Well ladies and gentlemen - the Wake Forest Demon Deacons are 4-0 in football for the first time since the 2006 season, which all Wake fans know was the year the Deacs won the ACC and played in the Orange Bowl. The game in Bloomington was a roller coaster of emotions, beginning with almost the worst start imaginable (down 7-0 after one play), peaking perhaps with one of the most exciting plays in sports (pick six city baby!), and ending in almost the best way possible (with a road win against an undefeated P5 team to preserve our undefeated record). What did Wake do well against Indiana, where were areas for improvement, and what does Wake’s road look like from here on out? Let’s take a look.
First and foremost, I have to give credit to Dave Clawson and the entire coaching staff for putting the Deacs in a position to win. I said in last week’s roundtable that for Wake to beat Indiana the staff needed to come in with a cohesive offensive game plan with John Wolford as the quarterback that played to his strengths as a game manager while limiting his exposure to injuries and a style of offense that isn’t well-suited for the junior gunslinger. Coach Clawson and the staff were absolutely successful in this endeavor.
Wolford, who entered the game with some fairly heavy criticism from the fan base based upon his previous appearances as quarterback this year (as well as his first two seasons at the helm of the offense), went 16-29 and threw for 172 yards and a TD while rushing 14 times for 61 yards for two more touchdowns. He was cool, calm, and collected in the pocket in most situations, and was able to progress through his reads on a consistent basis before getting the ball out to his receivers - or in plenty of instances - opting instead to tuck the ball under and run for some yardage.
Although I don’t have the exact play calls in front of me relative to previous weeks, the game plan on offense felt like it was a little less reliant upon the zone read (although still utilized plenty) and some of these plays were replaced by quick passes which acted in part as a run, but also got the ball into the hands of our playmakers out of the backfield and at the receiving position.
Wolford’s ability to put the ball where it needed to be was most obvious to me in two instances: (1) the quick hitting four-to-five yard routes to the sideline and (2) the touchdown pass to Chucky Wade to put the Deacs up 21-7 heading into the half. Wolford has always had the arm strength to be a successful quarterback in the Wake system but has struggled at times to avoid getting the ball batted down at the line while, seemingly on the opposite end of the spectrum, floating a few passes that needed to be kept down to his receivers.
The quick hitters to the side line were consistently thrown to the back inside shoulder, ensuring either the Wake receiver (in these sets, generally Cortez Lewis or the aforementioned Wade) got it or nobody got it. Similarly, the touchdown pass to the post to Wade in the second quarter was a great throw in addition to a great route and catch by Chucky. If that wasn’t caught for a TD, it was going to harmlessly fly out the back of the end zone. Also if you haven’t rewatched this play already, do it, Wade’s footwork is amazing.
Wake’s offensive line showed up to play again, the third consecutive game where the front has played better than any game from the last few years that I remember. Wolford has struggled to have time to throw in the pocket during his first two years and it was refreshing to see an actual pocket form, enabling John to step up and get through his reads as mentioned earlier. Similarly, the offensive front was able to open up enough holes for Matt Colburn to carry the ball 29 times for 103 yards and a touchdown. I’m still really high on Colburn as a back and his ability to break arm tackles at the line and turn zero or negative yard rushes into positive yardage is, I believe, one of the major reasons the offense was able to consistently stay on schedule on Saturday.
Switching over to the defensive side of things, boy did this unit have some ups and downs. After getting burnt for a 70+ yard touchdown on the first play of the game (the third time in four games this year Wake has yielded the first points of the game) when a, perhaps, overly ambitious Amari Henderson dove for a pick and missed, the defense got those points back with a Jesse Bates pick six, and was able to intercept the Indiana quarterback an impressive five times.
While the defense certainly made some big plays and turned the Hoosiers over plenty, they were also prone to get beat deep and were simultaneously susceptible to getting beat underneath while watching for the deep balls Lagow was putting down field. The secondary may be an area of concern moving forward, but they were able to bounce back nicely and force turnovers which is about all you can ask of the defense.
The defensive front also made it extremely difficult for Indiana to get any running game going as Devine Redding, who had entered the game rushing for 100+ yards in five consecutive games, was held in check for large portions of the game - only getting across the 50 yard mark in the fourth quarter before ending with 16 carries for 68 yards. The coaching staff did a great job mixing up blitz packages and is able to use a unique look by bringing the safety driving into the backfield out of the somewhat unconventional 4-2-5 base set.
I also have to give a shout out to our guy Mike Weaver who was handling all kicking duties with punter Dom Maggio still out with the always amorphous “leg fatigue.” Weaver drilled two field goals, including a 46 yarder, and made all three extra points. Additionally, he punted nine times for 40.3, pinned the Hoosiers inside the 20 three times, and had a 57 yarder to flip the field. Weaver did his job excellently Saturday and he gets some much-deserved recognition.
Taking a step back and looking at this game in general, it was a pretty bizarre one. Wake was outgained by a LOT of yards (611-352) and got the victory largely due to turnovers which are not going to be a consistent source of points or field position for any one team over the course of the season. While most of the interceptions were forced by Wake, rather than simply being awful decisions by Lagow (although I’d submit that two of the first three interceptions were solely on him because of how much he consistently put passes slightly too high - thus enabling tipped balls and a higher likelihood of a defender coming down with it) Wake isn’t going to have a +5 TO margin many (any?) other times this season.
If you’re a fan of advanced metrics, you may be familiar with Football Study Hall, which provides a “win expectancy” for each game based off of five key factors of each game. While Wake cruised through the first three games and was the “better” team (read: expected to win) in each of the three - 94% to beat Tulane, 83% to beat Duke, 99% to beat Delaware based on how the game went - Wake was certainly NOT favored to win this one from the stats and only had a 10% win expectancy. Indeed, Indiana was “supposed” to win by an average of 11 points based on how the game went. I’m not complaining or being a Negative Nancy but use this to point out that the “win expectancy” tends to be a better indicator of future performance than simply looking at “we won 33-28 so we were the better team.” But hey, forcing five turnovers and not turning it over at all while also blocking a field goal and taking a pick to the house will do that. 4-0 is 4-0 baby.
Looking ahead, Wake travels to N.C. State next week where the Deacs have traditionally struggled (last win there was in 2006, which as mentioned above is also the last time Wake started a season 4-0 #vibes). N.C. State opened as a nine point favorite, which seems a little high, but at the same time Football Study Hall has Wake projected as a 32-25 loser so perhaps it’s about right.
Wake now has four wins with eight games remaining and interestingly enough, the worst four teams left on Wake’s schedule (Syracuse, Army, Virginia, Boston College) are all games that will be played in Winston-Salem. Nobody is going to sit here and claim that Wake is a national championship contender because quite frankly, they’re not, but you can only win the games you play and at this point Wake has beat all challengers. In order to play meaningful games towards the end of the season, you need to put yourself in a position to pull off a couple upsets for a “special season” and Wake has done just that.
The Deacs received nine votes in each of the two major football polls and is “ranked” 40th in the nation in each of them. This is the first time Wake has received votes since 2011 I believe and these Deacs deserve it. If you’re a Wake fan and you are free next weekend in North Carolina you should try and make the trip to Raleigh to pull on the Deacs. Who knows the next time you’ll see a 4-0 Wake team in a winnable game, even if it’s on the road, and you may be kicking yourself come 6:30 Saturday night that you missed the game if Wake comes away with a victory.
If you have any questions, concerns, or comments or just want to drop a line below, we always encourage you to do so. This is the fun part of being a fan everyone! We have sat through years of mediocrity (and honestly just down right awful play at times) in football and basketball so these are the times you need to soak up and enjoy. Find your closest N.C. State friend, coworker, relative, random message board poster, or Twitter account and talk a little friendly trash about how Wake’s coming in as an undefeated freight train. That’s what sports and fanhood are all about and it’s about damn time Wake fans have something to be excited about from the revenue sports.
As always, go Deacs.