue to develop in Clawson's offensive scheme.
The bulk of Wolford's problems, and for that matter the bulk of the problems in general for the Demon Deacons, was the total lack of protection he received in the pocket. To put it generously, the offensive line was horrible allowing seven sacks and generating only enough space for senior running back Orville Reynolds to gain 37 yards on 16 rushing attempts. On the night Wake rushed the ball 27 times for -3 yards, a total which reflects a -55 yard loss on the aforementioned seven sacks.
In total Wake only gained 94 yards, an inanely low number. According to game logs this total marked the fewest yards Wake has gained in a football game since at least 2000 and the only time over that same time span that the Demon Deacons failed to crack triple digit yardage in a game. For those interested, Wake's all-time lowest yardage output in a game occurred in 1987 when Wake managed only 66 yards against South Carolina in a 30-0 Gamecock victory. The 94 yards is even more appalling considering the ULM defense gave up over 425 yards per game last year. While it is likely the Warhawk defense has improved, with eight returning starters, it's not incredibly likely in my opinion that their defense finishes anywhere near the top half of division one teams (unless the 94 yards they allowed last night serves as an outlier, almost single-handedly dragging ULM's average down).
Despite the struggles of the offense, and particularly the left side of the offensive line which was systematically abused play in and play out, Wake had a 10-0 lead at the half. This lead was largely due to the special teams unit which was nothing short of spectacular last night. The Deacs struck first when Steve Donatell blocked the Warhawks' first punt attempt of the game and senior cornerback Kevin Johnson gingerly scooped the ball up in the end zone for a quick seven points. Junior punter Alex Kinal continued his ascent towards NCAA legend status with an insane ten punts (but more on that later) for 471 yards, helping the Deacs to win the field position battle and provide the well-regarded defense an opportunity to shine.
"I tried my hardest and left it all out there. To come away with a loss is just devastating." Defensive standout Brandon Chubb on the loss.
For the most part the defense played one hell of a game. They only allowed ten total points and the first and only offensive touchdown of the game for either team came with just under four minutes left when ULM quarterback Pete Thomas scored on a nine-yard quarterback draw up the middle to give the Warhawks their first lead of the game. Brandon Chubb had 18 tackles and was really the leader of a defensive onslaught which held ULM to 352 yards, 112 of which occurred on the final two drives of the game when it appeared the defense was simply running on fumes.
The bottomline from last night's game is that the offense simply did not get the job done. The primary means of running the football for the offense included delayed handoffs, which were ineffective primarily because of the offensive line's inability to hold blocks for any meaningful periods of time. There's no way to sugar coat it other than to say the guys up front have to do a better job. If the line performs anywhere close to how they did last night for the remaining eleven games of the year, Wake will struggle to score a single offensive touchdown. While it would be pretty hyperbolic to state that this is the worst I've ever seen an offensive line play, I struggle to think of a worse performance off the top of my head. Clawson and his staff have their work cut out for them in crafting a scheme to help mitigate the poor performance we saw last night from the big guys up front.
Another interesting aspect of last night's game was the performance of the guys in stripes. While it was certainly not the reason Wake lost by any means, there were several calls which left me scratching my head. First and foremost, the drive early in the third quarter resulting in ULM's first points of the game on a field goal to cut the lead to 10-3 was extended by an absolutely ridiculous roughing the punter call. Kevin Johnson gunned around the outside for a blocked punt attempt and grazed punter Justin Manton. After watching the play several times on replay, it appears the only thing KJ touched was Manton's towel as he passed BEHIND the punter AFTER the ball was kicked. Manton then did his best Duke basketball impression and flopped to the ground as if he had been bulldozed by a linebacker.
Similarly, the refs waived off a kick catch interference penalty on the same play which would have offset the roughing penalty because the ULM player was "blocked from behind" into returner Brandon Chubb. Even the ESPNU commentators couldn't figure that one out as they accurately pointed out that the Wake blocker was "actually moving out of the gunner's way to make sure he didn't hit him." Furthermore three refs threw a flag, including all three officials who were in the area, prompting me to wonder who exactly sprinted in to tell the three guys with the best view on the play that the ULM player was in fact "blocked from behind." The tape reveals pretty clearly that not only was there no roughing on this play, there was no block in the back to push the ULM player into Chubb.
Another laughable call occurred when Wake picked up a personal foul penalty for unnecessary roughness in the first half where the umpire got bumped into by a ULM defender after the play. The ref, as the replay once again reveals, was not even looking in the direction of the play and can be seen pulling the flag out of his pocket before he even turns around. Clawson could be heard shouting that it was "the worst call he had ever seen" after the play. While it's pretty clear that these calls did not doom the Deacs and it is in fact the refs first game of the season too, it's pretty inexcusable (and a total #goacc moment since they were ACC refs) that these calls were made at any point of the season.
Well without further ado let's jump back into some awards. For the sake of length, we'll focus only on two awards for today. First and foremost: the Sam Swank Golden Boot. If you're new to Couldn't Be Happier, this is awarded to the Demon Deacon player or coach who had the best game. There's not much drama who wins this one since Brandon Chubb put up a ridiculous defensive performance with 18 tackles and was seemingly everywhere on the field doing his best Nikita Whitlock impression. Perhaps his best play was sprinting twenty yards downfield to assist on a tackle of a wide receiver after the ULM receiver made the first guy miss, prompting the announcers to wonder how Chubb even got there in time. I suspect that given the number of reps Wake is likely to get on defense this year that Chubb will be a pretty strong competitor for leading the ACC in tackles. Barring a fantastic performance by someone else in the conference this week, I believe it's likely that Chubb will win defensive player of the week honors.
And last but not least, let's get back to my personal favorite part of the article: my beloved Kinal Kount. As most of you are probably aware, our venerable punter Alex Kinal led the nation in punts each of his first two years at the school with 95 his freshman year and 86 his sophomore year. Entering the season he was well ahead of not only the Wake Forest or ACC pace for most career punts, but was on pace to absolutely shatter the NCAA record for most punts. Well, he had ten punts last night which only increased his numbers and given how putrid the offense looked it's likely that Kinal will see plenty of action before the season is over. Let's take a look at some of his numbers:
So as you can clearly see, Kinal is going to break the ACC record without really breaking a sweat. In fact, he's already within 94 punts of doing so and if he keeps up his current pace over his first 25 games, he will break Quigley's record a couple games into his senior year. Similarly, barring an injury, it is difficult to imagine that Kinal won't just break the NCAA record but will set such a high standard that it will be nearly impossible for anyone else to catch him, well, ever. He's currently projected to break the all-time NCAA record by 34 punts, a nearly 10% increase from the current record. While it's hard to say that we're pulling for Kinal to break the record, since it requires a wholly inept offense, he's actually almost to the point now where even with an average offensive output over the next two years he is almost assuredly going to grab the record. Our thoughts are with you Alex as you further pursue greatness.
Wake returns to action next week in their home opener against FCS Gardner-Webb and will likely snag a victory there since Gardner-Webb is, well, terrible. I believe that game will be something like 24-7 and probably a little bit too close for comfort. I don't see a situation where Wake hangs 30 on the Bulldogs unless they have two or three non-offensive touchdowns.
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. What I write in these articles are my opinion on Wake sports and my opinion alone and do not reflect the views of everyone or anyone else at Blogger So Dear. We have a long season ahead of us but on the bright side football season is back! And as always, go Deacs.