To help us preview Saturday’s game in Winston-Salem, we brought in Wake Forest writer Cameron Lemons Debro. He writes for Blogger So Dear, our Demon Deacon sister site, and shared some great insights on what we can expect this weekend.
STS: Wake Forest was expected to turn to RS Junior Kendall Hinton at QB this year, but after being suspended for the first three games of the season, he returned to find a true freshman had entrenched himself into the starting role. What has QB Sam Hartman showed to earn the starting job?
Cam: I mean it’s what hasn’t he done? So I would like to start this by saying I’m still not on the Sam Hartman train, he has flaws like most freshmen and I refuse to use a game against Rice to inflate an otherwise sub 55% passer with just a tick over 1:1 TD-INT ratio, and I won’t let a game against the team who at the beginning of the season I picked to win the national championship deflate my opinion. He’s stayed healthy minus the second half of the Notre Dame game, he’s shown the ability to throw the prettiest of dimes. He’s mobile and he can absorb a hit (although I’d like him to take less).
STS: Unlike at Clemson, where our fourth-year senior decided to transfer away after a true freshman outplayed him, it looks like Hinton is taking snaps at other positions. How is that working for him and the team?
Cam: The team is just happy to have him back. He’s been noted as the second-best athlete on the team behind Greg Dortch, who we’ll get to later, which is more so a praise to his skill than downplaying the athleticism of this team. This team has some absolute athletes and Kendall is just on a different planet with his game breaking speed and ability to make people miss. Him moving to wide receiver wasn’t really the thing I wished to see, but if he can consistently catch passes in the slot and make moves, then it’s absolutely pointless to keep him on the bench otherwise. I’m happy to have him back and I’m sure in time we will see his impact on the receiving end more and more.
STS: Prior to last season when the offense led the way, it seemed like Wake Forest would be a defense-first program under Coach Clawson. It feels odd to say it, but now they look like an up-tempo team built for shootouts. In their only games against Power 5 opponents this season, they allowed 41 (BC) and 56 (ND) points. S&P+ ranks the Wake Forest defense #84. Where has this defense been the most vulnerable?
Cam: I would definitely say the secondary. It was hard for me to not say the linebackers just due to the depth that they’ve had just go with injuries. However the secondary has had their fair share of issues, also with some injury problems. Cameron Glenn, Essang Bassey and Chuck Wade (who had a pick six last week) have to lead the charge in communication which has been the biggest issue. I’m sure now with the simplification of the playbook after the firing of their defensive coordinator, things will get better but there’s still room to improve. Like I said, I will not inflate due to Rice and I will not deflate due to Clemson (unless they give up 80 points.)
STS: In their past three meetings, Clemson’s defensive line has overwhelmed the Deacon offensive line, shutting down the traditional rushing attacking and holding them to 13, 13, and 14 points, respectively. Wake Forest returned their entire starting offensive line from a year ago. Do you think the offensive line can get a little more push this year? More broadly, do you expect this offense to find some rhythm?
Cam: Well one bad thing has been we lost Justin Herron in the first game of the season to a torn ACL. Herron was our best pass protector so that hurts. I think the unit is still one of the best in the ACC but it comes down to the QB. If Hartman isn’t making the right reads, it’ll be a long day. If he’s making the right reads and stays on schedule this team will find at least some success. Do I expect that? A little. I don’t think its far fetched to say this team will put up some points. 56? Absolutely not. But I think this is the best the offense has looked going into playing Clemson in years - especially given the last two years we’ve had to play either a backup or 3rd string QB(2016 was a mess at that point but still won a bowl!) and in 2015 the offensive line was only topped by 2014 by being the worst in a long time.
STS: Dave Clawson has done a very good job in each of his coaching stops. It seemed a little foolish to me that Tennessee didn’t pursue him this offseason when they had their circus of a coaching search. Do you think he could be a Wake Forest lifer? Do you have any concern about potential openings at UNC or Louisville calling his name?
Cam: The day Tennessee gets things right again, I’ll probably be in a nursing home (See: Their coach, team for the last seven years, Alvin Kamara, do I go on?) I sure hope Dave Clawson stays for life. He is one heck of a recruiter, one heck of a coach and has completely turned this place around. I don’t foresee UNC or Louisville being an option for him because it’s not really his thing. If you look at where he is “bigger names” isn’t where he goes/finds success.
But also who in their right mind would coach Louisville?
STS: Clemson is a 17-point favorite, and that line may increase if positive news about Trevor Lawrence’s health continues coming from Clemson. What is the #1 thing Wake needs to execute on to give themselves a chance to beat Coach Swinney for the first time?
Cam: Getting pressure. One thing Wake has struggled in has been getting pressure on the QB, and that puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the team. If Lawrence, or even Brice has all day to throw then it’ll be a very long day. It doesn’t matter if Wake can put up 40 points if the defense gives up 60. If the defense can start getting to the QB, then it helps the linebackers because it forces more people needed to block so they can spy or be more confident in a zone their in. If you get pressure it helps the DBs because they don’t have to be in coverage for so long when inevitably someone will be open. It all starts in the trenches.