Wake went on the road this past weekend to upstate New York looking to break a losing streak away from BB&T Field that stretches almost two years. The streak would live another week as Wake fell short in snagging a win and moving to 1-0 in ACC and 2-0 total. With the loss the Deacs fell to 1-1 overall and 0-1 in conference play. It's notable that Syracuse was picked to finish sixth in the Atlantic in the preseason (Wake was picked to finish seventh).
It truly was a tale of two halves as Wake looked damn good through the first thirty minutes. Going into the break I was thinking that if we could come out and take advantage of a couple early possessions, we might even be able to win this one going away. Of course football is a cruel mistress and that's not anywhere close to what happened when the teams got back out to play the second half but I suppose that's why the game is four quarters.
John Wolford had an intriguing first half as he started off 18-22 in the first half hour for 234 yards, but of the four incompletions, two of them were interceptions. The first pick looked like Wolford just didn't rid of the ball fast enough and was hit as he let go of the ball and it led to three points. On the second pick though Wolford just didn't see the big guy Donnie Simmons lurking, who was able to lumber in 41 yards for the touchdown. Those are the types of plays that just absolutely kill a team and so when Wake went into the half up 17-13, it could have easily been 17-3 without costly interceptions.
Other than the picks though Wolford really looked solid in the first half. On a few occasions he still has the tendency to lock onto a guy, but he's doing a pretty good job getting through his reads and finding guys quickly. The "quickly" is an integral part of the equation for the Deacs this year because the offensive line simply isn't getting the job done up front.
Wake had trouble establishing a run game early, and the line eventually settled in a bit but the second half was an absolute disaster. Wolford had no time to get rid of the ball, the run game had no chance to get going, and for every bit as good the offense looked at times as it moved the ball with ease in the first half it looked terrible in the second half.
The guys really looked tired up front which was likely a major contribution to Syracuse getting back in control of the game in the second half. Wake outgained the Orange 419-370 but was crippled by three turnovers, which flipped the field for the Orange. Combine that with a deep pass for a TD and you're toast unless your defense or special teams can make something happen.
Wolford finished the game 30 for 45 for 373 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions. He's not really an area of concern moving forward in my opinion though.
This young corps of wide receivers and stable of young running backs has been fun to watch through a couple of games, even though it definitely has its ups and downs. Cortez Lewis best embodied the ebbs and flows of the game on Saturday. Lewis was responsible for a costly personal foul penalty after he popped a guy on the helmet after he got jostled by some Syracuse trash talking on the sideline right when the Deacs had some momentum going in the third quarter still leading, but he also hauled in five catches for 48 yards (while also managing to get dressed down by Coach Clawson after his penalty).
K.J. Brent has shown solid leadership so far this season and has really been a reliable weapon for Wolford. Brent's 96 yard day on seven catches really revealed that Brent may be Wolford's go-to guy and is one of the first places he looks. Similarly Chuck Wade and Tabari Hines (both freshmen) went for big days and boy is Hines an electric player. He's going to be fun to watch on the return team if he can hold onto the job for the remainder of the year and he is just flat out athletic.
The defense, which almost everyone believed to be the better segment of the team entering the year, struggled at times to contain Orange quarterback Eric Dungey, while allowing almost 150 yards on the ground. Syracuse only gained 370 yards which isn't a bad number, but the defense struggled to get stops when they needed them and gave up a couple of big plays which let the game get out of hand - notably the 90 yard touchdown pass which turned out to be the game-winning score from Dungey to something called a Brisly Estime who made a great snag and run to give the Orange a much-needed score.
Replacing Kevin Johnson and Bud Noel, both guys who made a roster in the NFL for this season, was always going to be a tall task and it will be interesting to see how Clawson and the staff make some changes as ACC play picks up later in the year. If Dungey is able to gain some yardage against the defense you better believe that some of these higher-powered offenses like Florida State and Clemson will be able to move the ball at ease against the D.
I still think the defense is going to have a pretty solid season and that guys like Brandon Chubb, Ryan Janvion, and Hunter Williams will be able to combine experience and talent to get the unit clicking. Chubb leads the team with 13 tackles and has helped anchor a linebacking corps that has been pretty good, but the rush defense did struggle at times which will be an area of focus this week at practice I'm sure with a trip to West Point and the option attack looming this week. One bright spot so far has been third down defense as Wake has only allowed two conversions on 22 attempts so far this year.
Although partially the result of luck (as far as fumbles go and caught interceptions end up), Wake hasn't forced any turnovers yet which is definitely a little bit concerning. While the Deacs did force a fumble, but failed to recover, it would be nice to flip the field in our favor instead of simply relying on how far you get before you have to boom the ball down field off the foot of Alex Kinal. Which of course brings us to this week's installment of the #KinalKount.
Despite a game where Wake's offense sputtered at times, Kinal wasn't called on to punt THAT many times due to three interceptions. Of course we all know turnovers are the mortal enemy of getting off a lot of punts, so for multiple reasons Wake needs to slow their roll on willingly handing the ball to the other team. Gotta protect that rock baby. Kinal still punted the ball five times and brings his yearly total up to nine. Notably he is trailing the NCAA leader for this year, Zach Paul of Akron, by 12 punts already but I don't think anyone expected Kinal to be top five to ten in volume of punts for this year alone anyways.
Kinal is averaging 44 yards per punt over his nine punts and ranks 24th in the nation in yards per attempt. Let's check out Kinal's overall numbers:
Career Punts through the 2014 season (plus two games): 271 (38 games)
Punts Needed to break Ryan Quigley's ACC Record of 284: 14
Punts Needed to break Nick Harris' NCAA Record of 322: 52
Kinal's Yearly Average: 85.58
Quigley's Yearly Average: 71.0
Harris' Yearly Average: 80.5
Kinal's Current Final Pace: 342 punts
Kinal falling slightly off his torrid pace, but with the bulk of the ACC season remaining it's pretty likely that his average punts per game will be above 4.5 at the end of the season. Plus he only needs 52 more punts over 10 games, so 5.2 punts per gets him there.
The Deacs look to move back above .500 as the head to West Point this week to take on Army. Army is trying to win their first game of the season with losses already against FCS Fordham and a road loss 22-17 to Connecticut last week. Wake opened this one as a 2 point road favorite but on many books the line is already up to Wake by five. So I guess if you want to get Wake lower, you may want to go now but the line has likely evened off.
If I were a gambling man I would have loved Wake at -2 and I think I still like them at -5 to -5.5, but I do think Army could get a late touchdown to cut into a Wake lead. Wake should be able to control the Army option for the most part and while they'll probably give up a few frustrating bigger gains, Wake is a better team than Army this year and this is a good opportunity to snap our two-year road losing streak.
Wake takes care of business and wins it 27-18.
If you have any issues with this week's edition of Couldn't Be Happier let us know in the comments below. Similarly if you see anything that warrants a comment, you disagree with, or you know to be flat out wrong then let us know below as well. We love to hear everyone's take and for the most part we're all Deacon fans (although opponents are always welcome).
I'll be in West Point this weekend rooting on the Deacs and if you're there let us know so maybe we can meet up and have an adult beverage (or 6) together. Should be a gorgeous day and I'm amped for West Point. Fall is coming and as always, go Deacs.