The Demon Deacons fell 36-24 to the Utah State Aggies, and with the loss dropped to 1-2 overall and 0-2 against FBS opponents. The game felt disjointed at times, due no doubt in part to turnovers and offensive miscues, but ultimately Wake couldn't scrap back from a 29-7 halftime deficit despite sneaking as close as 29-21 after a quick start to the second half. While there is a lot to say about various units for the Deacs, the overall sentiment has to be that this is a rebuilding process for Clawson and the staff and games like this just underscore how difficult it is to balance playing the existing personnel with the new schemes.
Wake got off to a really fast start after the Aggies marched down the field on their first posession when Josh Banks got an ill-advised throw from Chuckie Keeton and took it 70 yards to the house. That was a good athletic play by Banks who made sure he secured the interception, and then took off showing off a little bit of speed from the big defensive guy - not something that you would always expect. While it felt good for a little bit, it was pretty clear early on that Wake was still going to struggle running the football and the offense was struggling for large chunks of this game yet again.
Utah State had a pretty impressive offense and even after Keeton got injured at halftime, their backup Darell Garretson came in and went 11 for 16 with a touchdown and a pick (a bad pick at that). I didn't expect to give up over thirty points but I still wasn't that upset with the defensive effort, not to mention the two defensive scores for the Aggies. The secondary still looks pretty good and the only time anyone really got beat was on the trick play/pass over the top which was very well executed.
While Wake was struggling to move the ball, the real turning point took place when Wolford was ruled to have fumbled the football which was returned for a Utah State touchdown putting the Aggies up two possessions. While this was a relatively controversial call it did look like the ball was at least somewhat out of Wolford's hand even though his arm was certainly coming forward with at least part of the ball in check. Wake is going to consistently struggle this year playing from behind and the 19-7 deficit put a lot of pressure on a young offense with a struggling offensive line.
The second half started a lot better than expected and for a few plays there the offense looked like it was going to be able to start moving the football down the field. With some halftime adjustments by the Wake coaching staff, Wolford was getting a little bit more time as running backs stayed in to block and receivers were running more quick hitters and outs in order to facilitate getting the ball out of the pocket faster. Wolford made a few mistakes yesterday but was consistently under pressure and I just hope that we can prevent any major injuries behind this offensive front. He's getting a lot of good experience this year and even though his numbers were by no means excellent (20 of 50 for 257 yards, 2 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions) you can tell that the talent is there and it is just a matter of becoming more confident under center and getting used the speed of the college game.
The offense in general was just not very good, but the offensive line in particular continues to struggle and to be blatantly obvious just looks awful. Through three games the front five has allowed 14 sacks, good enough for for the second most in the nation at this early juncture. Only making this statistic worse is the fact that the three defenses the Deacons have played (ULM, Gardner-Webb, and Utah State) are not exactly great defensive units. Another representative statistic for the offensive line's woes is the rushing total through three games, coming in at a terrible 22.67 yards per game, again, second worst in the nation. Even more unbelievably, Wake has "gained" a total of -28 yards against the two FBS opponents revealing that not only is Wolford getting sacked a lot, we're hardly gaining anything on the ground at all.
After the Army game next week Wake plays Louisville, Florida State, Syracuse, and Boston College in the middle of the season. If the offensive line can't provide even remotely acceptable protection against the defensive lightweights that are Utah State and Louisiana-Monroe, how bad will Wake's offense be when we go down to Tallahassee. The front yesterday will get crushed in a few weeks and it is going to be a massive learning experience, but one which the Deacons will need to try to weather to continue to improve. While it will be frustrating at times and downright unwatchable at others, this is the type of season that can help a team bond and move forward.
I was very impressed with the play of tight end Cam Serigne and slot receiver E.J. Scott. They both consistently provided a viable target in the shorter passing game for Wolford and did a good job securing the football and bringing in the catch. While Clawson isn't going to stray too far from his basic principles on offense, it will be interesting to see if any game plans emerge to get these guys the ball a little bit more. When the Deacons were moving the ball in the third quarter it seemed we almost completely abandoned the run and spreading it out a little bit more was helping get some yardage - even in short yardage situations where a run might be expected.
The defense struggled to get some stops from Utah State, who were able to gain 391 yards including 331 yards through the air, but largely that can be attributable to the time of possession gap where the Aggies had the ball for nearly ten more minutes than Wake Forest. While the offense couldn't stay on the field the defense rapidly got tired as Utah State brought in a good offensive game plan to move the ball against a talented Wake secondary. Even with the 391 yards from Utah State, the defense ranks 17th in the nation in total defense, allowing only 291 yards a game and just over 4 yards per play.
Brandon Chubb ranks 10th in the nation in tackles with 39 through three games and has established himself as a reliable tackler who chases the ball no matter where it's going. With his interception for a touchdown, Josh Banks moved into the top 10 in the nation in interception yardage with 70, good enough for 7th. While I loved the effort and the big play, I wouldn't expect Josh to remain in the top 10 in this category moving forward. For his big interception, seven tackles, two tackles for a loss, and a sack, Josh Banks gets this week's Sam Swank Golden Boot - the second win of the season for the Wake Forest defensive unit as Brandon Chubb won the first Golden Boot against ULM.
Not to be forgotten in the chaotic and lengthy game that took place last night, was the effort of Wake's phenomenally consistent punter Alex Kinal. While he was not called into duty much relative to his own standards, he was still requested on for a steady seven overall punts. He was no doubt excited to get back to a decent pace after a disappointing two punts against Gardner-Webb, marking only the fourth time in his Wake Forest career that he had five or fewer punts in one game. With the seven punts last night, Kinal currently has 19 on the season which is good enough for 11th in the country and only seven punts behind the national leader, Garrett Swanson of Fresno State.
So where does that leave the #KinalKount after the first three games? Let's check it out:
Punts in the 2014 season: 19 (through three games)
Career Punts: 200 (through 27 games)
Punts Needed to break Ryan Quigley's ACC Record of 284: 85
Punts Needed to break Nick Harris' NCAA Record of 322: 123
Kinal's Yearly Average: 88.88 (including this year)
Quigley's Yearly Average: 71.0
Harris' Yearly Average: 80.5
Kinal's Current Final Pace: 356 punts
As Kinal booted the 200th punt of his Wake Forest career, he set his sights on the Wake Forest all-time punts record held by Ryan Plackemeier at 220. While Kinal may not be needed too frequently against Army next week, although I suspect that our offensive front will continue to struggle to block pretty much anybody, the next two weeks against Louisville and Florida State mark tremendous opportunities for Kinal to keep booting the football. I'll predict he is still called on to punt six times this Saturday. I would not be surprised one bit to see Kinal break the Wake punting record against Florida State, a team Kinal has punted a whopping 22 times against in two years.
Wake's defense is going to continue to force turnovers and make big plays. The bottom line is this team cannot improve in any meaningful way until the offensive line starts getting the job done and providing time in the backfield. We cannot establish any sort of rush attack when the defensive line is in the face of the running back before we've even handed the ball off. Unfortunately given what we saw yesterday, I think Wake is looking at a 3-9 season and even a 2-10 season is possible if we don't find a way to grab a conference win.
I do think Wake is able to get the job done against Army and we will be able to move the ball a little bit through the air and on the ground. I would like to see us get over 300 yards of offense and try to top the 100 yard mark with the rush attack. Our defense will get tired in the second half again and likely give up a touchdown or two, but I don't foresee this being a Wake Forest loss. We get back to 2-2 and get ready for conference play. Wake wins this one 22-13.
That's all for this week, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns let me know and please feel free to join the discussion below for Wake football. What do you guys think we need to work on the most and what has been a pleasant surprise through three games? As always, go Deacs!