This week we had a chance to sit down and talk about the Clemson - Wake Forest game with Blogger So Dear, the Wake Forest SB Nation site. Robert, the site manager, was kind enough to answer a few questions below and our answers to his questions will be on Blogger So Dear soon.
STS: So Dave Clawson is in year 3 at Wake Forest and y'all have seen a real turnaround. Is this just an off year or has Clawson really been able to build a program that he can sustain and improve on in the coming years?
BSD: I think it's a combination of things. Wake has definitely benefited from a weak schedule this year. Wake's non-conference schedule included home games Tulane, Delaware, Army (unfortunately a loss), and a road game against Indiana (didn't play great, but forced 5 interceptions in that one and found a way to win). Obviously the top of the Atlantic is a gauntlet, but Wake benefited by playing Syracuse (win) and Boston College (play them next week) at home. In addition to this, Wake's Coastal opponents were at Duke (win) and Virginia at home (win), so one would expect an average team to have a reasonable chance at becoming bowl eligible with that schedule.
What I will say, however, is that this is not just about schedule and an alignment of the stars. Dave Clawson has built programs everywhere he's been, and his tenure at Wake has been no different. He has only taken 3 grad transfers so far, and had recruiting classes of 25 each in the 2014 and 2015. He started by recruiting linemen in late in the 2014 class when he took the Wake job and redshirted them, and then filled in the gaps at skill positions in the 2015 class. What you'll see is a depth chart, particularly on offense, that is full of freshmen and sophomores. On the defensive side, there is more experience, but there are decent players ready to help fill some of those gaps when more experienced players graduate or go to the NFL. Wake's schedule will get harder in future years, but Wake is well-positioned to be a better team and be better-suited to handle a tougher schedule.
STS: I got a chance to watch last week's game against Louisville and y'all’s defense looked pretty good for 3 quarters. How were y'all able to stop Lamar Jackson and that offense for so long?
BSD: Wake has an excellent front seven. It's definitely not as good as Clemson's, but Wake had a top 30 defense prior to the Louisville game. I think Wake has an excellent pass rusher in Duke Ejiofor, and he was able to generate some pressure. Wake also has a very athletic linebacker in Marquel Lee who was able to spy and help contain Lamar Jackson for some time. Ultimately Jackson's sensational talent prevailed, but the defense showed out for the most part.
STS: On offense it seems like Wake was pretty ineffective Saturday. What do y'all try to do on offense and was Louisville a one off game or the normal state of affairs?
BSD: Our offense is objectively bad. The offense is 113th in S&P+ ratings, and that has to take a significant step forward in 2017. We've gotten better this year because we've improved somewhat at rushing, and have limited turnovers, but we haven't been able to produce enough big plays. Wake's offense can be relatively excit(ing) with Kendall Hinton at quarterback, but he is out for the year with a knee injury. For some ridiculous reason we decided to throw the ball 43 times against Army, and John Wolford just isn't the quarterback for that system. Wake got back to a much more run-heavy offense against Virginia and it was more effective.
STS: This weekend what will you be looking for out of the defense to see if they can have success against Clemson's offense?
BSD: I think in order for Wake to be successful they are going to have to be able to generate a pass rush mostly out of the defensive line. I'm extremely concerned about our secondary's ability to stop the Clemson skill position players, especially with our safeties depleted after the Louisville game, and the questionable corner play we've had this season. Wake's only chance to defend the receivers is going to be to get pressure on Watson early and make him inaccurate. Easier said than done.
STS: Who are a couple of key contributors for Wake Forest that Clemson fans should be wary of?
BSD: These contributors are mostly going to come on the defensive side of the ball. Defensive end Duke Ejiofor (#53) is a terror pass rusher. He has 14 tackles for loss, including nine sacks, and should be an early round draft pick whenever he leaves. Linebacker Marquel Lee is another impact player for Wake. He has 75 tackles on the year, including 15 tackles for loss and six sacks. He's athletic and can cover a lot of ground. In the secondary, it's all about safety Jessie Bates. There's zero doubt in my mind that he should be a Freshman All-American, as he has 76 tackles, five interceptions, and two touchdowns. Those touchdowns won us the games against Indiana and Virginia, and he is an absolute ball hawk.
STS: On special teams do y'all have an ability to change the game? Or are y'all just trying to not get hurt by poor play from the unit?
BSD: Well, twice this year we have returned a kickoff for a touchdown, only to have it called back for holding. Other than that Wake hasn't had much success. I will also say that our kickoff and punt coverage leave a lot to be desired, and stopping Ray-Ray McCloud is going to be a problem. Wake does have the ability to "change the game" in the sense that Mike Weaver is a strong field goal kicker, but field goals aren't going to win this game.
STS: How do you think this game plays out?
BSD: I think that Wake will come out and compete hard. They typically play very hard under Clawson, especially against premier opponents. That said, there's such a talent discrepancy and Wake is beat up after last week. I struggle to see how Wake Forest can possible run against guys like Dexter Lawrence and Carlos Watkins. Those are grown men. I also think Clemson's receivers are going to be too much for Wake on the perimeter.
I'll go Clemson 38-10.