We’re very fortunate to have the SB Nation network of team sites to work with during game weeks. This week we’re chatting with Robert Reinhard, lead editor over at Blogger So Dear, SBN’s excellent Wake Forest blog. We discuss a hot start for the Demon Deacons, quarterback injuries, and what it would take for a road upset of the ‘Noles on Saturday afternoon.
TN: What a strong start for the Demon Deacons, who sit at 5-1. What were your expectations entering the season, and what has led to such an excellent early record?
BSD: My expectations entering the season were that this team had the talent and the schedule to make a bowl game, but I thought it might come down to the wire. I looked at our schedule and broke them into tiers. Must wins (Tulane, Delaware, Army), Very Winnable ACC games (Syracuse, Virginia, Boston College), Upset Potential Road Games (at Duke, at Indiana, at NC State), and extremely difficult games (at FSU, at Louisville, vs. Clemson). We have won both of our must win games so far, taken our first winnable ACC home game, and upset two of the three road games (at Duke and at IU).
So the hot start can certainly be somewhat attributed to the schedule, but the team is also doing some positive things. The defense, particularly the front 7, has performed very well this year and is currently 43rd in S&P+ ratings. The defense is particularly strong in the red zone, as they are 11th in points allowed per trip inside the 40th. While the offense isn't particularly strong, they are 40th nationally at scoring once they get inside the 40. I attribute this to Clawson taking strategic risks of going for it on 4th down. And in general, Wake does a good job of limiting turnovers, making very few penalties, and controlling time of possession. Wake doesn't typically win pretty, but they grind out wins with smart and disciplined football.
TN: What’s the latest on Kendall Hinton’s injury? How does the offense differ under his command compared to that of John Wolford?
BSD: It sounds like Kendall Hinton will be out against FSU. Coach Clawson said during his Tuesday press conference "If he could go, he'd go, but right now it's not looking like he can go." Wake has a bye week after FSU before hosting Army, so I'm expecting that he'll be back for that one. He originally got hurt on 9/17 against Delaware, and his original timetable was 2-4 weeks, so it's probably best to give his knee a bit more time to recover.
When Hinton is at quarterback, the offense is different, but not as different as one might think. Wake runs a bit more zone read when Hinton is in, but they will run that with Wolford as well. One thing that I perceive is that the rushing attack from the backs is better just because defenses have to respect the threat of Hinton running. Wake also takes a few more shots down the field with Hinton because he is a better deep ball passer. With Wolford, it's more of the short-to-intermediate attack. Finally, the biggest difference is Hinton's ability to make plays with his feet when the play breaks down. He and Wolford actually have similar 40 times, but Hinton is so much more elusive. Plays can be going horribly wrong, but his athleticism allows Wake to pick up first downs and keep drives alive.
TN: How do you expect the Demon Deacons to attack the FSU defense, and where do you think they can find success?
BSD: I expect Wake to stick with its typical game plan of running the ball the majority of the time, and then taking the occasional shot down field to get a chunk play. Looking at FSU's statistical profile, the defense is relatively poor at rushing success rate and passing isoPPP. Those weaknesses will play into what Wake's game plan. I don't know exactly how effective it will be, but I do think it's our best chance of success.
TN: The Wake defense looks strong in 2016 yet again. What type of scheme does Mike Elko employ, and who are his standout players?
BSD: Mike Elko is one of the more underrated defensive coordinators in the country. His scheme is a 4-2-5, where there is a rover. I'm not an X's and O's genius, especially when it comes to defenses, but the advantage seems to be that it's difficult for opposing quarterbacks to read which players are going to drop and which are going to blitz due to several hybrid players being on defense.
The standouts on defense for Wake are defensive end Duke Ejiofor and linebacker Marquel Lee. Both of these guys should play on Sundays, both have won ACC Player of the Week at their respective position. Duke is an excellent pass rusher, though he is getting better in run support. On the season he already has 10 tackles for loss, including 6.5 sacks. He's also broken up 2 passes, and has 2 forced fumbles. Marquel Lee has been a good linebacker for Wake forest several years, but he's been especially good this year. He has 43 tackles, including 9 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. He had 15 tackles against Syracuse, and they only ran about 60 plays. He is a good athlete, and does an outstanding job of helping in run support. If Wake is going to have a chance at stopping Dalvin Cook, then it will be because of Lee's pursuit.
TN: Which match-ups worry you for the Florida State offense against the Wake Forest defense? In which are you confident?
BSD: Typically I'd say that I'm confident in Wake's ability to stop/limit the rushing attack, but that statement becomes a lot harder to make when someone like Dalvin Cook, who is arguably the best running back in the country, is lining up against the Deacs. Cook started off fairly slow, but I believe as you all at TN have indicated, that he was hurt. Over the past three games, however, has been a total monster.
Wake's secondary has left a lot of to be desired this season. They've gotten better in pass coverage, and hopefully that improved, but I'm always concerned about how they will perform. Finally, Francois' versatility worries me. It's one thing to play disciplined defense and cover well down the field, but that can all quickly be eliminated with a running quarterback. He's clearly a pass first QB, but it's a scary proposition to have to go against someone who is completing 63% of his passes and also averaged 6.7 yards/carry.
TN: Finally, give us a prediction. How do you see this one unfolding on Saturday afternoon?
BSD: I don't expect Wake to come out intimidated. As bad as the team was two years ago, and as bad as the score ended up being (43-3), Wake was up 3-0 after the first quarter. Last year, in an ugly game, the Deacs lost by just 8 and were driving late before throwing an interception in the end zone. One thing I love about Wake under Clawson, is that the team almost always competes very hard, even in games in which they are outmatched from a talent standpoint.
I'm not overly optimistic about this one. I guess that's what happens when Wake is going against a team that routinely recruits at a top 5 level and as a result the line is 21+. I think Francois' versatility will be too much and that Wake will struggle moving the ball against FSU's defense.
I'll take FSU to win 38-10.
Many thanks to Robert for his time and insight! Be sure to head over to Blogger So Dear for all of your Wake Forest informational needs. Our answers to their questions can be found here.