Wake Forest fell at home today to Indiana, 31-24.
On a rain-soaked afternoon in late September, as the Deacs took home field against Indiana in the 2015 Homecoming matchup, all eyes were on true freshman quarterback Kendall Hinton replacing the injured John Wolford. Indiana came into the game with the NCAA's leading rusher, Jordan Howard, and a powerful offense looking to prove its worth against a P5 opponent. In the all-black uniforms and gold chrome helmets, in the first of a series with Indiana that has been in the works for several years, Indiana took the field first on offense after Wake won the toss and elected to defer.
Indiana came out in the no huddle offense and quickly picked up a pair of first downs on their opening possession. Nate Sudfeld's arm was on display early with a quick screen and an out throw both on the money. Indiana elected to go for it on 4th and 2 on Wake's 38 yard line, and Howard carried up the middle for a bruising 3 yards. The offense fired so quickly between plays the equipment staff struggled to keep up moving the chains. Once Howard was substituted off the first time, a pair of blitzes led to back-to-back Wake Forest sacks and Indiana relented and punted.
Wake took over on offense for their first possession on their own 9 yard line and Hinton came out for his first ACC start. Hinton's first snap was a read option keeper for a loss. The next play was a quick handoff for no gain, and 3rd down a risky pass into double coverage with a pass breakup from Indiana's safety Chase Dutra. From the back of his own end zone, Alex Kinal managed a 48 yard punt to midfield where Indiana took over possession and great field position.
Indiana's second offensive possession utilized the run and safe bootleg pass to move the ball into Wake Forest territory, and while Wake's linebackers kept Howard in check, Sudfeld hit his stride with a nice slant route to get Indiana into the red zone. After a couple defensive stops, Marquel Lee tried to jump the snap and gave Indiana 5 free yards, and on the following play Sudfeld connected on a back shoulder throw to the strong side of the field to Simmie Cobbs III, and Indiana got on the board first, 7-0.
Down early, Hinton took over again on his own 20 and held on to the ball too long and took a bad sack. His first completion was to KJ Brent for 7 yards on a nice rollout and throw, showing off his arm strength. Cortez Lewis caught a safety valve throw on the following play, but it wasn't enough for a first down, and Kinal punted again.
After a 3 and out for Indiana, Wake would start with its best field position of the game and Hinton came back out on to the field starting on his 28. Hinton skipped a couple of passes, clearly rushing on his timing, failing to set his feet and hit open receivers. Wake failed to pick up a yard, and punted on its third consecutive possession. Wake's offensive line looked fine up the middle but allowed a lot of edge pressure on Hinton, whose nerves were obviously showing.
Indiana dominated the stat sheet in the first quarter, outgaining Wake in first downs, yards, points, and time of possession. Still, Wake's defense was tough, especially in the secondary and linebacking corps, keeping Wake in the game through the first 15:00.
Chuck Wade caught his tenth pass of the season for the first 1st down of the game for Wake Forest with a little over a minute to go in the first quarter. His run after the catch netted the Deacs 29 yards with an excellent cutback and vision. On the following play, Hinton kept the play alive with his legs, eventually drawing a late hit out of bounds, and all the sudden, Wake was down to the Indiana 26 yard line. Hinton found his rhythm with a quick throw and another first down into the Indiana red zone to end the first quarter.
Two plays later, Hinton kept the ball on a designed run and sprinted to the promised land, tying the game 7-7. Hinton's straight line speed was on display prominently, and the drive showed both sides of the dual threat he can bring to Wake's offense. The long drive and break in between quarters was important for Wake's defense, too, who had spent most of the first quarter on the field.
Special teams continue to shine for the Deacons this season, as the coverage on the ensuing kickoff pinned Indiana back inside their own ten yard line. Howard broke his first big run of the game for 18 yards, though, finding the corner with speed. Indiana's quick offense continued to march down the field with a ground attack as their offensive line settled into the game. On a play action fake, Nate Sudfeld connected with a post route in the end zone on a mismatch, and Indiana took the lead back, 14-7.
Following the Indiana score, Wake was able again to move the ball. A broken play incomplete pass, a short completion to Wade, and a Serigne completion moved the chain for another Wake Forest first down. After the first three possessions saw no first downs, Wake's offense found a little rhythm. Hinton's decision-making and athleticism showed improvement, keeping Wake within manageable down and distance plays and giving the defense another chance to rest with a nice possession. But in a frustrating turn of events, after Wake got confused with personnel, a 2nd and short turned into a 2nd and 7, a 3rd and 7, and the drive stalled. Coach Dave Clawson was forced to take a timeout to explain the plays to young receivers as Cortez Lewis came off looking confused. Dylan Intemann drew two flags in three plays with false start penalties, forcing another Kinal punt.
With 7:38 remaining in the first half, Indiana' took over possession on what felt like an important stand for the Wake Forest defense. If they could hold Indiana scoreless, they'd get the ball back down a score, ready to get possession back to start the second half. Wake struggled to stop Jordan Howard, and safety Ryan Janvion appeared to sustain a concussion after clashing heads with the Indiana running back. But after a couple inventive blitzes, Wake came up with a big stop and got the ball back with 6:08 to go on their own 30 yard line.
Hinton showed off his athleticism again with a 17 yard run, and an amazing catch coming back to the ball on an underthrown pass off a wild trick play. He picked up a big hit, however, on what appeared to be a dirty late hit from Indiana that went uncalled, and after a sack, Wake was held to a field goal attempt as the clock ticked below 4:00 in the half. Mike Weaver converted, and the Deacs trailed just 4, 14-10.
Indiana drove down the field well on their final possession of the half, managing the clock and mixing in runs and passes well, kicking a field goal as time expired to go into half with a 17-10 lead.
The storyline of a good first half was Wake's defense holding Indiana's explosive offense to two scores, and Hinton finding a groove and showing off his elite athleticism. The defense showed a solid mix of man and zone, some tricky blitzes and unusual stunts. Though Jordan Howard ran for 79 yards on 17 rushes, both scores for Indiana came in the air, and Wake was most effective on defense when they had time to get set. While Hinton's accuracy was inconsistent and he missed a few reads, he showed he could keep plays and drives alive with his patience, feet, and intelligence. After a few questionable throws in his performance at Army, he showed a lot more poise and wisdom taking care of the ball in the first half. Of note as well, Wake's running backs saw almost no attempts in the first half. This allowed Indiana's secondary to sit back and made it tougher for Hinton find open receivers as the half went on.
Wake got the ball to start the second half, and Hinton looked to improve on an 8 for 20 first half performance. One the first play of the half Matt Colburn carried for 8 yards, and the offense moved into the no huddle, picking up a quick first down. After that, Indiana brought pressure and sacked Hinton, and the drive stalled for the Deacs.
From there, much of the second half was in Indiana's favor. Their offense started to really impose their will and Wake couldn't keep up with the size, speed, and tempo on either side of the ball. After a competitive first half of play, Wake looked largely outmatched. With Janvion out for the game, and Marquel Lee picked up a knock early in the second quarter, but came back a few plays later.
Jordan Howard picked up his first touchdown of the game on Indiana's first drive of the second half, and the lead grew to 24-10. When Wake got the ball back on offense, they tried to run the ball a bit more, and Matt Colburn found a hole and a nice run up the middle got Wake into Indiana territory. Wake couldn't capitalize on their small ground successes, though, and the drive was anthemic of things to come for the rest of the half. The offensive line struggled with even the tamest of three-man rush. The defense tried to keep Wake Forest in the game, however, keeping it a two score game into the 4th quarter.
Kendall Hinton took abuse all game from Indiana's defense, including some less than legal hits. He was sacked six times and pressured all game. With Wolford out hurt, the health of the quarterback position must be a concern for Coach Clawford. After Hinton, the only scholarship QB left on the roster is redshirt freshman Kyle Kearns. The concern showed as the playcalling started to look very conservative again as the third quarter wound down.
Indiana controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball in the second half. Jordan Howard moved the ball at will, and the clock ticked away quickly as Indiana dominated time of possession and took control of the game. By the fourth quarter, Indiana began substituting seven men on offense and giving Wake different looks to scheme against, though they kept the ball on the ground. Wake's defense would not relent, however. Wake got the ball back still down 24-10, with 11:16 to go and a chance to go down and bring the game within a single score. Instead, under extreme duress, Hinton threw a pick-six and Indiana went up 31-10.
After that, Wake led a long, gutty drive down the field, converting on two 4th downs. Chuck Wade appeared to score, rolling off two tackles, but the touchdown was overturned after the referees took another look. After a long review, Wake's drive continued 1st and 10 in the Indiana red zone. Hinton would eventually score his second rushing touchdown of the game on a fantastic read, breaking two tackles and scoring from 14 yards out. The score brought the tally to 31-17.
Wake was able to get the ball back and lead an impressive drive down the field with some nice catches from Serigne and Brent and some quick, accurate throws from Hinton. The reads seemed to come much more naturally, and Wake got within a score, 31-24. After a perfect onside kick from Mike Weaver, Wake got the ball back with under three minutes to play. On second down, however, Hinton was sacked for a big loss, putting Wake in 3rd and long, and finally 4th and long, where the hope waned for the Deacons. On 4th and 18, with 1:45 left on the clock, Hinton chucked the ball as far as he could, and Indiana was penalized for pass interference. Wake continued the drive into Indiana territory, but three straight incompletions from Hinton led to a 4th and 10 with 1:21, and Wake had a first down called back for holding on a very soft call. 4th and 20 was too much for Hinton, throwing a 50/50 ball to KJ Brent in the end zone, but Brent couldn't come up with the catch. The game ended with heartbreak for the Deacons who fought back proudly for a close finish.
The story of Wake's 2015 Homecoming game was familiar to fans of the Demon Deacons over the past several years. The offense struggled to move the ball until late in the 4th quarter, but the defense kept the game manageable for most of the game. While Clawson is getting production out of his young players and is showing some progress on offense, there's still a long way to go with this time, especially on the lines. While skill players continue to make an impact, and Alex Kinal inches closer to the NCAA record book for punts in a career, it's the big men up front that will need to find some inspiration if Wake wants to be competitive the rest of the season. Wake did a good job getting back into the game in garbage time, but serious problems linger. The schedule only gets tougher from here for the Deacons as they enter ACC play.