The 2022 football regular season has come to a close, and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that it did not go the way Wake Forest fans thought it would. After starting the season 6-1 and finding their way into the AP Top 10 for the second season in a row, the Deacs went 1-4 over the final 5 games and finished the season 7-5. Here are just a few thoughts that I have as an over-reactionary fan who knows very little about football.
Overall, I don’t think the 2022 season can be described as anything but a disappointment. Some may argue that Wake Forest has never been a traditional football power and anytime the Deacs can get to 7 wins, it is a success (this is just the 7th time Wake has hit 7 wins in the regular season since 2000). However given the circumstances of this team, 7 wins should be seen more as a failure, in my opinion. The Deacs were coming off an 11-win season and an Atlantic Division championship, returned most of their talent including starting QB Sam Hartman, started the season 6-1, and then just completely fell apart to finish 7-5. Losing 4 of the last 5 games, including going 0-3 against Big Four rivals is what I would call a massive letdown.
At this point, the early success—where Wake starts off the season with 1 or fewer losses through the first 6 games—only to crumble down the stretch has become a concerning pattern. By my count, Dave Clawson is 11-22 in his 9 seasons at Wake Forest in the month of November and has never had a winning record in the month. Obviously, injuries have played an impact on that front, but at a certain point, it has to fall on the head coach to have more depth on the roster so that the team doesn’t completely go to pieces when the 2nd and 3rd string guys have to play more. Clawson is a fantastic coach and has taken Wake Forest football to a completely new level, but he’s got to find a way to break this pattern.
The offense was once again great for the Deacs. Wake finished the season 17th in the nation in points per game with 36.8 and 29th in total offense with 447 yards per game. To me, it seemed like Wake was too one dimensional this season, relying much too heavily on the passing game to move the ball down the field and score points. Of course, the Wake receivers were incredible this season, so it made sense to use them as much possible. However, with a defense that has more holes than a slice of Swiss cheese, the ability to control the ball a little more with the run might have helped. The Deacs finished the year 92nd in the nation with 132 rushing yards per game and 110th in the nation with just 3.4 yards per rush. The running game was inconsistent all year and really struggled in short yardage situations—that was evident in the final game against Duke, where Wake didn’t trust the run game to pick up a 3rd and 2 to essentially put the game away. I think part of the problem with that is that the runs are kind of predictable—Wake rarely ever runs anything to the outside and never got anyone but the running backs involved in the run game this year. Adding some outside runs or sweeps to the receivers along with getting the QB more involved could help alleviate teams stacking the box and stuffing the middle when Wake needs to run the ball. Whatever the solution may be, with Hartman and A.T. Perry moving on, the Deacs are probably going to need to run the ball a whole lot better next season to win games.
My biggest issue with the offense this season, though, was their inability to do anything with the ball in opening possessions. Wake received the opening kickoff of the 2nd half 10 times this season, in every game except against Clemson and UNC. Of those 10 drives to open the 2nd half, Wake scored just 3 times on touchdowns against Vandy, FSU, and Army. The 7 other drives resulted in 6 punts, including 5 3-and-outs, and a pick 6 against Louisville. Wake was just as bad in the 2 games where they received the opening kickoff, punting after 4 plays against UNC and 7 plays against Clemson. As good as the offense was this season, it is really baffling that they continued to lay eggs on the opening possessions of halves. I don’t know what the issue with that was or how they might fix it going forward, but it’s almost like the opponent received the ball to start both halves in 9 of Wake’s 12 games this season. With a defense that can’t really stop anything, that is a massive disadvantage.
Speaking of the defense, the defense was again incredibly frustrating. Things started off much better than last season, but some injuries in the secondary and Wake ended up right back where they were in 2021. The Deacs finished the regular season 97th in scoring defense and 95th in total defense, giving up 29.3 points and 410 yards per game respectively. A huge difference between going 10-2 and 7-5 in the regular season is that last year’s defense forced 29 turnovers (21 in conference games) to this year’s 15 (5 in conference games). I think a lot of that is luck, but it’s hard to force turnovers when there is no pressure on the quarterback and the opponent’s receivers are wide open. In the final 4 or 5 games of the season, it really seemed like the Deacs never had a DB within 15 yards of a receiver, and Wake was back to getting gashed with big play after big play.
I think Brad Lambert is a great DC, but there’s not much a coach can do in terms of scheme if the opponent’s receivers are getting 10 yards of separation by just running 5 yards down the field and turning to the right. Personally—and again, I must emphasize that I am not a football coach—I felt like Wake should have blitzed way more this season since they basically couldn’t cover anyone down the field anyways, even when they dropped 8. At least with a blitz, there is a chance of getting a sack or making the QB throw a bad ball. Regardless, it is going to take Lambert some time to recruit players capable of running the system he wants to install, but Wake Forest should probably prioritize recruiting primarily defensive players until they are capable of not making every QB look like a Heisman candidate.
Special teams were honestly not much better than the defense, specifically the kickoff coverage. Kickoff coverage has been atrocious for Wake Forest for the past 5+ seasons, and a lot of that could be avoided if Wake had a kicker who could get the ball into the endzone. The Deacs didn’t give up any touchdowns this year, but in several games, they had sky kick the ball away from the returner to avoid giving the opposition incredible field position. Looking back, Liberty had a big return right before the half that cost Wake 3 points, Clemson ran a kick back to the 50 yard line that set up the game tying field goal, Florida State averaged 24 yards per return, Boston College ran a kick back to the 45 yard line, NC State averaged 27 yards per return, UNC had 2 guys average 25 yards per return, Syracuse had a 37 and a 34-yard return, and Duke had 2 35-yard returns. Because most of those kicks never made it to the endzone, that meant that a lot of those returns ended up near or beyond the 40-yard line. Wake even lost their punter for the final game of the season because he had to make a touchdown saving tackle against Syracuse. The impact of special teams is crucial in 1 score games, and the Deacs went 1-3 in such games this season. Flip that number and 7-5 suddenly becomes 9-3, which would be one of the best seasons in program history.
At the end of the day, the Deacs are still going to their 7th straight bowl game, which is an impressive feat for the program. Given the expectations placed on the team after last season, 7 wins and a trip to an unfavorable bowl (anywhere but Boston, I beg) is definitely a letdown in my eyes. That being said, it’s a testament to the incredible job Dave Clawson has done building this program that the Deacs can win 7 games and it feels like a disappointment. With 1 game left remaining in the season, hopefully Wake Forest can close things out with a win.
What are your thoughts on the 2022 football season?