The Wake Forest football team is in a similar situation that the Louisville Cardinals are. They have a defense that returned a few key players and an offense that relies mostly on first year players. Unfortunately, the Deacs haven't had the success on defense that they expected and they find themselves needing a big upset this weekend to get some momentum heading into a very tough final four games.
John Wolford stepped on campus as a freshman last year and has been the starter since then. Wolford is an undersized guy but he fits the offense pretty well because he can get the ball out of his hand quickly and he's pretty accurate. He does have a tendency to turn the ball over more than one would like, but he can make some plays with his arm and his legs so you take the good with the bad. With Wolford missing some time this year there have been a lot of fans hoping to see Kendall Hinton named the starter. Hinton is a much better runner but not as polished as a passer. The true significance of both of them seeing the field is that UofL will have to prepare for two quarterbacks. Even though I think that this is the most overrated factor in any game, it is something that could be a mid-game adjustment on defense which UofL has struggled with.
The rushing attack for the Deacs has improved greatly this year. That's not saying a lot when you have the second worst rushing attack in the nation, but it is something that should be noted. Wake added a few running backs to their roster and they've seen three different guys contribute. Tyler Bell, Matt Colburn, and returning starter Isaiah Robinson have played pretty well for young guys playing behind a porous offensive line. None of these three guys will do anything that will wow you. But, what they will do is provide balance for an offense that can get a little pass happy at times. Wake will have to open things up in the passing game to get the offense going and if these guys can't force Todd Grantham to respect the running game Wake will have to pass into tough coverages.
Wake has improved at their skilled positions in my opinion with the addition of grad transfer K.J. Brent and a couple of freshmen. Brent is a lanky receiver that Wake has utilized on some deeper passes this year. He's also the only upperclassmen among this group. Cortez Lewis is the team's leading receiver and he really jumps out in their games. Lewis isn't a burner but he's sure handed and he does a good job of creating separation as an intermediate receiver. The Deacs spread the ball pretty well but when they need a big play they always look to tight end Cam Serigne. Serigne is one of the best young players in the ACC and it will be very interesting to see if James Burgess is used to cover him for the majority of the game. Burgess is outstanding in coverage and he's shown that he can not only break up passes. He can pick them off.
The Wake Forest offensive line has been really bad this season. They're allowing a lot of sacks and negative plays and it has killed a good amount of promising drives. The Deacs start redshirt freshmen on the outside, but they've had plenty of issues with clearing holes in the middle of the field where they have more experienced players. Louisville's defense seems to have figured some things out so it could be a long day for this offense if the line doesn't improve.
KEY PLAYERS: QB John Wolford, RB Tyler Bell, WR K.J. Brent, WR Cortez Lewis
The strength of this team last year was a defense that played fairly well despite an offense that really couldn't do much well at all. I'm sure Dave Clawson expected his defense to at least be solid with a good amount of experienced players returning. That hasn't happened so far and a lot of their issues stem from a defensive line that hasn't played well at all. This defense gets very few penetration plays and because they don't have a lot of speed in the defensive backfield they can't blitz to help that. They need their four down linemen to make plays and they just don't get it done. Duke Ejiofor has returned to the lineup and he's picked up two sacks in three games. Wake needs for him to take advantage of the inexperience at tackle for Louisville to disrupt Lamar Jackson in the pocket.
The best group on this entire team is the group of linebackers. Marquel Lee and Brandon Chubb are two of the better linebackers in the conference and depending on how aggressive Wake is, they could be a big factor in the game. Lee is the middle linebacker and like Keith Kelsey, he tends to blitz more than the other guys in the group. He also does a good job of shooting gaps to make plays in the backfield. Chubb is a weakside backer and he makes a ton of plays. He's on pace for nearly 100 tackles and with a tough schedule coming up I think he can get there. some players tend to play better in bigger games and I think that Chubb shows that trait. Hunter Williams is the rover with this group and I was impressed with his pursuit to the ball. UofL has to be better this week with their short and intermediate passing. Williams could be a key to that if he's running guys down on slants and screens to keep the plays to a short gain.
The Deacs lost two very good cornerbacks from last year and they haven't been able to replace both of them with players that are on the same level. Brad Watson is the boundary corner for this team and he's second on the team in tackles. That either says that he is really good in run support or you're allowing a lot of completion. With Watson it's a little bit of both. Watson is an aggressive player and he doesn't mind flying up to set the edge, but he has also been beat a fair amount. If Louisville wants to make Jackson's life easier, they should be looking to the field side and Devin Gaulden. Gaulden is a veteran player but he has been beaten repeatedly in the games that I have watched. Wake likes to run a lot of zone coverages but when they catch Wake in man they should be looking to go his way.
Ryan Janvion is a very good run support safety for the Deacs he's a veteran leader and he's solid when it comes to pretty much everything. He doesn't do a lot of great things out there like a Jayron Kearse or Derwin James but he doesn't make a lot of mistakes and he can lay a big hit in the open field. His mate back deep, Zack Dancel, hasn't shown me that he can make many plays at all. A few weeks ago he took an angle that was so bad that he ran into his teammate that was being blocked on a quick screen. The block was set up to get the receiver down field and instead of taking an angle to cut it off, he ran into the cornerback that literally took the same angle a few seconds before. Obviously, the receiver wasn't in the same place. That play really stood out to me. It's something you don't expect from a fifth year senior. Louisville should look to push the ball deep down the hash marks to put Dancel in a position where he has to make a play.
KEY PLAYERS: WLB Brandon Chubb, MLB Marquel Lee, CB Brad Watson, S Ryan Janvion