Wake Forest Defense Aims To Match BC

Hope: The feeling is a familiar one to fans of Boston College football (3-2, 0-2 ACC) in regards to Steve Addazio. The feeling has also begun to emerge around BC’s opponent at Alumni Stadium on Saturday, Wake Forest University (2-3, 0-2 ACC). While BC fans may be shifting to the doubt phase in their relationship with Steve Addazio, Wake fans are still planted in the attachment phase in their relationship with head coach Dave Clawson. After replacing Jim Grobe following the 2013 season and after enduring a brutal 3-9 campaign in 2014, Clawson has kindled a long-dormant hope in fans by putting Wake on the road to respectability.

That road starts with the offense, which has taken a promising turn after a punchless 2014 season. Wake finished dead last in the FBS in total offense, accumulating 600 fewer yards than the next worst team. While the passing game wasn’t particularly efficient, the run game was shockingly bad, averaging just 39.9 yards per game and 1.3 yards per carry. For context, you would average more yards per carry if you simply fell straight forward at the line of scrimmage.

This season, both the passing attack and the rushing attack have improved. Clawson has benefited from the varied strengths of two young QBs this season. The opening day starter, prototypical pocket passer John Wolford, averaged over 300 yards passing in his first two starts before suffering an ankle injury in week three against Army. His replacement, true freshman Kendall Hinton, an athletic dual-threat who figures to start against BC on Saturday, has kept the offense humming in Wolford’s absence.

Most notably, he has jump-started the run game. While improved offensive line play has helped Wake this season, the threat of Hinton running on the zone read has really opened up lanes for running backs Tyler Bell and Matt Colburn. Last weekend against Florida State, Wake had a breakout rushing performance, tallying 142 yards on the ground. For the season, Hinton is the Demon Deacons’ leading rusher with 218 yards.

While the run game is at least a credible threat this season, it has still not been very effective, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry. Despite this, Wake Forest ranks 17th in the FBS in time of possession, just a few spots below BC. Clawson manages this by virtue of a constant short passing attack, in lieu of a bruising run game. Short passes effectively replace the run game in such an offense, focusing on getting the ball to receivers in space near the line of scrimmage. The throws are low risk and move the ball quickly.

Wake throws the ball over 40 times per game and rarely takes a snap under center. The Deacons spread the field with up to four receivers and allow them to work in open space. With Hinton as the QB, the offense features a heavy dose of play action passes, where Wake fakes a read-option play and throws a quick pass with the defenders’ eyes in the backfield. The receiving corps is lead by tight end Cam Serigne, who had 10 catches against Florida State, and wide receivers Cortez Lewis and K.J. Brent, the team’s top receiver and best deep threat.

Against BC, expect plenty of short passes. These will serve to protect an offensive line that has already surrendered 17 sacks this season, as well as to replace a run game that figures to be ineffective against BC’s stout front seven. In addition, if the BC defense has a single weakness, it is in one-on-one coverage against short passes from spread formations, as shown in the Northern Illinois and Duke games. Expect Serigne and Lewis to be very busy all afternoon, with a bevy of targets by Hinton. In addition, look for a few deep shots to Brent in an effort to keep the BC secondary honest.

Wake’s defense has been excellent all season, ranking 15th in the country in passing yards allowed. In addition, excluding the 94 yard TD run allowed to Dalvin Cook last Saturday, Wake would be ranked 33rd in the nation in rushing yards allowed. Bolstered by a sturdy linebacking core, Wake’s defense takes pride in excellent tackling, rarely allowing opponents to pile up yards after contact. Those guys rarely miss tackles and routinely keep drives short. Despite this, Clawson’s defense has room for improvement, as it is one of just four FBS defenses yet to force a turnover in 2015. As a result, opponents have scored points on all 11 of their red zone trips against Wake.

On Saturday, look for the Wake front seven to be challenged by BC’s physical run game. Despite their excellent ranking, Wake still faces size and depth issues against the Eagles. With this in mind, look for extra defenders to commit to stopping the run. In passing situations, expect Wake to bring a variety of blitz packages against BC’s young QB tandem, looking to rattle them, forcing its first turnover of the season. Wake must be careful to not concede any deep throws to such a struggling offense, as Duke did last week. Instead, the Deacons must force BC to prove it can consistently drive the length of the field to score points.

Expect a low-scoring, defensive affair. Such a result would further add to the hope building around Clawson’s program. Amid all this positivity, Wake fans would do well to glance across to the other sideline as a reminder of how fickle hope is, morphing into frustration and disappointment at a moment’s notice.

Featured Image Courtesy of Neil Redmond / AP Photo