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Wake Forest Football Quarterly Review

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Honestly, just happy to be this far in the season

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 19 Florida State at Wake Forest Photo by Dannie Walls/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Wake Forest is now a quarter of the way through their season, 27.27% if you want to be specific.

Wake sits at 1-2, with losses to #1 Clemson and an NC State team that looks to be rebounding from a horrific 2019, and a win over Campbell.

This season has been anything from straightforward, from the opt outs of Sage Surratt and Kendrell Flowers, to the rearranging of schedules(Wake is at worst 3-1 with their original first 4 games), to even more scheduling adjustments as the Notre Dame game was moved to the end of the schedule due to a COVID outbreak within the team from South Bend.

Things are where they are and while it’s been tumultuous, the season is pushing ahead. Let’s look at position by position to see how Wake has stacked up.

Quarterback

Report: In the ACC, it’s obvious who’s in the top tier of quarterbacks, Trevor Lawrence and D’Eriq King have been nothing short of elite. After that, the next tier of really good QBs is up for debate, so I attached a little snapshot of the 5 QBs that are next up. Without looking can you guess who is who?

In order it is: Ian Book, Sam Hartman, Kenny Pickett, Sam Howell, Devin Leary.

If we’re doing process of elimination, Ian Book is the first to go for me. He hasn’t really been effective both under pressure and with a clean pocket. PFF really has taken a stance on him and he just hasn’t been all that impressive. Next to go would be Sam Howell. He’s been worse than Book on deep but more accurate underneath and graded considerably better. What knocks him down for me is he still has 3 picks to his name and they have been some abysmal picks. His decision making has been very questionable and eventually that’s going to bite that team. This leaves Pickett, Leary, and Hartman vying for the 3-5 spots on the ACC. Each have their pros: Hartman has just been great at his decision making, the most accurate out of the three, better with a clean pocket, and has yet to turn the ball over. Pickett has been lighting it up in the stat sheet as they’ve required him to cook in order to win games. There wasn’t really a reason Leary shouldn’t have been starting but State has looked like a completely different team with him in. In terms of downsides, Hartman has been not great without a clean pocket and doesn’t have a ton of yards or TDs to his name. Has Pickett just been a product of volume, both attempts and number of games?

In my opinion, Sam Hartman is the 4th best QB in the ACC. Coming into the season with losing all his weapons, including the Sage opt-out, losing a considerable amount of the OL and having Terrance Davis out for the year, with already have played Clemson, Hartman has done a commendable job. I would love to see Hartman use his legs a bit more and make a few more reads, but the job he’s done through the has been tremendous. One of the biggest knocks on him has been his decision-making. He’s been full on big brain with his throws and it’s been remarkably improved from past years.

For the backups, Michael Kern impresses just about every single time he’s on the field. If he keeps improving, good lord his ceiling is high. Mitch Griffis has an absurd TD vs Clemson’s backups to his name as well in his only action.

Grade: B+

Running Back

Report: So for ease, I’m going to lay out how Kenneth Walker III and Christian Beal-Smith rank in the following stats: Rushing Yards, Touchdowns, PFF Grades.

Rushing yards:

CBS: 9th in ACC, 13th in P5, 33rd in FBS

KW3: 4th in ACC, 8th in P5, 19th in FBS

Touchdowns:

CBS: T-2nd in ACC, T-4th in P5, T-10th in FBS

KW3: T-2nd in ACC, T-4th in P5, T-10th in FBS

PFF Grades:

CBS: 8th in ACC, 15th in P5, 25th in FBS

KW3: 2nd in ACC, 2nd in P5, 6th in FBS

They’ve been so bleeping good and have been dueling banjos the last 2 weeks in their performances. Not much more to say here, keep it up.

Justice Ellison has looked sharped in his ~30 snaps and should continue to rack up snaps alongside Ahmani Marshall whenever the game doesn’t need one of “Thunder and Lightning” in the game.

Grade: A+

Wide Receiver

Report: Losing Sage Surratt and Scotty Washington on the outside isn’t a fun task for any team. It hurts even more to a developmental(ok I HAD TO) program like Wake Forest.

Coming into the season, the group of Donavon Greene, Nolan Groulx, Donald Stewart and AT Perry had combined for 318 snaps. For reference, Steven Claude last year had 527. Even more, 214 of those snaps came from Greene. There is inexperience there, but a bevy of expectations on someone like Greene after he showed to be the next “guy.”

To say it’s been up and down for the outside guys would be a stretch.

Against Clemson: Greene had a couple of great grabs but a drop to his name. Perry brought in a couple catches but had a nightmare drop that was a sure touchdown. Groulx/Stewart/Jahmal Banks just didn’t seem ready.

Against NC State: Greene had two head-scratching drops and ended up leaving the game early with only 1 catch on 5 targets to his name. Perry hauled in 5 catches including a couple of much needed ones, but still had a drop to his name. Donald Stewart was arguably the best outside receiver, being so sure handed and having 3 first downs. Groulx caught his only target.

Against Campbell: Greene was only targeted 3 times(we’ll let that slide since he found a way to get into the end zone on a kickoff return), Perry seemed to finally show that deep ball upside we’ve heard so much about from him. Jahmal Banks recorded his first career catch. Nolan Groulx caught one, but also maybe, kinda, should’ve caught a TD on his other target.

It’s been a ride, but we expect Greene to return to his form of the last 4 games of 2019. We expect AT Perry to continue doing good things. When Donald Stewart is healthy he seems like a sure option. A reminder that Nolan Groulx still hasn’t cracked 100 total snaps in his career, so he’s still green but may be coming around.

Grade: B-

Slot Receiver

Report: Losing Kendall Hinton is a blow. He just constantly was getting better and better every single week of actually being a receiver and turned into one of the best weapons in the ACC.

Now enter Jaquarii Roberson and Taylor Morin. Roberson grades out as the NUMBER ONE receiver in the country through 5 games. Morin comes in at only 22nd in the country, good for 2nd in the ACC and 12th in the P5.

For receivers with at least 10 targets, Morin is 13th in the FBS in receiving percentage(best in the ACC), Roberson comes in at 30th in the FBS(3rd in the ACC). Neither of them have recorded a single drop, and Sam Hartman has over a 130 NFL Passing Rating when targeting them. They’ve been sure-handed, they’ve been there when needed, there’s not much more you can ask.

Ke’Shawn Williams is one player to look out for as the season goes on. It was only Campbell, but when he got in the game he looked GOOD. Dave Clawson can’t keep from cracking a smile when talking about him, it wouldn’t shock me if the 50/50 time split between Roberson and Morin becomes closer to a 45/45/10 split between the 3 to keep the co-starters as fresh as they can be.

Grade: A+

Tight End

Report: There’s been a lot less TE love than I would’ve guessed this year. This position is usually one of a safety valve for Wake QBs, but between Brandon Chapman and Blake Whiteheart, there’s only been 4 targets total.

In similar snaps Whiteheart has been a significantly better pass blocker than Chapman surprisingly. Blocking for the run, he’s graded better than Chapman as well but only in a little over than 40 snaps while Chapman has 72 snaps run blocking.

I’m not concerned about this unit but I can’t really say we’ve seen enough as we have in the past in order to give them a fantastic grade.

Grade: C

Offensive Line:

Report: Left Tackle and Right Tackle have been tremendous. There are only TWO offensive linemen in the FBS who graded better as pass blockers than Zach Tom. He’s only allowed 1 QB hit and hasn’t allowed a sack in 3 games. He’s the #13 tackle, according to PFF, in the country and 4th best in the ACC. Not to be outdone, Je’Vionte Nash has been awesome at RT. Finds himself in the top 30 for tackles in the FBS and has been solid both against the run and the pass. He’s been filling the shoes left by Jake Benzinger who was great for years for Wake, and I’m really hoping Nash comes back next year.

Guard has been boom or bust. Loic Ngassam Nya actually had his best pass blocking game vs Clemson(in 41 pass blocking snaps) but has been very up and down blocking for the run. You can tell when he’s comfortable with the call as he’s quick to overpower his assignment. When he’s not, you can find him blocking air. Sean Maginn has been a bit of the opposite. More consistent, and a better run blocker, but leaves a decent amount to be desired against pass rushers. They crushed during Campbell obviously, but we definitely want to see that improvement coming against ACC teams.

Michael Jurgens might have had the biggest shoes to fill. Zach Tom was just so solid at C last year and with him moving to LT, the assumption was that Jurgens was made ready to be the successor. He started out a bit slower dealing with Clemson, who wouldn’t but bounced back from a performance where he graded out at 7.9(out of 100) against the pass and put two solid performances against NC State and Campbell. I’m really hoping that this trend continues. Having a RS Sophomore continue to grow and become one of your better linemen is never a bad thing and will pay dividends.

Grade: B-

Defensive End

Report: This is where the positive reviews mostly stop. Boogie has been keeping up his streak of games with a TFL, JaCorey Johns now has 2 straight games with a sack, but you’d expect last year’s production where it felt like, and showed up in the stat sheet, that these two were mauling people.

The stats are decently similar for Boogie in terms of sacks, QB hits and hurries, but the grading for him has dropped significantly on pass rushes. Essentially, he hasn’t won matchups/has been getting doubled more, but when he does win beware. The issue for all of the guys coming off the edge has been the run game. Boogie, Royce Francis, JaCorey Johns, Shamar McCollum and Isaiah Chaney all have grades below 60 against the run. It’s no secret the team has had issues defending the run and it starts here.

One thing I vehemently don’t agree with is the usage of Boogie and JaCorey. I’ll get to the snaps of other players on defense in the appropriate section, but right now Boogie has played 157 snaps and JaCorey 137. Playing a large amount of snaps in the secondary is fine, but up front in the trenches that cannot happen. Royce and Chaney don’t have 100 snaps COMBINED backing up Boogie, and while McCollum missed the Campbell game, he had 50 snaps in the 2 games before. These guys have either got to get ready if they aren’t for game action, or Cohen has to trust them to spell the two starter so they aren’t getting worn down

Grade: C+

Defensive Tackle

Report: This one has been a bit of a weird spot as well. Outside of Dion Bergan, who had a down game against NC State, this entire group started off extremely slow but is coming off their best game by far. Tyler Williams went down in the last game, so that will be one to monitor, but the biggest name to watch for is Rondell Bothroyd. He’s been out with an injury for a while and has been “close” for a few weeks. The original idea would be that UVA week would mark his return, but in the age of secrecy, who knows? If Bothroyd can come back and offer 20 snaps, this entire line becomes a nightmare to deal with as he can spell either of the DT spots, but can also give Boogie a much needed rest.

The next step for this unit is going to be finishing plays. There’s been a few recorded missed tackles, but the biggest marker is that between the 4 main guys(Bergan, Williams, Miles Fox, and Sulaiman Kamara) they have 11 QB hurries but only 1 sack. If they can start turning these pressures into sacks and rack up more stops in the run game, they will be right where they want to be.

Grade: B-

Linebacker

Report: Snaps and play-calling have to change. During the press conference Warren Ruggiero and Lyle Hemphill had last week, Hemphill took a considerable amount of blame when it comes to the linebackers and secondary being so up and down(mostly down.) He admitted to putting a lot more pressure on the line and linebackers just to cover for the DBs being so young/hurt/COVID. It’s going to be interesting to see how they line up so they’re not constantly being put in position that makes it hard to keep leverage, so that way their run fits aren’t... bad and force the RB to either make them miss or bounce outside to take their chances against Boogie and JaCorey.

The snaps have to be divided up more. Ja’Cquez Williams is a good linebacker, Ryan Smenda Jr is a good linebacker. However you can’t expect Williams and Smenda to be out there for 139 and 159 snaps, respectively, and expect them to keep making outrageous plays. Chase Jones is creeping up on 100 snaps and been playing better and better. Chase Monroe has been effective in his 40 snaps. DJ Taylor the same in his 40 snaps. Again, it’s just Campbell, but all 5 of the linebackers have been grading better and better as the weeks have gone on, but you have to start getting these snaps a bit more even unless they just are flat out unplayable. Hemphill admitted as much, but it’s going to be interesting to see if they do so. The positives were after 7 missed tackles in the first 2 games, which just can’t happen if the ball carrier is at that level of the defense, there was 0 against Campbell. Only time will tell if this is a reoccurring thing though.

Grade: C-

Cornerback

Report: It’s hard to evaluate a unit that has gone through so much this year as this group has. Losing Amari Henderson and Essang Bassey is tough for any team, but then you throw COVID in the mix, losing players for extended periods of time, losing valuable camp time both in spring and fall, adding a new coach in Paul Williams. They’ve had corners out and tried to put true freshmen in. The true freshmen have gotten banged up and they had to put safeties in at corner. Then those have been hurt. It’s just been a lot and it’s been commendable what they’ve done.

Ja’Sir Taylor has been the only experienced one, and even he has had his ups and downs. With his pick-six vs NC State, overall this year he’s been targeted 16 times and allowed 12 receptions on 90 snaps in coverage. Caelen Carson has played above his years and has only been targeted twice allowing 1 catch in 41 coverage snaps. Peyton Woulard has allowed 1 catch on 3 targets in 31 snaps in coverage. The missing pieces here are Kenneth Dicks III and Gavin Holmes. Moving Nasir Greer to corner just isn’t a long term solution, they seemingly don’t trust Isaiah Essissima or Tyriq Hardimon outside of snaps in the 4th against Campbell, and JJ Roberts seems to be favoring FS more than corner. KD3 was impressing in spring camp and apparently in fall camp until picking up an injury, but it sounds like he may be a go this weekend if there weren’t any set backs. If they can get him back and then get Gavin Holmes back, who the staff has been very high on, the ship could be righted very easily.

Grade: C

Safety

Report: Safety has gone through a bit of an injury bug but more of known commodities vs quantity as the corners have. Nasir Greer is coming off a torn ACL and, very truthfully, may have come back a bit too early both physically and mentally. Sitting out a game like Campbell, getting most of the bye week to rest up, and reportedly practicing this week may be just what the doctor ordered in terms of getting him both physically and mentally 100%. Luke Masterson is “week to week” right now with a foot injury, but I would be shocked if he came back in the very near future. Lyle Hemphill alluded that Trey Rucker had a broken foot and now is finally back and played 30 snaps against Campbell.

With Rucker, and presumably Greer back, Wake will have 3 experienced guys back there including Zion Keith. Keith has been playing out of his mind this year. PFF has him as their 18th ranked S in the FBS, which is good for 3rd in the ACC marginally behind Mike Jones Jr of Clemson and Mike Palmer of Boston College. The pick-six definitely helps his grading, but the best part of his game has been tackling. He’s been graded at 82.8(out of 100) in that area which is good for 7th in the FBS and 3rd in the ACC. Not to be outdone, Luke Masterson comes in at 8th, while Traveon Redd finds himself in 10th.

J.J. Roberts played well in his first action against Campbell, logging a tackle and forcing a fumble in only 23 snaps. Nick Andersen has also rebounded from his 3 missed tackle performance vs Clemson and has really shown up when they need him, and now Hemphill knows that when they get to full strength, they can give Rucker, Nasir, Keith, and eventually Coby Davis when he’s back from a high ankle sprain, 10-15 plays off due to the experience the new guys have gotten.

Grade: B

Special Teams

Report: The fact that Wake hasn’t allowed a huge kickoff return for a TD, has been actually kicking out of the end zone, and has their first kick return for a TD since 2007 should give them an A right off the bat.

One negative has been unfortunately Nick Sciba. He’s already missed 3 kicks this year after a record setting performance in 2019. It’s tough because that unit has apparently missed a lot of time, and he’s getting used to a brand new LS and holder. I’m sure he’ll come around but hasn’t been automatic so far. Another negative has been Ivan Mora. He’s been a bit shaky on his own, but only really hurt them in 1 game. Time will tell if Wake will just keep scoring and he’ll barely have any usage, or if his number will be counted on and we see some improvement.

Grade: A-