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Is it Time to Abandon the Slow Mesh?

After back-to-back poor performances, does the offense need a change?

NCAA Football: Army at Wake Forest Danny Wild-USA TODAY Sports

The “slow mesh” took the Wake Forest offense to new heights in 2021, giving the Deacs the 4th best offense in the nation with 41 points per game and 467.9 yards per game. While the Wake Forest offense has been pretty good this season, the Deacs have dropped to 19th in the nation with 36 points per game and 431 yards per game. In the past two weeks, the offense has been totally lackluster, combining for just 42 total points and 11 turnovers. One of the biggest issues in those two games has been the complete lack of a run game, as the Wake running backs have combined for just 154 yards on 47 carries against Louisville and NC State—over a third of those yards came in garbage time against the Cardinals.

That brings us to the crucial question of the day: Was the Wake Forest offense succeeding with the slow mesh, or because of the slow mesh? We all know the offense has been mostly incredible over the past two seasons, that is not up for debate. The question really is whether or not the slow mesh made Wake look awesome or if Sam Hartman and the phenomenal group of receivers the staff put around him made the slow mesh look more effective than it is.

This season, the Deacs have played three top 30 defenses: Liberty, Louisville, and NC State. In those 3 games, Wake averaged 26 points, 387 yards, and 4 turnovers per game. All three teams basically used the same tactic: blitzing and pressuring the mesh on every play and hitting Hartman as much as possible. With basically no run game and the fact that running backs are used to block on probably 9 out of every 10 plays, teams can just send linebackers or rush off the edge on every play without having to worry too much about it burning them. This has basically become the go to strategy against Wake Forest because it has been so successful. My fear is that the novelty of the slow mesh is starting to wear off, and now that the teams have seen it and played against it multiple times, it is no longer going to be as effective.

While the slow mesh is designed as an RPO where the Deacs take what the defense gives them, the offense has become extremely one dimensional this season, having to rely on big plays in the passing game to score points because the running game is just non-existent. This is why Wake is so bad in short yardage situations, especially around the goal line. Take a look at last night’s game against NC State—there were two crucial moments that you could argue cost the Deacs the game. First, Wake gets to the 1-yard line and runs the ball twice for -7 yards, ending up with a missed field goal. 1st and goal from the 1, and Wake comes away with 0 points. The second is the opening drive of the second half, Wake has 3rd and 1, runs for no gain, and punts for a 3 and out. This seems to happen at the start of the second half every week. An inability to consistently convert short yardage situations with runs makes it very difficult to win games.

I am not a football coach, nor would I consider myself very knowledgeable about the X’s and O’s of running an offense. It is my opinion, however, that Wake’s running back are at a pretty large disadvantage when they get the ball on the RPO, as they are basically standing flat footed in a mass of about 10 people. With no momentum and no hole designed to be created by the offensive line, I am not surprised that Wake struggles to run the ball against adept defenses. The Deacs have only managed to run for more than 3.5 yards per carry three times this season against VMI, Vanderbilt, and Army. Wake is currently 103rd in the nation with 123 rushing yards per game and 117th in the nation averaging 3.2 yards per carry. The only worse teams in the ACC running the ball are Boston College and Viriginia Tech—not exactly good company to be in this season.

Here’s the tl;dr: I think the slow mesh is very good at running up points on teams with average defenses, while it seems to struggle greatly against teams with good defenses—that is probably true of most offenses. Sam Hartman is an awesome quarterback, but the Deacs might be able to limit his turnovers and have fewer of “those games” with an offense where he isn’t getting swarmed by 8 people on every play. Wake would probably have more success running the ball if the O Line was shooting out of their stance and pushing back the defense rather than trying to hold them in place at the line of scrimmage.

Wake is probably never going to have the raw talent that most other teams in the ACC have. Because of that, the Deacs are not going to be able to run the exact same offenses as those other teams and beat them. The slow mesh was the answer to that problem, and using it, Wake won 11 games and made their second trip to the ACC Championship Game. Unfortunately, it also seems like teams are starting to figure out how to shut it down. The time may have come for the Deacs to either evolve the offense or just find the next slow mesh.

Do you think Wake needs to change up the offense, or are 2 bad games in a row not a reason to panic and abandon an offense we have seen be highly successful?