It is not an exaggeration to say that Wake Forest had the worst offensive line in the country in 2014. I'm not sophisticated enough to say whether that was due to talent, coaching, learning a new scheme, strength, speed, inexperience, or some other factor. What I do know is that the numbers reflect what we saw with our own eyes.
Football Outsiders is a website that has many excellent advanced metrics for college and pro football. Sometimes when evaluating offenses it can be difficult to determine how great each individual part of an offense can be. Is the offensive line artificially inflating the running back's numbers with great blocking? Is the running back simply making defenders miss and overcoming a poor offensive line? Is pass protection good or does the quarterback simply do an excellent job of reading the defense and releasing the ball quickly. Football Outsiders attempts to answer those questions with their offensive line metrics, which they began tracking last season.
Glossary of Terms:
Adjusted Line Yards: Adjusted for competition and is a normalized value, where 100 is average. Above 100 is above average, and below 100 is below average.
Standard Down LY/Carry: Unadjusted rushing average per teams on standard downs (1st down, 2nd & 7 or fewer, 3rd/4th down & 4 or fewer).
Passing Down LY/Carry: Same as before, only on passing downs.
Opportunity Rate: % of carries when 5 yards are available that the team gains 5 yards.
Power Success Rate: % of plays on 3rd/4th down with 2 yard or less to go, and a 1st down/touchdown is achieved.
Stuff Rate: % of carries by running back in which he is stopped at or before the line of scrimmage.
Adjusted Sack Rate: Opponent adjusted version of sack rate (sacks/sacks + pass attempts). Normalized value where 100 is average. Above 100 is above average and below 100 is below average.
Standard Downs Sack Rate: Unadjusted sack rate on standard downs.
Passing Downs Sack Rate: Unadjusted sack rate on passing downs.
Got it? Good, here are Wake's numbers from last season.
2014 Run Blocking
|Std. Down Line Yards
|Passing Downs LY
|Power Success Rate
Wake probably would have finished worse than 128th in four categories, but there were only 128 teams to rank. All of these stats are troubling, but the most troubling in my opinion are Power Success Rate and Stuff Rate. The Stuff Rate tells us that 37% of Wake's rushing attempts by a running back went for either zero or negative yards. Given the team's inability to generate big plays, this high Stuff Rate continually took Wake out of standard downs and forced them into obvious passing situations. This squarely falls on the offensive line, as any FBS running back should be able to get back to the line of scrimmage if no defenders are in the backfield.
The Power Success Rate is also quite troubling considering how few attempts Wake even had when it was 3rd or 4th down with 2 yards of fewer to go. Again, with Wake struggling to generate big plays, it becomes necessary to convert "easy" 3rd/4th down conversions. Part of this can be attributed to positions besides the offensive line, or even coaching, but a more reliable offensive line would dramatically improve this metric.
2014 Pass Blocking
|Adjusted Sack Rate
|Std. Down Sack Rate
|Pass Down Sack Rate
Wake was slightly better at pass protection last season, but almost nothing could have been worse than the run blocking. Wake performed slightly better on passing downs than standard downs, and I think part of that can be attributed to John Wolford's improved decision making.
What's the outlook for 2015?
Wake will lose two starters from last year's line. The Demon Deacons will lose left tackle Antonio Ford due to graduation and guard/center Cory Helms due to transfer. It's difficult to project exactly what the starting offensive line will be given that the season does not start for another 5 months, but below is my best guess based on the reps I'm seeing in a limited time at practice.
|Phil Haynes RS FR
|Josh Harris JR
|Ryan Anderson RS FR
|Dylan Intemann RS SR
|Justin Herron RS FR
|Will Smith RS JR
|Patrick Osterhage RS FR
|A'Lique Terry SO
|Ty Hayworth RS JR
|Nick Luedeke RS FR
If that is the lineup that head coach Dave Clawson and his staff goes with, then it is going to be very young. My projected starting offensive line would include three redshirt freshmen. Only one of those freshmen, Ryan Anderson, has even been through a spring practice before. From my brief observation, this year's line is not only bigger and stronger, but also faster. Clawson has placed a significant portion of practice time towards developing run schemes, and I believe that will pay dividends.
It's difficult at this time to say if Wake's offensive line will be significantly better in 2015. I believe it's safe to say that the line will be more physical and have more raw talent, but they also will be younger. I believe Clawson when he says that this will be a position of strength moving forward, but given the turnover and youth, the jury is still out on whether the line will be much better in 2015.
This is arguably the most intriguing storyline of the offseason, and one we will be closely monitoring through spring practice and into fall camp.