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What To Watch For: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

This week’s #W2W4 expects an offensive explosion.

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports


There’s no nice way to put it. Wake Forest has a flat out bad defense. They’ve already fired their defensive coordinator and nothing got better. They allowed Clemson to average nearly ten yards per play and then let a struggling FSU offense put up it’s highest yards per play since 2016. They only have 12 sacks on the year and they have one more interception than UofL, who is second to last in the country right now.

If Louisville doesn’t come out running the ball, I don’t know what anyone could possibly say to defend Bobby Petrino. It would be like an opposing team refusing to run against Louisville. Think about how dumb that would be. Wake allows 5.78 yards per carry which is second worst among power five teams. They also run defenses ragged with their pace, so Louisville needs to hold the ball on offense.

UofL should also be able to get things going in the passing game by running the football. FSU had a lot of success with 10-15 yard throws into the windows of Wake’s zone. Louisville needs to do the same. They also should be prepared for Wake to change things up and bring a lot of pressure. Running the ball would help beat that, too.


Louisville doesn’t do a lot well on defense but they have avoided big plays pretty well this year. Teams have had a very easy time moving the ball on them because Louisville doesn’t stop the run and they aren’t very good at defending short passes. But, Wake does two things very well that the other teams on the schedule aren’t all that great at: misdirection and pace.

Wake runs 88 plays a game on average. That’s an insane number and it’s a major issue for a Louisville defense that couldn’t even handle Boston College’s pace two weeks ago. Dave Clawson has openly said that he uses pace to shrink the talent gap between his teams and others. The idea is to wear you down and to make it harder for you to be ready for the next play. Louisville’s defense has trouble getting set even when they’re playing slow teams.

The misdirection aspects of Wake’s offense are very unique and they force teams to be very disciplined at the second level. They run RPOs where that are very drawn out and extremely hard to read. Most teams run them to the outside or they move the quarterback. Wake does the exact opposite. They will let look to throw the ball over the middle to Greg Dortch or ride out a very long decision and hand it to the running back. UofL’s linebackers haven’t done well with playing loose and I think that’s the only way you can play defense. They are obviously thinking too much out there and that’s the goal for the Wake offense.


Last season, Greg Dortch set a Wake Forest record with four touchdown catches against Louisville. He scored two of them with a punctured small intestine that ended his season. Dortch is the type of player that you try to scheme against but makes it nearly impossible to do so. Wake uses him in a variety of ways. They will run bubble screens, tunnels, slants, and deep ins. He tests every level of your defense and he’s at his best once the ball is in his hands.

UofL hasn’t faced a guy like Dortch in the open field this year. Nyquan Murray is probably the closest player to him and we all saw what he did when he got the ball in the middle of the field. Dortch is capable of making those types of plays at any moment and Brian VanGorder’s aggressive scheme might make Louisville more susceptible to big plays than Peter Sirmon’s was.


Wake’s offensive line was very good last year and most expected for them to be even better this season. They lost Justin Herron early this season and it seems like the line just faltered after that. They struggled to run the ball early last season but finished the year strong. This season they have regressed back to those struggles they had in the first half of 2017. The pass protection hasn’t been great either.

Wake is allowing 2.57 sacks a game this year which is a full sack more than they did last season. Part of that is due to the play of the line but Sam Hartman is a big part of the uptick in sacks. He holds on to the ball a lot and his inexperience shows when he misses the quick passes that this offense relies on. When that first read isn’t open it can make it hard because the offense isn’t designed for the quarterback to scan through multiple reads. Louisville absolutely has to find a way to get pressure on Hartman.


The most exciting play for Louisville right now is when Rodjay Burns jogs back to receive a punt. He’s eight in the country in yards per return and his touchdown against Indiana State was one of the biggest plays of the year, in hindsight. Burns will have another chance to change a game as Wake is one of the worst teams in the country at defending punt returns.

On the flip side, Louisville is worse than Wake at defending punt returns and Greg Dortch is ninth in the country in punt returns. He also had two touchdowns against Townson earlier this year. While Burns has been more of a straightforward runner that finds a seam and takes off, Dortch can make guys miss and create his own play. With this game having such poor defensive play, a big special teams play could completely change it.