Army came into BB&T Field Saturday afternoon and gave the Demon Deacons all they could handle before ultimately coming up on the short end of a 24-21 scoreline. Admittedly I thought this one was going to get ugly after Wake successfully shut down the triple option on Army's first two possessions before finally opening up the run game for the first touchdown putting the Deacs up 7-0 early on. To the credit of head coach Jeff Monken and quarterback Angel Santiago, Army just simply did not go away.
For most of the first half the Wake defense didn't have much of an answer for the option attack. This showed once and for all how much Nikita Whitlock really offered to our defensive front as the Black Knight rushing game ran dive after dive for a successful gain on first and second down. Last season he was everywhere on the field and took the first choice for the option away, providing Wake's linebackers and secondary a well-needed stopgap across the middle. Without Whitlock Wake struggled to control the line of scrimmage and particularly in the second quarter lacked the necessary discipline to stay in each player's individual zone, instead committing to where the ball looked to be headed - giving Army the opportunity to gain a healthy dosage of yards on the ground on nearly every down.
To me the most impressive aspect of the game yesterday were the adjustments the coaching staff and team made after halftime. Entering the break Wake trailed 21-14, had been slow to stop the run, and had stalled on offense several times after initially moving the ball at will. Army had the ball six times in the first half and on three of the drives were able to gain 68 or more yards while putting the ball in the back of the end zone. For the rest of game the Black Knights had six drives and gained a scant 74 yards while failing to score again.
While I was not in the locker room at the break, it looked like Coach Clawson harped on defensive discipline and quick hitters to help turn the game around. Entering the second half Wake's defensive unit looked more like the team that showed up for the first three games, ensuring that the Wake offense needed to only put two scores on the board to secure a Demon Deacon victory. True freshman John Wolford provided remarkable leadership and composure throughout the game and ultimately found graduate student E.J. Scott across the middle with just under seven minutes left to put Wake ahead for good.
Yesterday was a great day all around for Wolford. Throughout the first half he showed an ability to sit in the pocket, despite a handful of jailbreaks up front, and make a collected strike to pick up necessary yardage. Several times he successfully sidestepped an initial Army defender while maintaining his look down the field before making the right read and completing a pass for a first down. While his numbers ended up at 25 for 35 with 238 yards, two touchdowns, and a lone interception (on a deflected/dropped pass at that) Wolford really performed better than his numbers showed.
In only his fourth start Wolford exhibited that he has gotten up to the pace of the college level and is already making adjustments and improvements as the leader on the offense. Indeed the camera caught him on the sidelines after nearly every single play listening to the coaches upstairs and giving instructions to his receiving corps on the bench. While the quarterback is generally entrusted with leading up the offensive side of things it was quite impressive to me personally to witness a true freshman barking out instructions and inspiring juniors, seniors, and even graduate students (in the case of E.J.) on the bench while the defense was out on the field. To my untrained eye, Wolford looks to be at a higher level than both Riley Skinner and Tanner Price were in their freshman year. That's no sleight to the past two quarterbacks, it's merely my take on where we sit with our present QB.
In addition to the solid performance by Wolford, the offensive line was able to piece together a better game and get the Demon Deacon ground attack going for at least a few plays throughout the contest. On Wake's first scoring drive, the front five did a fantastic job over the last four plays - all runs to true freshman Isaiah Robinson - to put Wake up 7-0. The 40 yards gained on the ground on that possession marked 40% of Wake's overall rush attack for the game, and was just under 25% of all yards we've gained running the ball for the entire four-game season. Robinson showed a great ability to read the field, square his hips, and hit the open spot to gain critical yardage. The Orville Reynolds/Robinson combination in the backfield provided a balanced attack and kept running backs fresh at all times. I was very, very happy with the way the substitutions were handled by Clawson and company, as the offense looked fresh throughout the game.
On the defensive side of things I think the first half brought up some deficiencies overall. While playing the triple option is always a unique situation, it also can reveal areas where your front seven struggle. The linebackers were generally in the right position (i.e. in a position to succeed and make a play at or near the line of scrimmage) but frequently over pursued or lost contain on their particular area, allowing for a pitch or a quick cut to open up room for an Army first down, In particular Hunter Williams allowed running backs to get to the outside by taking a sharp angle on Santiago when he cut towards the tackles. Ideally Williams would either be blitzing directly in, thus immediately forcing a decision by the QB, or would be strafing parallel with the running back to make sure that any pitch is shut down by the second line of defense.
Similarly both Kevin Johnson and Bud Noel missed a few tackles when the rush attack got outside the linebackers. While the option attack places a lot of pressure on cornerbacks in isolated situations to make a tackle to prevent a big gain, with two seniors on the outside contain there should be very few plays that don't get wrapped up by the time the running back gets towards the sideline. To their credit the secondary was fantastic in the second half and ultimately made stops when they needed to, it was just slightly concerning to see some seniors missing tackles and giving up first downs.
There were a lot of guys this week who could potentially qualify for the Sam Swank Golden Boot. Ryan Janvion was outstanding on the defensive front, leading the way with 12 total tackles. Similarly Wendell Dunn, a freshman, forced a fumble, had eight tackles, including 2.5 tackles for a loss and was a threat throughout the game in the middle. For the first time this year though I was more impressed with the way the offense took care of business than the defense. There was a definite "wow" factor when watching Wolford step into his throws and make quick strikes.
Matt James hauled in several passes after shaking off an early drop and tight end Cam Serigne recorded his first career Demon Deacon touchdown and it certainly will not be his last. Serigne and James provide a real threat through crisp route running and an ability to get open and flash to Wolford for a successful completion. Serigne in particular stood out in the second half when he hauled in a dart from the Wolf which just cleared the outside linebacker's fingertips. A lot of the time bigger guys will let those just bounce off their hand when it isn't entirely clear that the ball will get through the outstretched hands, but Serigne caught the ball in stride, turned, and was able to pick up the first down. That was a hell of a play.
I've gotta go with the big guy Cam THE MAN Serigne for the Golden Boot and something tells me that this will not be his last one of the season. Great job Cam, can't wait to see your continued development under Clawson.
Moving on to the Kinal Kount, things are slightly less exciting. I predicted last week that he would still be called on to punt six times, thus continuing his very quick progress up the all-time punting ladder, but the Demon Deacon offense was able to move the ball and the Claw got a little aggressive on fourth down limiting Kinal's opportunities. All-in-all he had three punts, including the first possession of both halves and the second possession of the second half. The offense looked considerably more comfortable throughout the game after these drives and Kinal ultimately really wasn't needed that much. Let's see what the damage to the #KinalKount was: