Pros and Cons of Wake Forest Game

Instead of doing a thorough review, I'm just going to do a nice, tidy list of the good that I saw/came from this game and the bad. But first, I'll give a short synopsis. The game ball should go to the defense. We have not shut out an ACC opponent since Virginia in 2006 (ironically, the game before Wake shut us out at home 30-0). The defense continued to excel in the new scheme, allowing basically nothing the entire game and they will probably continue to lead the country in sacks after registering 6 against the Demon Deacons. The offense is funny because by looking at the stats and the score you'd think we did pretty well for ourselves, but the passing game continued to struggle in the vertical aspect of the game and Ponder was running for his life often. The running game could very well be a top-10 or top-20 (at worst) unit in the nation.


  • The defense has adapted VERY well to the new scheme. Albeit, they were playing against Wake Forest and a true freshman quarterback, but it is VERY difficult to hold ANY opponent to zero points in a 60 minute game of football. Samford scored. Like I said, we haven't held an FCS team to zero points since 2006... this was a feat. If you read the game preview that Bud wrote, he expected Wake to be able to move the ball a little but and score 21 points. That didn't happen and you can give credit to each individual unit of the defense.
    • The defensive backs kept EVERYTHING short by covering well downfield and this is evident by the fact that Wake's longest pass on the day was 17 yards. Mike Harris put a good hit on Bohanon to cause a fumble, recovered by Terrance Parks. Harris continues to make plays for the defense, finishing second on the team in tackles. The secondary was very competent in this game and there were not many missed tackles on the receivers. Greg Reid and Nick Moody each recorded TFL's for the secondary as well. There was one play where Xavier Rhodes saw himself one-on-one in a deep ball and was beat by a step, but Price overthrew him, but this was not a trend as I don't believe I saw that happen again.
    • Moving in, the linebackers also performed well, appearing very disciplined on the option and read plays and hitting the holes well. There were plays where they struggled to keep contain when WF quarterbacks broke the ball back inside, but for the most part they stayed in their zone and executed their assignment. I was pleased with the tackling from this unit, as Kendall Smith led the team in tackles with 6.5, while Bradham recorded 5 total tackles, a sack and a PBU. Telvin Smith made the most of his minutes, recording three tackles and a sack. Jeff Luc was also credited with a half of a TFL.
    • Where it starts, on the line, the lineman continued to thrive this week. I've said this before, and most understand this, but it makes the life of the secondary MUCH easier if the defensive line is able to aggravate the offensive line and quarterback. Even if a defense isn't getting too many sacks or TFL's, if they are consistently hurrying the opposing QB and pushing the pocket, then the secondary doesn't have to cover for as long and in a zone, too much time allows the offense to find soft spots in the zone. But, in this game, the line DID get sacks and TFL's in addition to pushing the pocket. Brandon Jenkins continued to show his playmaking ability in recording TWO MORE sacks, 3 tackles for loss and 5.5 tackles. This guy is playing football at a REALLY high level and if he keeps this up, he'll be making some noise for some awards and all- lists. I've read on here that some were complaining about Jacobbi McDaniel not making plays... well there you go. McDaniel batted a pass up into the air and very athletically came down with the ball for an interception. Freshman sensation Bjoern Werner continued to thrive as well, recording another sack and 1.5 TFL's - he is really pushing White right now for playing time and if White doesn't play at a high level, you could see Werner start at some point I would think. Demonte McAllister and Anthony McCloud each recorded a half a sack. These guys not only put good pressure on Price, but they also contained well on the option plays. I saw some stunts on the line, which was nice to see, and Price simply did not have time to throw downfield. Often, the option play and read play couldn't get outside and the ends did a good job of funneling the play back to the LB's, who were often there to end the play. It was good all-around execution by the defense, and although they were playing an inferior team, it appears as if they are starting to grasp the defensive system better and better.
    • Consider the fact that FSU held Wake to 2.5 per carry, 7.45 per completion, and 4.82 per pass attempt - these are are FANTASTIC numbers when you consider that Florida State held Samford to 2.02 per carry, 8.26 per completion and 5.71 per pass attempt.
  • The FACT that Ponder got to throw so much. He needed to just throw the ball in live-game situations and he was able to do that because of the nature of the game. It was very obvious that Fisher was intent on having Ponder throw the ball around often and it was smart (for the future). It seemed like the Noles could probably have run the ball on every down and have scored much more doing so, but they needed to work on the passing game, and they were able to do so, completing balls to 10 different players. We are going to be able to need to throw the ball proficiently against better teams and Ponder needs to be able to trust his receivers.
  • The running game is NO worse than a top-20 unit in the country. Ty Jones could very well be the best runner on the team at the moment. Clearly the new strength/nutrition program has turned him into something special, but you can't teach the heart and desire the kid runs with - he simply will NOT go down. He runs with a power/burst combination that is very difficult to deal with as a defense. On 9 carries, he gained 64 yards for an average of 7.1 and caught a 13 yard pass. Jermaine Thomas finally had a good game, leading all rushers with 88 yards on 10 carries and catching an 11 yard pass. Chris Thompson also performed well, averaging 6.2 yards per carry on 6 carries. In total, Florida State rushed for 201 yards and the running backs ran well, not dancing horizontally very often and hitting the hole hard. All three runningbacks broke through the first two levels on at least one run and Thomas had a long 38 yard run that showed great field vision and cut ability. I'm not sure there is a three runningback stable I would rather have in the country right now. Let me not that the offensive line did very well in run protection and opened up good holes for the backs (their pass protection not so much as I will detail later). The running backs, in fact averaged 7.56 yards per carry while the team averaged 5.2 per carry.
  • EJ got some time at the end of the fourth quarter and led the 'Noles RIGHT down the field, ending the drive on a FANTASTIC touch pass rolling out to the right in the back corner of the end zone. Feel confident in our QB situation for this year (should he have his number called) and for the future, because we have a great one waiting in #3. He seems to be putting better zip on his throws and didn't make any bad decisions on his drive. His stat line reads 2/2 41 yds, TD.
  • Special teams kicking. Powell landed his only punt attempt inside the 10 yard line and Hopkins made a 34 yard field goal although missing from 51, but that is forgivable, because on his kickoffs, 2 of the 6 went for touchbacks and he averaged 69.5 yards per kickoff.
  • Despite what I will discuss later about the vertical passing game, the receivers and backs did well in catching the short and mid range stuff thrown at them, which helped Ponder throw for almost 67% completions. The yards after catch were big because of the fact that the receivers caught so many short passes and screens then made things happen for a few extra. 10 different players caught a pass including a spectacular 28 yd touchdown catch by true freshman wide receiver Kenny Shaw. Willie Haulstead showed up for this game, making five catches, two of which were touchdown catches, and hopefully solidifying himself as Ponder's #3 target alongside Bert Reed (6 catches-39 yards) and Taiwan Easterling (6 catches-112 yards).

Continue after the break for the cons


  • The offensive line's pass protection. Christian Ponder has now been sacked 10 times this year, after having been sacked 15 times before his injury last season (9 games) for an average of 1.67 per game. So, in 4 games, Ponder has been sacked 10 times for an average of 2.5 per game (including three against the vaunted Wake Forest defense). It is really hard for a QB to trust dropping back and making his reads, letting plays develop and confidently stepping into a throw when he is worried about getting flattened on every pass play. I am going to give Henry Orelus a break because he's playing out of position and he's a redshirt freshman (although I saw a Wake player past him before he ever got out of his stance on the way to a Ponder sack). Zebrie Sanders on the other hand has no excuse. He got beat for a sack at least once or twice (on a Ponder fumble due to a sack) and I believe he was called for a penalty as well. This is not the kind of play you expect out of an experienced starter and I'm sure Trickett will let him know. If this team is going to have great success in the dropback passing game, the tackles are going to have to allow Ponder stay on his feet and in the pocket. I believe I saw Rodney Hudson screaming at Sanders for a sack allowed. Again, I'm not referring to the interior lineman, because from what I saw, they didn't allow WF players running free or pushing the pocket. On run protection, the tackles did well (as the whole offensive line did) but Andrew Datko needs to get healthy and get healthy fast because he is way more important to this line and the success of this team than I (and I'm sure most) originally thought.
  • The vertical passing game. You will look at the stats and see that Ponder put up 243 yards on 24/37 passing for just under 67% passing and 2TD/0INT. That is nice and all, but consider this, Ponder averaged just over 10 yards per completion and 6.57 yards per attempt... last season, he averaged 11.97 yards per completion and 8.23 yards per completion. So, as you can see by these numbers, Ponder is just not averaging as many yards per any metric. I haven't gone back and reviewed the tape yet, but Ponder's longest pass was for 28 yards to Taiwan Easterling, and I'm not sure he completed a pass that went for over 10-15 yards in the air (a lot of screens, yards after the catch, etc.). In Ponder's fairness, he tried to go deep a few times and his receivers didn't help him at ALL. On the first deep ball attempted to Bert Reed, it was a desperation ball being chased left out of the pocket and the ball was just underthrown. I believe the second attempt was a VERY catchable ball to Willie Haulstead, but he couldn't hold on - was a good attempt and throw. The third deep ball was to Bert Reed and was bobbled by Reed up in the air after being broken up - again the ball was catchable but being fair to Reed, it was easy - again not a bad attempt but still incomplete. I feel bad for Ponder because of the previously described offensive line woes and because of his arm injury, so I can't put all of the blame on him in the slightest. But in the end, you can make all of the excuses you want, but the lack of a successful vertical passing game (or even the threat thereof) is going to be detrimental to our play-action and run game, as teams won't have to respect it and can pack the box. OBVIOUSLY Ponder and co. are more than capable of pulling off deep throws (and I'm not suggesting they're not), but until now, we haven't proven it - we haven't stricken fear into our opponents when they go watch film, so they can stack the box. These deep balls NEED to start being completed sooner or later and I'm sure they are going to eventually. I would like to see them take more shots down the field (hey, if at first you don't succeed, try and try again), but I do understand that it's hard to go downfield and let the play develop when you're running for your life because your offensive line isn't helping you worth a damn. Let me end this note by pointing out that through 4 games, Ponder's longest completion is 34 yards.
  • Special teams return games. I'm not expecting a touchdown on every play, but I did expect some explosion out of these units - at least more than I'm seeing. On 5 punt returns, Greg Reid accumulated 25 yards with a long of 10. On 1 kickoff return, Joyner returned it 22 yards (which isn't my real complaint) Having said that, I would like to see a big kick return at some point, because our average starting field position has been rather average and we have the coaching, players blocking and electric returners to change that. Anyways, Reid should have fair caught one of the balls and either other teams have been doing a real good job of getting after Reid, our blocking hasn't been very good, Reid hasn't been making good decisions on punt returns, or an unfortunate combination of the three, but I'm hoping his instincts can make a big play happen sooner rather than later because his ability to influence field position has a HUGE impact on this team.
  • Penalties and turnovers. The sacks on Ponder led to the two fumbles and that shouldn't be happening, because Ponder should be able to trust his protection (although I'm sure some will argue that he needs to tuck the ball, but regardless it shouldn't be happening). Also, 8 penalties for 85 yards is just ridiculous, after 8-65 against BYU, and 12-95 against Oklahoma. These penalties really need to get under control, because that can kill drives and momentum and against good teams can change a game.

This is the way that I saw the game before having had a chance to go back and look at the replay, so I apologize if I misspoke about anything. I hope you enjoyed!

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