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What do you do with a Porous Defense?

Exactly how to react to an 8-1 start

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

You don’t let history repeat itself.

When you see a team blow a multiple score lead in the exact same way as they did last year, you realize that something has to be done about it.

I’m not going to sit here and say on Monday Lyle Hemphill should be receiving his termination notice, because a team firing their Defensive Coordinator after an 8-1 start ain’t it, will never happen, but there does need to be something adjusted here.

It’s frustrating to have a 9-0 game in the grasps of your hands to only come up short after not being able to blow an 18 point lead. My issues with the offensive side at the end of the game, I repeat at the end of the game, have been documented on Twitter. It is bad process to stop yourself from running the ball and Wake passed on 70% of their plays after going up 45-27, and simply just not stay out on the field when you see your defense is suffering and this exact same situation happened last year.

With that being said, the defensive performance was just... bad. It, again, was the same exact story from last year. Wake got a stop to open the game, gave up back-to-back scores, went from midway through the second to 5 minutes left in the third(5 drives) allowing three points and letting the offense get to that lead.

And then the levee broke.

The defense didn’t record a single stop the rest of the game. If you’re looking for anything redeemable from that stretch, it’s when the defense held UNC to a field goal for them to go up 51-48 and not just let ANOTHER touchdown in, but at this point that’s just grasping from straws. The defense just broke. You can point to the injuries, Wake lost corners Gavin Holmes, Caelen Carson, and DB Malik Mustapha by the mid part of the third quarter, which severely hampered their ability to stop the run as they completely changed their calls, but that at the end of the day doesn’t excuse things.

This is an issue that continues to happen, people go down, and the defense breaks. That isn’t sustainable. Your scheme can’t be predicated on having the perfect players or number of players. It can’t be every time there’s a decision to be made on who has what player whether it be due to presnap motion, an option route, or just a weird formation, that the communication on the defense breaks down. It can’t keep happening that people just aren’t fitting the run correctly and chunk run after chunk run happens. Guys are just doing to much and with that can’t even focus on the most basic of concepts. This team can’t stop outside zone to save their lives. You have to simplify it so guys aren’t doing five things at once.

The biggest issue I see is that no one is taking the leap that we see guys on the offense do. This looks like a bunch of very solid college players, but that’s not really good enough when you’re going up against some of the best offenses in the country. It’s an offensive game, sure, but we’ve seen guys develop into NFL players on this defense with some of the guys on this staff. Jessie Bates was developed with Lyle Hemphill as his position coach. Dave Cohen molded Boogie Basham and Duke Ejiofor. Essang Bassey and Amari Henderson were two of the better corners in the ACC with Ryan Crawford as their coach, who is now over the rovers and assistant special teams coach. So what’s been struggling with the development now?

I’ll say it again, bringing in a new defensive coordinator doesn’t really do much for me right now. Not because I think Hemphill is the best defensive coordinator in the country but for a couple of other reasons.

  1. A new DC is going to want to clean house and bring in his assistants. Paul Williams at cornerbacks coach has too much experience, too good of a pedigree, and has done a great job with Gavin Holmes and Caelen Carson. Cohen’s NFL guys are already listed above plus Rondell Bothroyd is playing at a high level, Jasheen Davis was a big recruiting win and keeps getting more playing time, he also hit on Miles Fox and Luiji Vilain in the portal. I don’t think those are two coaches we want to leave at any point.
  2. What scheme are you going to run? It’s always the question at hand, but you’re not going to run a Big 10 defense here. The grinding out defenses of your Iowa’s, your Wisconsin’s, etc won't work. There’s already an issue with the defense consistently being sent out there after a minute break, whether the offense scores or not, do you really want a defensive line full of 300 pounders out there for 15-16 drives a game? They’ll be gassed before the end of the second half. They don’t have the personnel at linebacker to switch to a 3-4 or 3-3-5, and it’s not being lazy to recognize flipping a defensive roster to fit something like that is a few years of a process, and with the way Wake’s roster and schedule are set up, they’re set up to compete again next year.

For me, the change comes in at recruiting and just tweaks to the scheme as a whole. While we love the fact that 2 freshmen corners came in and started balling, it’s a bit striking that 2 guys can just come in and already be better than all but one of the corners in the room. The same goes for the linebackers. I’ve loved what I’ve seen this year from DJ Taylor, Ryan Smenda Jr. has played better, but a converted safety moving to that room and automatically being a starter is an issue. Why hasn’t a guy like Zach Ranson or Jaylen Hudson developed enough that you can consistently have enough linebackers to function? And what happens next year when Masterson is gone and presumably a guy like DJ Taylor is gone too?

At a certain point, you have to stop trying to hide your deficiencies and live with them. You have to hit your evals more on defense. There’s just less margin of error on that side of the ball and you can’t afford to be lacking in that area. You’re not an Alabama or a Clemson or UGA that when your 2nd string and 3rd string come in, they’re as good as the starters. We’ve seen this defense play at a high level and guys make NFL-level plays, but the massive issue is the floor for the defense is just so low. Injuries aside, guys on the other side aside, what is the floor for the defense? It can’t just be either the defense is what we saw against UVA and FSU or it’s what we saw against Army and UNC.

Again, making a full-on change at coordinator makes no sense at this stage of both the recruiting cycle and the season, Wake has a 4-star defensive lineman committed, 2 corners that are running sub 4.4 40 yard dashes, and arguably one of the best DTs in the state of North Carolina as well as still being undefeated in the ACC, but there has to be a coming to Jesus moment with the defense. Make things simple, put them in spots they can win, or simply have the tough conversations with the guys who can’t at the end of the year and start getting guys in who can. Windows are too short in today’s game, and with the boom of the transfer portal, Wake needs to take full advantage of it.

Dave Clawson said during the ACC Kickoff that, “their mistakes don’t leave” and it’s something that’s stuck with me. They’re not a team that can quickly flip a roster due to them being a program that doesn’t shove people out alongside with guys(rightfully so) wanting to stay long enough to get their Wake Forest degree. That makes it hard to immediately flip a roster and is a reason making a broad new scheme change impossible to be a quick change at Wake, but it looks to be hurting the Deacs more than ever. Everyone misses evals, no staff is perfect, and also things just happen that are out of your control. But this has to be a defensive staff that has to hit more than others.

The Deacs are 8-1 and from the looks of the interwebs you’d think they’d be 1-8, but with a monumental task ahead with NC State, Clemson, and Boston College left on the schedule and controlling their own destiny, they need to look in the mirror and just simplify things. It can’t just be talk about staying on assignment, staying in their gaps, it has to be shown on the field if they don’t want to have yet another season come unraveled.