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Countdown Q&A, Week 5 - Wake Forest

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Utah State v Wake Forest Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Another week, another oppoenent, another unsuspecting writter stopping by to answer my questions. This week it’s another repeat offender in Cameron Lemons Debro from ‘Blogger So Dear’, the Wake Forest site here on SB Nation. Lets make like Tim Duncan and walk right into it....

Cam, there are two or three games every season where I come into them and kind of just throw my hands up when trying to project what might happen. I’ve been able to watch some of Wake this year and they look pretty solid to me, but the competition level has been a bit questionable so far. To their credit, you can only play the teams on your schedule, and they are one third of the way through 2021 and have yet to lose a game. Is this Wake team a legit ACC Championship contender, or just a product of what appears to be a back loaded schedule?

Duke’s Mayo Bowl - Wake Forest v Wisconsin Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

Little of a, little of b. I mean it certainly helps the fact that they don’t have to play BC/Clemson/NC State/UNC until the last few weeks of the season. With that being said, you have to take care of business upfront. We’ve seen people lose the cupcake games: Georgia Tech, Minnesota, FSU, Washington, etc. This, on paper, looks to be Dave Clawson’s best team. They don’t look to have the issues of the past: depth and inconsistency. The offense is finally having an acceptable success rate, while the defense isn’t worrying about running out of players at a certain position as last year it was safety, the year before was Linebackers. They haven’t needed to play past midway through the 3rd quarter, which has allowed them to build even more depth throwing out guys like Malik Mustapha, Evan Slocum, Justin Williams, the list goes on. Blocking out Clemson, this has always been the year that if there was a run for Wake it had to be this one.

The Wake offense is equally impressive and annoying. While I’m thankful for the departure of Sage Surratt the “walk it up” style still frustrates me and defenses alike. Wake is a Top 20 offense this year putting up nearly 39pts/g and over 430yds/g. What makes it so tough to defend?

Just how effective they are at running the ball when they need to. This offense is predicated on being balanced, so when you are trying to read what the QB will do, you have to honor both the run and pass, which you physically cannot do. The more you creep up to stop the run, Hartman can pull it and hit Jaquarii Roberson or Taylor Morin over the middle. You drop back into zone: one of the three running backs torches for a good run. Play base, and if you can’t win your one on one, Wake always has a 6-5 receiver who can, this year it’s A.T. Perry

On the other side of the football, Wake Forest is Top 5 nationally and number one in the ACC in turnover margin (+7) which made me pee my pants a bit as I typed that out. Why are they so good at forcing turnovers?

Gets back to being healthy. This team returns just about all the starters from last year, which when healthy looked great, the problem was they were barely healthy all year. It starts up front with having an improved pass rush. While losing Boogie Basham to the NFL, they’ve just gotten better and more production collectively versus just one person and it’s helped the entire defense. Now they’re forcing more bad throws and don’t have to continually bring 5-6 people in order to get pressure. With that, you can disguise coverages better and bait more throws.

As a representative of a sports website located in Louisville, KY I’m contractually obligated to ask a college basketball question, so a quick detour for you here. Is Steve Forbes the guy at Wake? They going to have a decent squad this year?

I think decent! I’m very high on the transfers they’ve brought in on the team. There just wasn’t a lot of talent leftover on that team, and transitioning during a COVID season wasn’t good in any sport. Having everyone together, plus the new additions are going to help this team, alongside a pretty easy non-conference schedule. I won’t be picking them to go to the tournament or even NIT, but this is going to be a 15-16 win team that is going to be so frustrating to play.

While I typically try to avoid the hypothetical situations, I’m going to give you free reign over the Louisville roster this Saturday and you can steal one player to come play for your team before we kick off. Who are you grabbing, and why?

Is there an answer besides Malik Cunningham? Sam Hartman has done a pretty tremendous job this year and I’ve eaten a lot of crow for it because I was not a believer. That being said, having a true dual-threat quarterback probably unlocks this offense, especially with his speed. I had some specific questions with this team coming into the season: Linebacker, Health, Right Tackle, and they’ve answered all of them, so I’ll take the easy way out here.

While Louisville holds a 6-2 margin overall in this series the last four contests have been split 2-2, with both teams squeaking out a victory and both teams blowing the doors off the other team. As we all settle down for a nice relaxing warm Saturday afternoon and tune into this “battle for the top of the ACC Atlantic” showdown on your favorite regional sports network (shout out to that stellar ACC TV deal), what do you think we see in Winston-Salem between two programs still looking to figure out just how good they can be in 2021?

Wake Forest v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

I think Wake did an incredible job against Brennan Armstrong, who is playing some of the best ball in the NCAA. Louisville has honestly surprised me after getting kinda dog walked in that first game against Ole Miss. Since then they’ve shown some good things! However, this team just doesn’t scare me like 2019 and Wake isn’t coming off of a month-long break of COVID like 2020.

Losing Braden Smith and Monty Montgomery loom large when evaluating this team for me as it seemed like Louisville was still trying to find their guys at receiver, while being a below-average rushing team outside of Cunningham. Jordan Watkins, Ahmari Huggins-Bruce, and Shai Werts (if he’s actually healthy) are guys I’m going to watch for, but it doesn’t feel like the Louisville of years past that can score on everyone they please. Defensively, they’ve just been kind of meh outside of the first half against FSU and Eastern Kentucky, also thank you for the great laugh of the game-winning pick-six against UCF, but I think Ole Miss exposed a lot of weaknesses that teams like UCF and FSU can’t exploit. UCF likes their deeper vertical shots and FSU’s offense is atrocious, Ole Miss just kept sucking the defense in with the run and then gashed them with intermediate routes, which is pretty much the Wake offense. I know people will point to 2020 and go “well Wake’s offense didn’t do anything there!” I mean yeah, we all saw how hard it was for a team to come off a long COVID layoff and play a game.

One of my weekly bets will be Wake -6.5 and I think this ends up a 42-28 kind of game. Why is this on RSN though, like COME ON

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Thanks to degenerate gambler Cam for his time and his answers. Also, feel free to give him a follow for all things Wake and sports related. You can also follow ‘Blogger So Dear’ on twitter to stay up to date on this weeks game and all future Wake Forest news. I’ll be answering from questions for those guys this week as well and will drop the link right here once it’s posted, so come back and see if it’s been linked up every hour on the hour like the weather channel in the 90’s. Go Cards.