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Wake Forest Football: Statistical Breakdown of the 2019 Offense

Breaking down all the plays from 2019

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 27 Pinstripe Bowl - Michigan State v Wake Forest Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The calendar has turned over another year, and the first order of business for 2020 is turning around and going right back to 2019. Before we say goodbye to football for another few months, I wanted to go back and take a statistical look at the offense from this season. Keep in mind that these stats do include the Pinstripe Bowl and that sacks count as a passing play (as they should). All national rankings listed are as of January 1st, so I’m sure there will be some small changes here and there as the last few remaining bowl games finish up. I’ll start with a big picture overview and then try to narrow down on some specifics.

Big Picture

In the 2019 season, Wake Forest ran 1,055 plays for 6,033 yards for averages of 5.72 yards per play, 81 plays per game, and 464 yards per game. That puts the Deacs 1st in the nation in plays per game, 15th in yards per game, and 75th in yards per play. The offense managed to get into the end zone 49 times in 2019, which ranks 47th in the nation—not great, not terrible.

The offense was kind of a case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde this season, as the Deacs started off on a tear, averaging 38 points and just over 510 yards of offense per game through their first 8 games. After the 7-1 start, the offense started to struggle due to injuries and an increase in competition. The Deacs finished the final 5 game stretch of the season averaging just 22 points and 390 yards per game. That is a pretty sizeable drop off.

Above, you can see the play selection and the yards breakdown for the 2019 season. As with previous seasons, the Deacs had a slight preference to the run over the pass by a very small margin—even smaller than last season’s 56-44 split. As for yards, Wake gained almost 60% of their 6,033 yards on passing plays and just 40% on running plays. That is a large difference from last season when the Deacs ran the ball for over 50% of their total yards on the year. That was likely mostly due to Jamie Newman’s ability to throw the ball down the field to Scotty Washington and Sage Surratt.

Breaking down the play selection 1 step further, Wake Forest really liked to run the ball on 1st and 2nd down this season. This should not be a shock.

The Deacs ran the ball over 57% of the time on both 1st and 2nd down, averaging 4.2 yards per carry on those downs combined. The Deacs threw the ball much more on 3rd down, almost 60% of the time, likely because they needed an average of 6.4 yards to reach the line to gain.

Speaking of 3rd down, Wake Forest was very good on 3rd down this season. The Deacs converted on 108 of their 230 3rd down plays for a 47% success rate. That was good for the 16th best conversion rate in the nation this season. You can see their conversion rate by distance in the graph below.

I am kind of surprised that Wake Forest was so good on 3rd down even though they did not convert on 3rd and 2 and 3 at a very high percentage.

The final big picture aspect I want to touch on is explosive plays. The Deacs had 30 plays this season go for 30 or more yards, including 17 plays that went for over 40 yards. That number is up from last season when Wake Forest had 25 plays of over 30 yards and 13 that went for over 40 yards. That is a trend in the right direction, and if the Deacs can stay on that trajectory for the next couple of years, I see no reason why they won’t have one of the best offenses in the nation.

Rushing Attack

Moving over to the ground game, as previously stated, the Deacs ran the ball 563 times for 2,437 yards and 18 touchdowns. That works out to about 187 rushing yards and 1.4 rushing touchdowns per game. Nationally, that puts Wake at 9th in rushing attempts, 49th in rushing yards, 53rd in rushing yards per game, 84th in rushing touchdowns, and 111th in yards per rush with 4.33 (these rankings are adjusted by removing sack yardage). It probably won’t surprise any Wake Forest fans that the Deacs ran up the middle on almost 72% of their rushing plays.

I basically just eyeball these, so anything between the tackles goes down as a run up the middle. This table basically confirms what everyone already knows when they watch the Deacs play—we don’t run to the outside very often. It also appears that Wake is far more efficient on the ground when they do run around the edges. One could make the argument that this shows Wake Forest should run outside more—but one could also argue that the success on runs to the outside is setup by the litany of runs right up the gut.

The bad news for the Wake Forest rushing attack is that the Deacs are losing both leading rushers this season in Jamie Newman and Cade Carney, who combined for 320 rushes for 1,338 yards this year. The good news is that with Kenneth Walker III, Christian Beal-Smith, and some highly touted incoming freshmen, the running game should be in good hands for the foreseeable future.

Through the Air

Focusing in on the passing game, the Deacs ran 492 pass plays for 3,596 yards, 31 touchdowns and 13 interceptions—those yardage numbers include the 23 sacks for -152 yards. That averages out to about 277 yards per game on passing plays. On actual throwing attempts, the Wake Forest QBs completed 282 of their 469 passing attempts (60.1%) for 3,748 yards. Nationally the Deacs rank 20th in passing yards, 68th in completion percentage, 21st in touchdowns, 103rd in interceptions, and 54th in sacks allowed.

The chart above shows how both Jamie Newman and Sam Hartman fared in short, intermediate, and deep passes. Note that these are how far the ball traveled in the air and not how many yards the play resulted in. It shouldn’t really be a shock that Newman was very good at throwing the deep ball this season, accounting for 13 of his 26 touchdowns on throws of 15 or more yards. With Newman deciding to grad transfer and finish his college career at another school, Sam Hartman will have his work cut out for him to try and match Newman’s production from this season.

On the receiving end, Kendall Hinton was the favorite target of both Jamie Newman and Sam Hartman this year, likely due to the injury that sidelined Sage Surratt for the final 4 games of the season.

Wake is losing 4 of their top 5 receivers as Hinton, Scotty Washington, Jack Freudenthal, and Steven Claude are all graduating. Those 4 combined for over 53% of Wake’s targets on passing plays and almost 57% of receptions this season. The good news is that freshman Donavon Greene really came alive in his few games this year, finishing with 13 receptions for 249 yards and 2 touchdown in just 4 games. Beyond Greene, the Deacs will need someone to step up at Tight End and in the slot to replace the production of Kendall Hinton and Jack Freudenthal—not an easy task.

One Step Further

With the big picture and the air and ground games taken care of, the last thing I want to do is compare some stats from the season total to the games against “even teams” and the games against bowl teams this season. For the “even teams,” I am simply eliminating the teams I feel Wake Forest would beat 99 out of 100 games—Rice and Elon—and the team I feel Wake would lose to 99 out of 100 games—Clemson. My hope is that this will give us a better glimpse of how the offense performed against the bulk of the schedule without the extreme outliers. As for the bowl teams, those include Utah State, UNC, BC, Louisville, FSU, VT, Clemson, and of course Michigan State.

The big thing that jumps out at me on this table is that the Deacs were over 0.5 yards worse per play and over a whole yard worse on 1st downs against bowl teams than they were for the whole season. That probably has more to do with how dominant Wake was against Elon, Rice, Duke, and NC State than any shortcomings against bowl teams.

As previously discussed, Wake Forest rarely ran the ball to the outside this season. It appears from the above table that it was even more of a rarity against bowl teams. Looking back at the data, a sizeable chunk (61 of 160, 38%) of those outside runs for the season came against NC State, Syracuse, and Duke, none of which made a bowl game.

Lastly, we have the passing stats. The only thing that really sticks out to me on this one is that the intermediate 5-15 yard routes were completed at a rate 5% lower and for almost a yard less per attempt against bowl teams as compared to the season as a whole. Other than that, everything looks to be pretty similar across the board for the season as compared to similar teams and the bowl teams.

Final Thoughts

The Wake Forest offense had another good season for the most part. If not for some unfortunate injuries to Sage Surratt and Scotty Washington, I have no doubts that Wake Forest would have finished the season at least 10-3 behind an extremely potent offense. That being said, I do have a few opinions I’d like to share.

Firstly, it seemed to me (keep in mind, I’m just a fan, I don’t actually know what’s going on) that when Surratt and Washington went down, the Deacs tried to just plug in some of the less experienced, younger players and keep running the exact same offense. The issue with that, of course, is that the strength of the passing game for most of the season was Scotty and Sage being Scotty and Sage. Asking players who have played few or no snaps before to come in and produce on the same level as those two were this season was simply an impossible task. I’m not talking about radically changing the offense mid-season, I just thought Wake needed to do a better job getting Kendall Hinton and Jack Freudenthal involved more towards the end of the season.

On the subject of Kendall Hinton, my biggest issue with the offense this season was that I felt Wake really underutilized Hinton’s unique skill set. Hinton showed us his ability as an elite route runner this season, catching 73 passes for 1,001 yards, and we already knew about his ability as a runner and passer from his first couple of season wearing the black and gold. Hinton is one of the best athletes the Deacs have had in a long time, and we really never made an effort to get him the ball in space on screens or on a design run to let him use his speed and elusiveness. Even last year, he ran the ball 22 times for 167 yards and 2 touchdowns. This season, Wake let him run the ball just 2 times for 9 yards. Obviously, in the beginning of the season the offense was rolling and we probably didn’t need to use him so much, but at the end of the year while we were struggling to move the ball and put points on the board, some unique looks for Hinton really could have helped jump start the offense. Also, we had a QB playing receiver for 2 years and never let him throw the ball. If we won’t run a trick play with Hinton playing receiver, I really don’t know if we ever will.

My final issue is simply that we ran Jamie Newman to death; Newman finished the season with almost 30 more rushing attempts than any other player on the team. With 180 rushing attempts (including sacks this time because that also results in the QB taking hits) on the season, Jamie Newman was 5th in the nation among quarterbacks in rushing attempts behind Malcolm Perry (Navy), Jalen Hurts (Oklahoma), Bryce Perkins (UVA), and Asher O’Hara (Middle Tenn.). I am a fan of using the quarterback in the running game, but I don’t really think emptying out the backfield just to ram your starting QB straight into the defense for 3.2 yards in the best way to get him involved. As a result, it seemed like Jamie Newman spent most of the back half of the season being banged up. Now that Sam Hartman is the only QB on the roster with any real game experience, I hope that we will not continue to run the QB so much.

That’s all I have for the 2019 football season. Feel free to give your analysis and opinions of the offense in the comments section below. I guess we’re on to basketball...