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FSU football opponent Q&A: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

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After a brief hiatus, Seminole and Deacon face off once again.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 28 Wake Forest at Boston College Photo by Malcolm Hope/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Florida State and Seminole faithful were dealt a gut punch last week in the loss to Jacksonville State, but the season marches on. 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 Cameron Debro, a staff writer over at Blogger so Dear, SBN’s blog for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. We talked about X’s and O’s, playing each other for the first time since 2019, and how prepared Wake is for their first test of the season.

TN: Wake Forest slipped from 8-5 in 2019 to 4-5 last season, though several winnable games were canceled due to Covid-19. The matchup with Florida State was also canceled, making the 22-20 Wake win in 2019 the last time these teams have faced off. Quarterback Sam Hartman is back and the Demon Deacons have started this season 2-0, albeit against similar cupcakes that got canceled last season. So that makes Florida State Wake’s first true test of this season. Give us some brief thoughts about Wake’s team last season and how Deacon faithful feel about WF this season. How far can this team go?

BSD: 2020 sucked for absolutely everyone. Wake had a safety not be around the team for basically 2 months because of contact tracing. Wake ran out of safeties against North Carolina, had to move a safety to corner for his first time there ever when they opened the season against Clemson, had a starting running back and best defender opt-out of the season midway through, and just when it seemed like Wake was going to end on a high note in the bowl game, Sam Hartman throws 4 picks in 22 plays in the second half. I want to take a flamethrower to 2020.

This is “the year” for the team in the eyes of the fans, and even the players/coaches. It’s understood you have Sam Hartman in his 4th year, a good group of running backs, a good and experienced OL, two upper-echelon corners, and are able to go 3 deep at safety and not feel like they have to throw someone who isn’t ready out there. There are obviously questions of can the wide receivers produce with the loss of Donavon Greene for the year, as well as can the linebackers rebound from last year. So far, so good on both of those, albeit without any real tests. I think they *can* break the double digits in wins this year. Sure things need to go right, but not having to play NC State, UNC, Clemson, or BC (who got a whole lot less scary without QB1) until the last 4 games of the season allows this team to get into a rhythm and take on the coin flip games early.

In a little bit of a change up, we’ve decided to do a mail bag to some of our fans and give them a chance to ask BSD some questions. So we’re going to mix some of them in:

TN:

BSD: They like to be able to adapt. ODU was a prime example of this as with one of their interceptions they were in Cover 3 so MOFC, on the second one (on 1st and 10 no less) they ran Quarters (MOFO). Primarily, they like being in a MOFC with a pattern-matching zone. Much to my chagrin, they’ll allow Milton to dump it off because they trust the tackling of the linebackers and corners, for good reason. Now if people miss their assignments... that’s where the trouble happens. You’ll actually see a fair amount of similarities between the personnel of the two defenses. FSU’s ‘Fox’ is pretty similar to Wake’s drop end (JaCorey Johns and Luiji Vilain), in terms of them occasionally being stand up ends that will stunt inside at times as well as drop back into coverage if needed. The ‘Stud’ is pretty close to how the Rover was for Wake in recent years, a hybrid LB/DB (although Wake has really turned that more into a true safety role). Same thing with the defensive backfield as they traditionally run two high and it’ll look like C4 or possibly C2, but can roll to fit what’s needed.

TN: Mike Norvell said in an interview this week that Wake Forest doesn’t give up the big play. Norvell’s offense is predicated on creating explosive plays, especially by moving gaps in the run game and challenging defenders’ eye discipline. How much success do you think WF will have in shutting down FSU’s prolific rushing offense?

BSD: Million dollar question here, and it’s the one part of the game I’m worried about. While Wake hasn’t had monumental issues against the run the first two games, you’d have wanted them to be better, and that won’t fly with both a stable as good as FSU’s and adding the occasional Jordan Travis snap. I personally think for a bit they’ll stack the box and have hammered in practice who’s handling the running back at all times. If they play to just shut down the run, sure it leaves the DBs on an island, but they’ve been great the last 12 months, and have earned the trust to be left on islands. I think the gap game won’t matter as much as Wake finishing tackles. For the most part, they’ve been in the right place at the right time, even with moving parts, it’s finishing the tackles. They obviously can do that against lower-level talent, even if FSU is 2-0, those backs are the real deal.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 03 Old Dominion at Wake Forest Photo by Brian Bishop/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

TN: What/Who are the strengths of Wake Forest’s offense this season, and can you also answer the below question?

BSD: Balance, balance, balance. This is a team that will just crush you either way if you aren’t prepared for it. They have a stable of running backs that can break a long run, Jaquarii Roberson is an elite slot receiver and has the ability to beat you by a thousand cuts or a double move up the seam. AT Perry has shown the ability to take the top off being a glider down the sideline. Them doing all of this at the speed of light for 80+ plays is more than enough to just wear a team down, especially one that may be thinner at the line of scrimmage trying to catch their breath.

Jermaine Johnson is an absolute stud. On plays he’s matched up against the left tackle, Zach Tom, watch it. That is an NFL-level matchup as both will be drafted next year and it’s going to be a lot of fun. When he’s matched up with the right tackle, DeVonte Gordon, that’s when the double team will be. This offensive line has 4 returning starters, that are good which is important, while Gordon is the odd man out. The original starter, Je’Vionte’ Nash is out for the year and Gordon has looked good in his replacement, but it’s been ODU and an FCS team. I’m sure Johnson will get to meet tight end Brandon Chapman when he’s lined up against Gordon for some.. extra hospitality. The line is good, but no need to play the hubris game with a guy of that talent. Not like they use the TE in the passing game anyways.

TN:

BSD: In the nicest way possible, most of the offense to start. I’ll go 4 OL (Zach Tom at LT, Sean Maginn at LG, Michael Jurgens at C, and Loic Ngassam Nya at RG. That OL has got to be better, man. Jaquarii Roberson is one of the best wideouts in the country. I’d offer up A.T. Perry at wideout as well. Same goes with the defensive backfield. Wake has 2 of the better corners in the ACC in Ja’Sir Taylor and Caelen Carson. Nasir Greer is a former All-ACC safety. Miles Fox was an All-ACC DT last year, FSU needs decent help at LB so Ryan Smenda and Luke Masterson would fit in well there. That’s 12.

TN: Give us a score prediction - Who wins this game and how does it go down?

BSD: There is not a single statistic that would lead me to believe FSU wins this game. They continuously shoot themselves in the foot with penalties, while Wake is one of the least penalized teams in the NCAA year after year under Clawson. FSU’s OL leaves a lot to be desired as 58.3% of their QB dropbacks have resulted in them getting hit. I have questions for that interior, and Miles Fox plus a stunting Jasheen Davis or Rondell Bothroyd seems to be a horrible matchup for FSU. FSU has had a lot of problems defending the pass, hail mary excluded, that doesn’t seem good with an elite receiver in Roberson especially losing a coverage LB in Kalen DeLoach for a half. FSU’s WRs have had issues getting separation and hanging onto the ball. Caelen Carson was 10th last year in yards allowed/coverage snap at .52. He allowed 3.7 yards per target, just under a 42% completion rate, a 33.1 QBR last year, and is currently PFF’s 3rd highest rated corner in the nation. He’s Wake’s second-best corner.

With all that this game still terrifies me. I’ve been using the phrase, “if you corner a dog, it’ll bite” a lot this week. FSU is a dog in a corner with a horde of talent on their team. If they can harness that for a game, it’ll be an absolute slugfest. If they come out flat, things will be over quick as Wake knows in this game they can’t play with their food. FSU has gotten punched twice this year, lost both times but responded well, Wake can’t let them hang around.

Wake 31 FSU 17


A big thank you to Cameron for taking the time to chat with us! You can find him on Twitter here. Click here to read our answers to his questions. Don’t forget to check out Blogger so Dear for your Demon Deacon coverage needs.