It was a thrilling end to the 2018 Wake Football Season, and my general thought is this program will be the one Deacon Fans are most excited in the upcoming BSD Pulse of the Fanbase survey. The season wasn’t without its fair share of difficulties of course, but Dave Clawson once again proved he is the perfect man for the job as Wake overcame a plethora of obstacles to be Bowl Champions for the 3rd consecutive year.
For my own amusement, I consistently pull together a running archive of stats related to Wake Forest Sports to make it easy to note key performances, new records, etc that I can then share with Deacon fans via BSD or Twitter. To help pass the time until Wake Football is back in the spotlight, I thought I’d share some of my favorite stats from the past twelve months related to Uniforms, National TV Viewership, Win % in Close Games, and more. Check out the 8 key graphs/charts below and feel free to leave a comment if there is any other data point you’d like me to monitor going forward as well.
Uniform Breakdown: Appearances and W-L Records
I’ve always been fascinated when it comes to Wake Forest Football uniforms and the regularity at which each combination appears. Uniforms are an easy way to artificially inflate fan excitement on gamedays, and can provide a helpful publicity boost to a program on the national scale when done effectively as well. This being said, I was a little surprised to see Wake Football not feature any helmet, jersey, or pants alternates throughout the 2018 season, particularly given the theme of BB&T Field’s 50th Anniversary in the background all year long. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to bring back a “Flying WF” helmet/jersey, but ultimately the combinations released in the 2015 redesign were the sole options used — Some more than others I’ll add.
Chrome Gold helmets FTW https://t.co/rSzZWSM3yS— WFU Sports Stats (@WFUSportsStats) December 19, 2018
Gold Lids were the top Helmet selected for the 3rd year in a row, which was probably for the best given how well the team tends to play in them (More on that below). Meanwhile, Normal Glossy Black helmets didn’t feature once all year, and have only appeared 4 times since the start of the 2016 season. It’s one of the main reasons I spent a couple hours earlier this fall designing mock helmets to replace it in the rotation, and you all had clear favorites from the alternate options that were listed.
The other seemingly forgotten uni piece are the Black Jerseys with Gold Sleeves, which only appeared once this season after a MIA in 2017 altogether. I like this option a lot when it is paired with Gold Pants/Helmets (Ex: vs. Rice), and it’s surprising to me it’s only had 7 total showings since 2015 despite being the jersey sold in the Wake Shop for 4 years running.
As for overall performance, you likely already know the story with the Gold Helmets (Insert GOAT emoji here). The Gold Lids have been worn in all three Bowl Wins, both Top 25 upsets over NC State, all three Bowl Eligible Wins (vs UVA, @ Syracuse, @ Duke), and at The Block at the Rock vs App State. If there’s such thing as a lucky charm, it’s those helmets.
Strong Start: Sam Hartman’s TDs as a Freshman
Even though his season was unexpectedly cut short, Sam Hartman still found a way to put up numbers in Black and Gold no Wake Freshman QB in recent memory has been able to reach. His 18 Total TDs were 6 more than the next highest from a Freshman QB (Wolford, 2014) and his 2:1 TD:INT Ratio was also #1 amongst these four. His 125.2 Career Passer Rating currently comes in at 4th in Wake Forest History behind just Riley Skinner, Jamie Newman, and John Wolford. One thing is for certain, QB is a position where Wake Forest will have plenty of talent to pick from over the next couple of years.
Trending Upwards: Offensive Production in the Clawson Era
You don’t need me to tell you just how much progress has been made on the offensive side of the ball over the course of Clawson Era. After 3 years of significant struggles moving the football (even in Wake’s 2016 Bowl Eligible season) the last two years the Deacs have had one of the most electric offenses in the ACC. Wake has finished 2nd and 4th in the conference in Total Yards over the last two years, after finishing in the bottom 3 in the ACC for five consecutive seasons. And with plenty of returning pieces at key positions and Coach Ruggiero still at the helm, another strong season in 2019 looks more likely than not.
Talent in Our Backyard: Recruiting the Carolinas
Being able to recruit well locally is a critical piece of any Power 5 program’s recruiting plan. It’s especially important for a smaller school like Wake Forest, that doesn’t necessarily have the national brand to be able to pull a kid from outside a certain radius in a fierce recruiting battle. In 2019, the Wake Forest staff was able to capitalize on back-to-back bowl winning seasons and bring in an unprecedented number of high-quality prospects from the Carolinas.
40% of the 2019 Class was from NC or SC, the most since Dave Clawson’s first full recruiting cycle in 2015. Not only that, but the local additions of Nolan Groulx, Donavon Greene, and Shamar McCollum all rank in the Top 5 All-Time Commits in program history according to 247sports. Coming off a State Championship in 2018, all signs point to the recent influx of high-end NC/SC talent being a trend going forward.
Crunch Time: Games Decided by 7 Points or Less
If it seems like Wake Forest Football has been particularly clutch in close games lately, it’s because we have. The Deacs have been an absolute juggernaut in the 4th quarter over the last 3 years, going 9-3 in games decided by 7 points or less since 2016, including the last two Bowl Wins against Texas A&M and Memphis. The resume has been pretty remarkable in recent years even in the regular season: Two wins over State in the final seconds, a blocked Field Goal at App State, an OT victory on the road at Tulane, a Pick 6 to become Bowl Eligible against UVA, etc. The only real heartbreaker to speak of was against FSU in 2017, as both BC losses happened at times in the schedule where the season wasn’t really on the line.
The 2016-2018 results are a complete flip in fortune from 2013-2015, with Wake losing a number of close games, oftentimes to opponents that were more talented across the board. Given this, one might call the last 3 seasons as a reversion to the mean, but Ty Hayworth brought up a cool perspective that I think carries a lot more weight than statistical randomness:
Since Coach Clawson got to Wake he preached our conditioning would be the difference in close games. ‘14 we weren’t even close, ‘15 we were in most games but couldn’t finish, ‘16 when the tide started to shift we started winning those close games and now we expect to win them https://t.co/QYVRA8gP0N— Ty Hayworth (@CoachHayworth) December 26, 2018
Conditioning + Confidence + Coaching = The last 3 years of close game success. I’m all for it moving forward.
Finishing the Drive: Red Zone Efficiency
One of the reasons why Wake Football has found success in recent years is its ability to capitalize in the Red Zone. In 2018, the Deacon offense found the Red Zone a total of 61 times, nearly double the number of appearances it had in the first two years of the Clawson Era. However, not only is the team getting inside the 20 more frequently, they are also trading FGs for TDs at a higher clip as well, with 71% of RZ scores being for 6 instead of 3 in 2018. Overall, the 304 Red Zone points scored in 2018 was a high for the program since Dave Clawson took over, and the 3.4 RZ Scores per game ranked just outside the Top 25 in the nation.
In the Spotlight: National TV Viewership
I proposed the question out on Twitter in January as to what nationally televised Wake games people thought were the most watched over the last 3 years? The Belk Bowl was the most common guess, and for good reason given it was a Tier 1 Bowl against an SEC opponent on ESPN. Few picked FSU in 2017 at #2 (which was on ABC), and Clemson games were probably the most frequently guessed option that didn’t even eclipse the Top 5. The interesting insight here is just how big a drop off in terms of total viewers it is between ESPN, ESPN2, and ESPNU. Since 2016, Wake games on ESPN are averaging 1.6m viewers, where as ESPN2 and ESPNU are at 810k and 340k respectively. Of course, part of that is due to the opponent WF is playing on these channels (Opponents in ESPN games often feature a bigger brand team than those on ESPNU). But it’s still important to consider when matchups like next year’s Wake-UNC game gets slotted for a Thursday night on ESPN when both teams have a strong preference against the short week. With the ACC Network launch on the way later this year, hopefully Wake’s reach on National TV has some additional upside moving forward as well.
For more Wake Forest recruiting stats and updates, you can follow me on Twitter @WFUSportsStats.