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5 Things I Want to see out of Wake Forest Football Saturday

A Non-FCS opponent!

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Old Dominion at Wake Forest Photo by Brian Bishop/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

On Saturday, Wake turns the page from two lower tier opponents and opens the chapter on ACC play, welcoming Florida State to Winston-Salem.

FSU is a dangerous team, even when looking at their record. They’re two plays from being 2-0, come in at 22nd in the country in rushing yards(5.45) behind a potent attack consisting of Jashaun Corbin and Treshaun Ward, 18th in yards per rush allowed(2.34), and 18th in tackles for loss per game(8.5) behind the strength of a ferocious offensive line anchored by UGA transfer Jermaine Johnson II.

At the time of this recording, Wake enters the game as 5.5 or 6 point favorites, depending on where you look, with an implied probability of 67.7%. Wake has taken care of business against two lower-level opponents, but we want to see more as they enter ACC play against a team with a treasure chest of talent.

Consistency on Offense

The constant knock on Wake Forest’s offense is that they struggle with being efficient. It’s why advanced metrics and power rankings using solely data, like Bill Connelly’s SP+, hate them. One of the biggest metrics is success rate: Gaining at least 50 percent of the necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, Last year Wake ranked 71st. Same idea with explosive plays, last year Wake sat around a 10% explosive play rate on offense, which landed them in the bottom 30 of the NCAA.

Filtering out garbage time, Wake found themselves with a 14.5% explosive play rate against ODU, however, they were brutal on first and second down which lowered their success rate, and in turn forced them to have more chances at explosive plays. Against Norfolk State, the inverse was true: they constantly found themselves ahead of schedule, but in turn, didn’t push the ball for explosive plays and ended up at 9.5% for the game.

Sure both were wins, and comfortable ones at that, but if they’re going to be successful in ACC play, they need to be firing on all cynliders. They can’t be inefficient with the ball and hope for deep shots to bail them out, and they need to be able to take the top off when they want to.

Focus on Defense

For a bit against Norfolk State, it was obvious the focus wasn’t there for parts of the defense. Sloppy tackling, blown assignments, not holding contain, not staying in rush lanes, a dumb penalty, it just looked like a team that knew they were playing an FCS team and wanted to make some money.

You simply can’t do that when you play teams with more talent. I’m sure that was an emphasis in practice this week, and honestly, the defense looked just fine the rest of the game as well as game one against ODU, but you just can’t have that lapse in focus. That’s how we got the NC State game last year, Louisville and Syracuse the year before, it just can’t happen. It’s not a coaching thing as you can see people being put in the right places, but if they can’t finish and are just doing what they want, all the coaching in the world can’t fix that. I’m sure it’ll be rectified.

Continuing Field Position Success

71.4 percent of Ivan Mora’s kickoffs have been touchbacks. Better than Jack Crane’s 59 percent last year, H/T to Conor O’Neill for that data. He’s had a couple go out of bounds, which I’m sure will get cleaned up as it’s his first year on the job, but he’s been better than expected. It’s not unfair to want to see him continue this the rest of the year and against better opponents when the pressure is there.

Wake’s 43.33 average return yards on kickoffs is obviously buoyed by Ja’Sir Taylor’s touchdown week, but it leads to something Wake has been doing a good job at: putting themselves in good field position. Whether it’s not returning stupid kickoffs, Taylor Morin being 13th in the nation in punt return average, long interception returns, or getting off the field on third downs while averaging 8 TFLs a game, they’ve been winning the field possession game. If they can continue to do that, and capitalize on that, they’ll be ready to turn heads.

Handle Time of Possession

This is an interesting topic that could be its own article. Outside of UVA and maybe Louisville, teams in this next stretch of games are more than likely going to try to play keep-away with Wake’s offense. Of course, the obvious play is just to have your defense get off the field on third down. Problem solved, right? Nothing is ever that simple.

If you’re the offense, wearing teams down is very apparent to be plan A. Teams like FSU, Louisville, Duke, just don’t have the depth to go 90 plays at a blistering pace. Once you hit that late third, early fourth quarter, things get shaky. Sometimes if you’re the offense though, you need to be able to slow it down. If you score a quick touchdown and give your defense 35 seconds to catch their breaths, you’re setting yourself up for failure. If you’re up a couple of scores, you can still wear teams down, while giving the defense a rest, and also not just running the ball three times and letting the other team build confidence.

If you’re the defense, it gets back to an earlier point, you have to trust the calls, make sure everyone has their assignments, and make the tackle. Simplified, football is about blocking and tackling. If you can’t do the latter, it puts a lot more pressure on the former.

The Best Version of Sam Hartman

You knew I couldn’t write an article without mentioning him.

I loved what I saw from him last week. Absolutely loved it. He bounced back from a bit of rust and jitters week 1 where he underthrew a few times, to being sharp and gasp running the ball effectively himself.

More of that. According to PFF, Sam Hartman hasn’t thrown a single interception in his career when labeled as “under pressure.” Sam Hartman controls his destiny here. Show up and show out, this team is going places. He’s rated as PFF’s 13th highest QB so far this season, and still has room to grow once the wrinkles in this offense start appearing. Disappoint and he truly can have the label as a JAG(just a guy), and this will be a mediocre season.