Our Demon Deacons are rolling! Yes it was just one game against an FCS team (and a bad one at that), but Dave Clawson had the team ready to go and Wake dominated a football game in a fashion we haven't seen in a few years in Winston-Salem. Just one year ago against Gardner-Webb (the FCS team on last year's schedule), Wake dink and dunked their way to a 23-7 win but didn't even rack up 400 yards while doing so. Ultimately it was a solid performance against the Runnin' Bulldogs, but Wolford did throw three interceptions in only his second career collegiate appearance and Wake led only 9-0 at the half.
This year was a completely different story. After punting on the opening possession, Wake's remaining drives in the first half were: field goal, punt, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, missed field goal. Boom - Deacs lead 24-0 at halftime.
Sophomore Johnny Wolford really put together a solid performance and ended up going 20-27 for 323 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions. Wolford picked right up where he left off and would have had more stats if he hadn't been yanked in the fourth as the Deacs were up 38-3 with fifteen minutes left. Remember that Wolford finished last year with a seven-game stretch against ACC teams, and featuring both Florida State and Clemson, throwing just four interceptions on 188 passes. In that same stretch he threw for six touchdowns but admittedly was throwing a lot of short routes given how porous the offensive line was and what little time he had to get rid of the ball.
If Wolford can continue to showcase his accuracy and poise in the pocket, even if the offensive line concerns from last year come back against tougher opponents, then he's going to be the type of guy we need at the helm going forward on offense. I really like Wolford's composure and I love his field vision. He's going to be fun to watch develop.
I ripped on the offensive line a lot last year and quite frankly they deserved it as the Deacs had one of the worst rushing attacks in the history of college football. No seriously, it was potentially the worst of all time. But that being said the guys up front got the job done on Thursday night against the Phoenix and Wake was able to go for 203 yards on the ground on 42 carries. Obviously this was a game where the offense was going to be grinding the ball out on the ground for stretches in the second half, but Clawson didn't take his foot off the pedal quite like Grobe did and the backup Kendall Hinton got some well-needed experience.
A lot of this was due to the offensive line's ability to control the pace of play and give some quality time and experience to some backups who will inevitably be pressured into play when injuries take place down the road. Hopefully nothing serious happens, but injuries are a part of football and these FCS games can provide backups with real game time so they aren't as starstruck when they thrown into the fire.
The defense was definitely a bit of a question coming into this season. Not really in the same way the offense was a question - as in will we be able to move the ball on the ground against anyone at all, will Wolford be face down before he even gets the snap out of the shotgun, etc. - but replacing a first-round draft pick in Kevin Johnson meant that there were some questions in the secondary. This was somewhat alleviated by the return of all three starting linebackers - Brandon Chubb, Hunter Williams, and Marquel Lee. But the 2014 defense finished 41st in the nation in total defense allowing only 369 yards a game, and questions do remain even after the first game.
That being said, the defense was fantastic. While the defensive line struggled to get into the backfield (and this may turn out to be a pressing concern once ACC play starts), Elon was only able to muster 151 yards overall and their punter boomed the ball 11 times. To be fair, Elon didn't have a single player on the roster who had thrown a pass in college entering the season and played two freshmen quarterbacks throughout the game, but holding anyone under 200 yards is impressive and the Wake D shut down the Phoenix for the entirety of the game.
Jumping back to offense before launching into the return of the #KinalKount, I was very impressed by the wide receiver corps. Two freshmen really stood out to me: Chuck Wade and Cortez Lewis. Meanwhile graduate transfer K.J. Brent showed a little bit more talent route running than I expected and they were all supplemented by the stellar play up the middle of Cam Serigne. Let's not forget that Serigne is a beast at tight end and will hopefully be a huge TARGET in the red zone for Wolford to find. I'm excited about the potential of this offense if Wolford and company can get protection. There is some serious opportunity for some fun moving forward when we have the football.
And now it's time for the triumphant return of OUR BABY (*insert obligatory* maybe a dingo ate your baby?) the #KinalKount. If you didn't remember, when we last left punter Alex Kinal he was just obliterating the pace for every punting usage record in college football history. He finished the year with 262 punts over the first 36 games of his career. He ended up booming four punts against Elon which marked only the 7th time in his first 37 games that Kinal had fewer than 5 punts. Yes I know it's sad but that's a real stat.
At some point this year I'll make a histogram and post the data set for Kinal's punts per game. If anyone has any specific requests of data they'd like displayed or a specific way for me to present it let me know. I can't promise anything because I merely have rudimentary knowledge of how computers work but I'm sure I can pass it on to our friend Bridgers to take care of (official #couldn'tbehappiershoutout, enjoy Adam!).
But back to Kinal, he only had four punts but one was a booming 70 yard bomb which flipped the field in the first quarter. He was subsequently named the Ray Guy Punter of the Week for this past week, which honors the best punting performance in the nation. TAKE THAT ELON!
So let's take a gander at Kinal's stats now after the first game of his senior year:
Career Punts through the 2014 season: 266 (37 games)
Punts Needed to break Ryan Quigley's ACC Record of 284: 19
Punts Needed to break Nick Harris' NCAA Record of 322: 57
Kinal's Yearly Average: 86.27
Quigley's Yearly Average: 71.0
Harris' Yearly Average: 80.5
Kinal's Current Final Pace: 345 punts
Playing FCS schools has done a number on Kinal over the years, but we still have lots of time for him to get back on track against the likes of FSU. Hell even Syracuse looks to have a pretty solid defense, Kinal could end up having to boom a few on Saturday afternoon (especially if the game goes anything like last year's shutout). Anyways, Kinal is still on pace to break the all-time record by 23 punts. Barring something wacky happening, Kinal will Kill the record with time to spare.
Moving on to Syracuse, this one will be a tough one for the Deacs. They're missing their starter in Hunt but there was some speculation that he might not be the best QB on the roster. Wake will need to be aggressive on defense and apply more pressure than they did against Elon. Syracuse's front seven is stout and the front line for the Deacs will have to give Wolford time to throw and the tandem back pairing of Robinson and Colbert will be able to hit some holes on the ground.
Syracuse opened around 5 to 5.5 point favorites but the line has moved down to around 4 now towards Wake. I think Wake plays well and I think has a shot late but ultimately struggles to get it done in the fourth just getting worn down.
Hopefully my picks don't come true and Wake romps. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns let me know here as we always love to hear from the readers. If you think I did severe injustice to something I wrote about or extolled the virtues of a veritable scapegoat then we need to hear about it! And as always, go Deacs!