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Tale of the Tape: Wake Forest vs UNC

Who really has the better offense or defense?

NCAA Football: Duke at Wake Forest James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

One thing that has irked me over the UNC game week isn’t the betting line, which man I will be taking Wake moneyline, but the fact that it just seems to be this overall assumption that UNC is the one with the unstoppable offense and an opportunistic defense that’s just a play or two away from being as good as everyone thought in the preseason. Wake has their deficiencies here and there, and there are some games looking at the box score and postgame win expectancies they probably shouldn’t have won, looking at you Louisville and Syracuse. With that being said, they found ways to win and UNC hasn’t in 4 out of 8 games.

Why don’t we take a look at what these teams look like on both sides of the ball. For the purposes of this exercise i’ll look at the same metrics: Normal counting stats like yards per game and points per game, situational such as 3rd down and redzone opportunities, advanced statistics such as EPA, points


Both of these teams are in the upper echelon in everything on offense, but who has been better? A little background on a couple of these metrics in case you’re not as familiar with them:

  • EPA: Expected Points Added, it’s calculating the expected points of the down, distance, and field position situation based on where you started and where you ended on that played. You running for 3 yards on 1st and 10 is a lot less valuable than you running for 3 yards on 3rd and 2. Does that make sense?
  • FEI: A rating system developed by Brian Fremeau at It represents the per-possession scoring advantages for each team unit against an average opponent

Wake outclasses UNC in every metric except EPA per Rush and SP+ on offense. The easy way to explain those discrepancies are a) Wake’s rushing attack is used as mini timeouts from time to time. Wake doesn’t like subbing, as if they sub, the defense is allowed to sub as much as they want and they have to wait. So instead of taking a time out, they’ll just hand it off for 2-3 yards to catch their breath and then get back to business. That hurts their success rate, a measure that is defined by if a play gains 50% required for a first down on first down, 70% on third down, and 100% on third or fourth down. B) with SP+ offseason projections are still a fair amount of the rating system. Before you get up in arms, taking preseason projections out of the numbers will make your numbers worse, point blank. It’s been a proven thing and it’s why no one what has any sort of projection system worth anything doesn’t pull them out, you simply just lower them as the season goes on and you have more data.


One more stat will be added here for the sake of comparison:

  • Stop rate: The percentage of a defense’s drives that end in punts, turnovers or a turnover on downs. Basically, are you getting off the field as a defense?

Same story here. For as “bad” as “we’ve” thought Wake’s defense is this year, They’re pretty much average to above average getting off the field(stop rate), projection systems, in the redzone, and overall just allowing points. UNC on the other side trends from below average to terrible in most statistics, only being better in yards per game and EPA per rush allowed, but not really that much better than Wake’s.

This is the confusion I have going into this game. What’s the game state where UNC comes out on top? A shootout? We’ve seen Wake put up 70 in less than 20 minutes and could’ve put up more if they wanted to, while the UNC team has had it’s fair share of sputtering against not great defenses this year. A grind it out game? UNC’s offensive line has been pretty damn bad all year and do you trust that to throw on 3rd and long when they’re amongst the worst in the NCAA giving up sacks? Also UNC’s defense hasn’t shown they can hold anyone but Georgia State and Duke. UVA still dropped 35 on them and I don’t think it’s a question that Wake has a more complete offense than the ‘Hoos right now. A game where Wake is sloppy and turns it over a bunch? Well Wake hasn’t turned it over much, UNC doesn’t force turnovers much, and we’ve seen a slow Wake kick it into high gear real fast.

It’s just something that doesn’t make much sense and I guess we’ll see tomorrow at noon.