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Wake Forest Football: 2018 Offense Review

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A statistical breakdown of the Wake Forest offense after 13 games

NCAA Football: Birmingham Bowl-Memphis vs Wake Forest Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

It’s officially a new year, and I’m going to start it off on a strong foot by distracting you from the frustrations of the hardwood and taking a look back at the joys and triumphs of the gridiron.

I wanted to wait until after the bowl game to write this article, firstly, because it would give me an extra game of data to look at it, and secondly, because we all know football coaches get most of their scouting report info from sports blogs on the internet, and I didn’t want to give Mike Norvell any help. So now let’s dive in and take a quick statistical look at the Deacon offense from the 2018 season. Note that like the 2 articles before this one, sacks count as passing plays and these stats may have a few small discrepancies from what you might find on ESPN or SportsRef. Also note that these stats do indeed include Wake Forest’s win in the Birmingham Bowl.

Let’s start with the big picture and then we can focus in on some different position groups. This season, the Deacs ran 1,067 offensive plays for a total of 5,849 yards. In terms of averages, that is 5.48 yards per play, 82 plays per game, and 449.2 yards per game. 5.48 yards per play is on the lower side of the FBS spectrum and would put the Deacs around 70th in the nation in that stat. On the other hand, 82 plays per game is definitely one of the highest in the nation and puts Wake Forest in the top 5 in that category. That shouldn’t be a shock to any Wake Forest fans, as we all know that the fast tempo is something Clawson and Co have prioritized. Our 449.2 yards per game puts Wake around the 20th best team in the nation on offense this season (it’s hard to find definitive rankings with teams still playing bowl games and some sites omitting FCS games).

You can see the breakdown of play types and yards in the graphic above. The Deacs maintained a 45-55 run to pass split for most of the season and an almost perfect 50-50 split for yards. As someone who (incorrectly) complained about how much it seemed we ran the ball on first down, I was shocked to see that it was actually 2nd down where the offense ran the ball at the highest rate (shows what I know). You can see the play breakdown by down below.

One important aspect of the game that Clawson focused on when he took over in 2014 was explosive plays. While I don’t have any numbers from previous years, the Deacs had 25 plays go for 30 or more yards, including 13 that went for 40 or more yards. I know what you’re thinking, so I’ll just answer it now: just 6 of those 25 plays came against Towson and Rice.

Another important aspect of winning football games is keeping drives alive on 3rd down. The Deacs were 46th in the nation in 3rd down conversion percentage, finishing the season 96-229 for 42%. This is a huge jump compared to when Clawson took over in 2014, when the Deacs were 123rd in the nation at 28%. This is likely one effect of our improved ability to run the football; the Deacs needed 5 or fewer yards on 43% of their 3rd down plays this season. You can see their success rate by distance in the graph below. I have omitted everything over 12 yards because we only converted on 3rd down over 12 yards all season.

Now that we’ve covered some of the general stats, lets focus in on the running game. On rushing plays, Wake Forest ran the ball 593 times for a total of 2,967 yards this season, which comes out to about 228 rush yards per game and 5 yards per rush. Even if you add the -193 sack yards back in, that is an insane increase from Clawson’s first year where the Deacs ran for a total of 479 yards (39.9 yards per game!) for the whole season. As with the first 2 articles, the Wake Forest offense continued to prefer going right at the defense to going around the ends; the Deacs ran up the middle 429 times for 2,001 yards (4.66 yards per carry) as compared to 504 yards on 85 carries (5.93 yards per carry) to the left and 462 yards on 79 carries (5.85 yards per carry) running to the right.

Above you can see the yards per carry for each of our 4 main runners. It should come as no surprise that Cade Carney was the best runner up the middle, as he plowed over several defenders this season on his way to a 1,000 yard rushing year. Again, these numbers compared to Clawson’s first year, when the Deacs didn’t have a single back average over 3 yards per carry, show what a tremendous job Clawson has done revamping the run game.

Moving right along to the passing game, the Deacs ran 474 passing plays this season for 2,882 yards, which comes out to 221 yards per game and around 6 yards per passing play. In actual passes, the Wake Forest QBs completed 247 out 442 (56%) of their passes for 3,075 yards (6.96 yards per attempt). The rest of the passing plays, of course, were sacks; the Deacs were sacked 32 times this season (ESPN has 34, so I guess I’m just more generous) for -193 yards. That number was 95th in the nation and 4th worst in the ACC. If you don’t have a calculator, that means our QBs were sacked 1 out of every 15 drop-backs, which is probably not that uncommon when you have a true freshman QB starting for most of the season. 21 of those sacks were against Sam Hartman, which means that the remaining 11 were against Jamie Newman.

I know there will probably be plenty of debate in the coming year about who should be the starter at QB, so here is the breakdown to fuel your arguments. As always the distance is how far the ball traveled in the air, not how far the play went for.

The main differences that I can see between the 2 are that Newman is slightly more accurate in the medium ranged throws and almost managed to match Hartman on deep balls despite starting just 4 games. Of course, Hartman also had to go up against 2 really good defenses in Notre Dame and Clemson, so the stats definitely don’t tell the whole story. Whoever ends up starting next season, the Wake Forest offense should be in good hands.

On the receiving end, it will come as no surprise that Greg Dortch was the most targeted receiver by a wide margin. With 89 receptions on the year, he actually finished the season with more catches than the next closest receiver had targets.

With Dortch headed to the NFL and Alex Bachman graduating, the Deacs are losing over 50% of the receptions from this season. The two also combined for 21 of the 36 15+ yard completions on the year.

All in all, the 2018 season was another fantastic season for the Wake Forest offense. We were unable to match the offensive explosion we saw in the 2017 season, but we got pretty darn close with 2 quarterbacks that had never started a single college game. On top of that we finished the season with a winning record and are the Birmingham Bowl champions, despite all the adversity and injuries on the other side of the ball. With an experienced quarterback leading the way next season and plenty of weapons at the running back and receiver positions, the Deacon offense may be due for another record breaking season next year. I’m sure I’m not the only Wake Forest fan desperately awaiting the 2019 football season.

That’s going to end our quick statistical breakdown of the offense for the 2018 season. Hopefully, this article has been able to distract you from certain other sports for at least 5 minutes. If it didn’t, I’m sorry. I tried my best.