This isn’t going to be an upset and I refuse to treat this like a regular 7-2 team. I tend to write these previews looking for ways opposing offenses could upset Clemson, or at least keep the games closer than expected. That’s been harder to do this year. The ACC is down bad, and when it’s down bad Wake Forest can get hot. I recognize talking badly about a conference foes schedule is kind of hustling backwards, but they have played a garbage schedule. The ACC is barely better than the AAC this year and Wake’s OOC games have been Utah State, Rice and Elon. Utah State only lost by a field goal. Vegas doesn’t take the Demon Deacons seriously either, the spread as of writing was around thirty-five points. S&P+ gives Clemson a 93% chance to win. Wake Forest isn’t the quality opponent some Clemson fans might want to claim it is, but the game might be a good thrashing.
Speaking of, S&P+ has the Demon Deacons ranked 48th this week. That puts them one spot behind a 4-5 Texas Tech and twenty-three spots behind a 4-5 Washington State. The advanced stats probably are overrating Wake, who lost their best offensive player (Sage Surratt) for the season during last week’s throttling in Blacksburg. Surratt is special and the offense ran through him. Heading into week 12 he’s the only power conference receiver with 1,000 receiving yards. He led Wake in completions and leads the ACC in receiving TD’s.
The Wake Forest offense is a clever scheme for maximizing your chance of winning as an underdog. They mostly run inside zone, power and outside zone from 11 personnel (you can take that as a given with most offenses now), mixing the threat of running back/quarterback runs, quick passes and RPO’s to punish teams for being undisciplined. Their backs excel at punishing teams for not being gap sound with cutbacks.
The Demon Deacons run an up-tempo offense, then they force defenses to quickly adjust to a range of trips and/or unbalanced formations. If your team is not prepared they can manufacture a few big plays a game.
When they had Surratt they had a pretty good thing going, if he was single covered he was probably getting the ball. When the defense committed two defenders to Surratt he still sometimes got the ball, but for the most part the team took advantage of its numerical advantage to run or get other receivers open. The running game wasn’t elite, but they were able to run the ball often enough to keep QB Jamie Newman in good situations. There isn’t a receiver capable of replicating Surratt’s production on the roster and there’s not a lot of depth either.
Wake Forest features a variation of the zone read that I really haven’t seen anywhere else. What makes it unique is just how long the quarterback is willing to wait on the defender being read (in this case the backside linebacker) before deciding to hand it off or keep it himself. When it doesn’t work it’s often tackled in the backfield, but when it does work it can be explosive. Quarterback Jamie Newman doesn’t have great rushing numbers, but he’s perfectly capable of hurting defenses on the ground and leads the team in rushing TD’s.
And if they can establish the threat of the run, Wake Forest has an extensive and clever system of RPO’s to attack your secondary. This offense creates a lot of its passing game around the threat of the run. When the running game is working it can all compliment each other beautifully. When the running game isn’t working things get ugly.
They’re merciless about picking on teams that allow easy completions underneath, often by throwing to the single receiver side from trips formations. A lot of defenses Wake’s played have clearly been afraid of being beaten over the top by Newman’s arm and decided to play “bend but don’t break” defense.
Teams with lesser talent, Wake Forest should be able to run over, and teams with better talent usually only beat the Deacons if they’re competent. There aren’t a lot of talented, competent defenses in the ACC right now. Clemson happens to have one. VT is improving, but this years’ Virginia Tech defense isn’t anything to write home about. Last Saturday they held the Deacons to 16/36 through the air and 2.2 YPC. Both passing touchdowns against Tech went to Surratt. The Hokies succeeded by pressing Wake Forest’s receivers and sending pressure at Jamie Newman, who has a tendency to hold onto the ball. Once the Demon Deacons got behind by a couple of scores the threat of the run game was basically gone, and Wake’s last half dozen drives ended in punts or turnovers.
Newman also threw a pair of interceptions for the second time this season last weekend. The last time that happened was during the 62-59 loss to Louisville. He tends to struggle when plays break down and can be confused by disguised coverages. Clemson, meanwhile, can afford to flood the field with linebackers and DB’s and disguise looks. Outside of Kendall Hinton for some reason, Wake Forest hasn’t had much success running the ball on Clemson the last couple years. Hinton, a slot receiver, probably isn’t punishing Clemson between the tackles. Sending blitzes isn’t going to be much of an adjustment either. Venables was playing three down fronts and blitzing more than last year already. Clemson’s starting linebackers are first, third and fifth on the team in sacks.
It’s a shame we didn’t see this team at full strength. Without Sage Surratt I have a hard time seeing Wake Forest forcing Clemson into uncomfortable situations. Even with their best offensive player this was going to be an uphill battle. The Tigers should be able to take care of business comfortably and hopefully get the seniors a chance to shine in their last home game.