The second half of the football season is upon Wake Forest. The Deacs sit at 4-2(3-2 in the ACC), riding a 4 game winning winning streak, and are coming off of a bye week to face a talented UNC team in a game that seemingly will serve as the lynchpin for both team’s seasons.
While a super outside chance at an ACC Championship game appearance still exists, this team is one that seems poised to just take this one week at a time and use every single week to not only win the game at hand, but prep for what could be a special 2021 season. What could be on the Deacs’ minds going into the last 5 games of the season? Let’s jump in.
Building Credible Outside Receivers
There were very high expectations levied on Donavon Greene, even more so when Sage Surratt opted out, and while some may have been too high, not having a 100 yard game and multiple with only 1 catch isn’t anywhere near something you want and it is almost unsustainable to continue to win games without an outside guy(or two) to keep people honest.
Greene has to get back close to the form we saw at the end of 2019 when he was gradually just getting better and better week by week. This team has been fortunate that they’ve been running the ball well and the duo of Jaquarii Roberson and Taylor Morin have emerged as solid 3rd down options, but this team needs outside guys to keep up with UNC, Miami, Notre Dame. AT Perry seemed to have the light start to get there before going down with an injury in the Virginia Tech game. Nolan Groulx picked up a couple of catches last game, Donald Stewart looked great against NC State and now can’t buy a snap. Kevin Higgins has said there’s a chance Jahmal Banks will get some more meaningful reps down the stretch.
Keeping Sam Hartman Upright
Sam Hartman took 23 sacks in 9 games in 2018 before going down with an injury. Jamie Newman took 11 in his 6 games in 2018, and 23 sacks in 12 games in 2019. In 6 games, Sam Hartman has already taken 20 sacks and still has a few defenses that love to bring the house left in 2020. All sacks aren’t created equal and yes Wake lost 3 very talented starting OL to the pros. However there’s been a mix of Sam Hartman holding onto the ball too long and the interior of the line being not up to par. Michael Jurgens is currently the 3rd worst graded Center for pass-blocking, as he’s allowed a sack, 2 QB hits, 3 QB hurries, and committed 4 penalties. While Loic Ngassam Nya and Sean Maginn have graded much better than that, mostly due to winning more 1 on 1s, they both each have allowed a sack, 2 QB hits, 7 hurries, and Loic has committed 7(!!!) penalties. That just can’t happen.
The fault isn’t all on the line as Hartman has been credited with being responsible for 5 of his sacks, 2 hits, and 3 hurries. While he’s basically eliminated the hero ball throws, he’s traded it in seemingly for just holding onto the ball longer than he should instead of just throwing it away or using his legs, the latter of which he’s much better than we all think! Keeping this offense on schedule has to be a major priority and while I’m always impressed by Michael Kern when he gets to throw the ball, I’d very much prefer it right now if Hartman stayed healthy.
This one should seem obvious but it’s incredulous how many injuries this team has gotten, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Right now Wake Forest is down: OT Terrance Davis(out for season), WR AT Perry, RB Quenton Cooley(out for season), DT Tyler Williams, LB Chase Jones, LB Ja’Cquez Williams, S Luke Masterson, CB Coby Davis, CB Gavin Holmes, S Nasir Greer, and S Zion Keith.
Davis/Perry/Tyler/Ja’Cquez/Luke/Gavin/Nasir/Zion/Chase would be getting at worst 30 snaps a game or would outright be the starter at their respective positions. It’s allowed stories like Nick Andersen to come to fruition and you’ve seen players like Trey Rucker, Traveon Redd, Chase Monroe, AJ Williams all turn in very good performances, but depth is one of the largest factors that separates a Clemson, an Alabama, an Ohio State from the rest of the pack. Not only do they have insane front-end talent, but their 2nd string team aren’t a bunch of guys you’re afraid to play. This free year has been great because it’s allowed guys like Andersen, Caelen Carson, Holmes, Justice Ellison, Jasheen Davis, Will Smart, the list goes on, to get reps, and that’s going to be important for next year. But you don’t want to put guys out there just for the sake of you needing a body, they have to earn their playing time.
Who’s the Next “X?”
A lot of talk has been surrounding, “who’s the Boogie behind Boogie”, this season. We haven’t truthfully been given an answer there but it at least looks like one of, if not both, of Rondell Bothroyd and JaCorey Johns are quietly getting there. JaCorey has 6 pressures and 2 sacks the last 4 games, and while Bothroyd hasn’t gotten the stats, since inserting him back on the field, you can tell the level of play of the entire line has improved. If they can keep improving the sky is the limit as this should be the best unit on the defense.
The questions now turn to the rest of the defense. You have your answers in the secondary, as even without Luke Masterson and(in a couple of years) Nasir Greer, the combo of Nick Andersen/Zion Keith/Trey Rucker will be great moving forward. At corner when Ja’Sir Taylor eventually leaves(he has 1 more year of eligibility), it seems to be in good hands with Caelen Carson and Gavin Holmes. If they can stay healthy, then this team will be in good hands for the rest of the year and moving forward.
The rest is up in the air. This team has had success when they have 4 DTs to rotate throughout the game, with Miles Fox, Sulaiman Kamara, Dion Bergan and Tyler Williams. However Tyler has been dealing with injuries all year. Justin Williams has been picking up snaps here and there, but with as many plays as this defense is on the field for, they need to have 4 guys playable so people aren’t getting burnt out. It’s also something I’m sure they want to keep an eye on for next season as they will more than likely lose Miles Fox and Sulaiman Kamara next year. When they’re gone, what 2 players replace them?
At LB, as of this article we’re still unclear on the status of Ja’Cquez Williams and Chase Jones, aka the entire BUCK linebacker position. Williams sounded more likely to be back this week than Jones, but even if he is, Ja’Cquez can’t sit here and play 65-70 snaps a game. That’s asking for burnout and injuries. Guys like DJ Taylor, Chase Monroe, Chase Jones, Zach Ranson, Jaylen Hudson all need to be ramped up in order to help protect those guys and look to the future when Williams might not be return next year and you have maybe another year of Ryan Smenda Jr. At Rover it’s the same story, Traveon Redd is playing at an extremely high level, but it’s almost malpractice to have him playing 75-80 snaps a game. Is AJ Williams ready? Is he a stop gap until the transfer Chelen Garnes is eligible next year? Do you need to move a guy like Kenneth Dicks III back there to eat some snaps?
One of the biggest nagging things about Wake during this recent stretch is how Wake will just have these long droughts trying to play the clock management game, which ultimately end in wins but aren’t exactly what we all know should be happening.
In the last 3 games 47%(16 drives) have gone for 0 points. Over 70% of their drives end up in a field goal or nothing. Obviously the answer some will give is, “just hold them to less points than you score.” That’s not really going to cut it against Notre Dame, Miami, Louisville, UNC, all teams that like putting up points in bunches. The defense is already going to be asked to a lot and the offense has got to help them a bit more.
You don’t expect 100% of your drives to end up in points, but if the defense holds it own and you can drop that 47% number into the 30s, which is 3 of those drives turning into a FG or TD, those will be valuable points down an important stretch for this season. How do they do it? Play-calling and guys making plays is the the only answer. I touched a bit on how the outside guys need to be better, and there’s only so much Jaquarii Roberson can do:
Jaquarii Roberson approaching Greg-Dortch-on-third-down reliability.— Conor O'Neill (@ConorONeillNOO) October 24, 2020
On the play-calling, Sam’s been very good over the middle of the field: 58/76(76%) for 779 yards. I’d like to see Ruggiero call more plays/Hartman trust himself more on throws to his left. On throws from 0-20 yards, he’s 12/15 for 107 yards. Smaller sample size, but worlds better than him to his right and the more he uses the sidelines the more open the middle of the field will be.