The Deacs are 1-0 after beating Elon last week, but now the games are going to start getting a little tougher. This week, Wake is up against 2-0 Vanderbilt, who has wins over Hawaii and Alabama A&M. The Deacs beat Vandy pretty easily on the road last season, so you know the Commodores are looking to return the favor. Let’s check out some of the keys to Wake Forest securing a win in week 2.
The Deep Ball
One of the biggest threats the Deacs have had in the past couple of seasons has been their ability to connect on deep balls against single coverage. That will come in handy on Saturday, because Vanderbilt really struggled to defend the long balls against Hawaii in their first game of the season. The Rainbow Warriors connected on 9 passes of 15+ yards and 3 passes of 35+ yards on their way to 351 passing yards and 3 touchdowns through the air. Down 21 points in the 4th quarter, Hawaii started chucking it deep and scored two quick touchdowns that gave them a chance to tie the game with a final drive. With guys like Jahmal Banks and Wesley Grimes out wide, Wake should have a massive advantage going vertical, so they should look to attack Vandy deep as much as possible when the matchup is favorable. They should try to avoid going deep when senior safety De’Rickey Wright is giving help over the top—Wright had 2 interceptions against the Rainbow Warriors, including one to seal the win.
The Pass Rush
Vanderbilt does not seem like a team that is going to win many games this season relying on their ground game. Against Hawaii, the Commodores ran the ball 25 times for 40 yards, and their leading rusher, Patrick Smith, had just 7 carries for 30 yards. They were much better against Alabama A&M (34 carries for 215 yards), but I don’t put very much stock into games against FCS opponents. It could be that Vandy just had a bad game against Hawaii, and I’ll look really dumb when the Commodores run all over the Deacs on Saturday, but I have feeling that is not the case. I expect Vanderbilt to lean heavily on the passing attack this weekend.
AJ Swann is a very good quarterback if he gets into a rhythm, but he can be very inconsistent. In the first half against Alabama A&M, Swann completed just 7 of his 18 pass attempts for 64 yards, 1 touchdown, and 1 interception, which is resulted in just 12 Vanderbilt points (2 were from a safety). In the second half, he settled in and completed 8 of his 11 passes for 126 yards and 1 touchdown before being rested for the 4th quarter.
For the Deacs to win this game, they need to get after Swann early and stop him from getting comfortable in the pocket. The more Wake can harass him, the more likely it is that he makes poor decisions and throws inaccurate passes, much like he did in the first half against the Bulldogs. Swann is not the most mobile quarterback (he has -78 career rushing yards), so I don’t think the Deacs really need to worry about losing contain and Swann beating them with his legs. I would love to see the Deacs be aggressive early in the game with blitzes to fluster Swann and get him off kilter right from the start.
Two games may be a small sample size, but so far this season, Vanderbilt is top 10 in the nation in kick return average and top 20 in the nation in punt return average. Sophomore Jayden McGowan is averaging almost 48 yards per kickoff return and is 1 of the few players who has run a kick back for a touchdown so far this season. Senior Will Shepherd is 12th in the nation in punt return average with 24.7 yards per return and freshman Martel High has 1 punt return for 22 yards this season. When facing a team that isn’t great on offense and sometimes struggles to move the ball, you definitely don’t want to be giving away free points on special teams. The Commodores have benefited from great field position leading to easy scores in both of their games this season, so it will be vital that Wake Forest does not allow them to break off any big returns in the kicking game.