It has been a long nine months without Wake Forest football, but the season is finally here! Tonight at 7 p.m. at BB&T Field the Wake Forest Demon Deacons will take the field against the Tulane Green Wave. It’s the third year of head coach Dave Clawson’s tenure at Wake Forest. He and his staff have done an excellent job building the program and recruiting and developing talent over the past two years, and now there are expectations. What can Wake Forest fans expect to see tonight when the Deacs take the field?
Wake Forest on Offense
The Wake Forest offense was ranked 107th nationally in 2015, according to Football Outsiders. While that’s clearly not where the offense needs to be, it was a significant improvement from an offense that was last (128th) nationally in 2014. This is thanks to one of the worst rushing attacks in recent memory. There was simply no talent in the backfield, and there was even less development on the offensive line. 2016, however, should be different.
Wake Forest should be able to move the ball in the air against Tulane. Tulane had the 96th best defense in the country last season, and was 104th against the pass. With quarterback play that should be by the far the best it has been under Clawson, and a strong complement of receivers, I expect Wake to be able to move the ball relatively easy against this Tulane defense. Their secondary consists entirely of 2-star players, so Wake’s receivers should perform well. John Wolford and Kendall Hinton should both have strong nights.
Tulane’s front seven could pose some issues for the Deacs. Defensive tackle Tanzel Smart is an all-AAC player and should get drafted next year. He had 52 tackles last season, including 15 tackles for loss. Wake’s offensive line should be much better this season, and tomorrow will be a good test for them. I don’t know exactly how we will attack Smart, but I expect the scheme to double him on a fairly regular basis in order to get a consistent running game going. I’m excited to see what true freshman Cade Carney does in his first game.
Behind Tulane’s defensive line is an experienced linebacker unit. They return all six linebackers from last season, including Nico Marley who had 13 tackles for loss last season. He’s fast and physical, and will fly around. He will be a threat both at stopping the run and defending Wake’s short-to-intermediate routes. Wake likes to maintain a semblance of balance on offense, but I believe our best strategy in this contest would be to spread it out with 3 wide receivers, and attack the secondary.
Wake Forest on Defense/Special Teams
Wake Forest’s defense was a respectable 60th nationally in 2015. Despite losing Brandon Chubb, Hunter Williams, Zeek Rodney and Tylor Harris, I believe the defense can be improved in 2016. Duke Ejiofor, if he can stay healthy, can be one of the better pass rushers in the ACC. If he can generate a better pass rush, then that should allow the overall speed of the defense to generate more turnovers. What we lose in experience of Chubb and company, we will gain in increased team speed.
Tulane’s offense was anemic in 2015. They were 122nd nationally, and I fully expect them to be even worse in 2016. The quarterbacks on the roster have thrown as many collegiate passes as I have (i.e., zero), and they lost their top two receivers from last year. If Donald Trump somehow ends up live tweeting the game, I fully expect a few “SAD!’s” to be thrown out. Wake’s secondary might be a little banged up headed into Thursday night, but they have plenty of talent to shut down this group as long as they stay disciplined. In a spread/option attack, it’s easy to get beat over the top after trying to defend the run on so many occasions.
Tulane’s offensive line lost a combined 93 starts from last year’s unit. That’s, uhh, not good. The right side of their line is fairly experienced, but the left side should be very vulnerable.
Tulane does have a very nice duo of backs in Dontrell Hilliard and Sherman Badie, but I’m not sure how many holes that offensive line is going to be able to generate for them. I expect Coach Frtiz’s offense to be run-heavy, but Wake should also be able to counter that by stacking the box. I don’t anticipate Tulane having a quarterback capable of making Wake pay for stacking 8 in the box.
Wake Forest should definitely have an advantage on special teams. I expect Steven Claude to be a valuable weapon in the kickoff return game, though I hope we only have to send that unit out one time. Alex Kinal is a lot to replace at punter, but I believe freshman Dom Maggio is going to do an excellent job. Mike Weaver will be steady, and Wake needs him to reliably make kicks inside of 40 yards.
Wake Forest should simply be too much for Tulane to handle. Wake Forest is favored by 17 for a reason. They have superior talent, depth, and experience, and they are playing at home. If Wake doesn’t cruise in this one then there should be cause for concern, but I expect Wake to win comfortably. Tulane just does not have enough offensive threats to keep up with Wake in this contest.
How do you all see this one playing out?