That said, the process is far from finished, and 'Nole fans should be careful to temper their enthusiasm and expectations, as this Wake team was quite simply not very good.
Though the Wake offense came into the game with good numbers against bad competition (including points scored and yardage gained after the game had been decided in a blowout loss to Stanford), this was not the equal of those pesky Wake offenses of the past decade. Given Wake Forest's two green quarterbacks, Mark Stoops' defense simply gave no respect to Wake's downfield passing game and teed off on the run and short passing game, daring the young QBs to beat them deep—something they quite simply could not do. As good a defensive performance as this was, the 'Noles still need to have success against a more balanced attack before this defense has truly turned the corner.
That said, Wake Forest's offensive line is actually reasonably good, with some experience across the board. The FSU front seven certainly made it look otherwise, which is the most encouraging takeaway from this game. Last year, I frequently used this space to criticize the Seminoles' shoddy gap control, as the lack of defensive discipline created numerous seams in the running game, leading to an inability to stop either the run or the pass. That is one thing that most assuredly has changed so far. The front four continues to show marked improvement, even maintaining gap integrity when twisting and stunting (things we almost never did before). The linebackers finally took a giant step forward in this game, looking as though they consistently and instinctively knew where they were supposed to be for the first time all season. Again, Wake's inability to throw the football contributed to that, but given all the misdirection that has given FSU fits in the past, it was still a refreshing sight.
I still have some concerns that the defensive line will struggle to get pressure against bigger offensive lines, as the young defensive tackles are still growing up a bit, but I think the jury is in on the 'Noles capacity to stop the run this year—and results are very positive. I don't think we'll see any team simply line up and blow this front seven off the ball, which is a huge difference from last year. Given that Miami would prefer to line up in the I-Formation and run the ball between the tackles to set up their downfield passing game, FSU's improvement in the front seven is especially important for that game. (The same is true for Florida, who would like to line up in the spread and run the dive and zone plays until they're stopped, but they're late enough in the year to be only slightly on the radar at the moment, though it's worth noting how much Fisher's offensive and defensive schemes are geared towards beating what FSU's biggest rivals do—that's a change.)
There are still also concerns with the safeties in the secondary, but they at least continue to be reasonably good in run support. Nick Moody's return has been a major plus, as his physical presence is much needed in the secondary (though it is worth noting that Ochuko Jenije was in on the fourth-down tackle to preserve the shutout and had a decent performance in relief). Terrence Parks is the steadiest of the group, but he still appears to be thinking a bit too much at times.
The FSU offense is also a work in progress—something that was a bit unexpected at this point in the year, given the number of returning starters. But it is still fairly obvious that Ponder badly misses Richard Goodman and Rod Owens, who he had come to trust when throwing downfield. There was some improvement in the passing game this week, as the coaches treated the game as a glorified scrimmage, working on elements of the passing game that had been struggles so far in the year. There were no troubles moving the ball (that only 31 points were scored was as much a reflection of the lengthy, time-sucking drive in the first quarter limiting the number of possessions as anything), but this team is still looking for big plays. With the tailbacks averaging upwards of six yards per carry, this team can run the football, but in today's game, you have to have a big play threat to score consistently. The offense is still searching. On the plus side, Ponder was noticeably more accurate in this game than in the last two—perhaps a sign that his arm is healing. He is still not in last year's form, but the improvement was encouraging.
The 'Noles did have some problems in pass protection, but this is not much of a source of concern, as most of these stemmed from trying a lot of empty sets with no help for the OL. Henry Orelus struggled against one of the ACC's better (and quicker) defensive ends in the first half, but redshirt freshman Garrett Faircloth replaced him and performed quite well in the second half. The offense is improving; it's just a matter of time before it starts clicking.
It looked to me like Orelus had a some trouble getting out of his stance with adequate knee bend when in pass protection. It might have actually been a little bit of a fatigue thing (and certainly inexperience) once or twice. Kyle Wilber was a bad matchup for him, being very quick and explosive off the ball with long arms. He just has to get better knee bend and a quicker "set." I really think his future might be brighter at guard or RT, long term. Orelus continued to look very good in the running game.
Garrett Faircloth actually looked a lot like a young Datko when he came in—very natural in pass protection, good set, nice knee bend, but not especially physical just yet.
David Spurlock gets himself into trouble with his overaggressiveness at times; his big weakness is in not recognizing tackle twists or stunts quickly enough (he just wants to maul the guy over him) and over-helping, leading to a gap in the protection. If I were at Miami, I'd send some stunts and blitzes his way to see if he stays disciplined.
I quite simply do not like Bert Reed as a downfield threat. He's an excellent slot receiver and a YAC threat on short and intermediate throws, but he doesn't use his body well or go after the ball downfield. Throwing fades to him down on the goal line should be a criminal offense.
Speaking of fades, one thing very much lacking from our offense that I'd like to see is the back-shoulder fade-stop. We have a couple big youngsters who could execute that very well, and I always found it the easiest route to run and throw.
Björn Werner continues to flash big upside, but I felt like this game showed a little bit of why he's still not quite getting as many snaps. He's still a big puppy out there who still doesn't always diagnose things quite as quickly as he will in even a few games.
Markus White had his best game as a Seminole, showing discipline against the misdirection and even getting off the ball quickly through most of the game. He's an asset when he plays like this.
Around the 14:11 minute mark of the fourth quarter, Ron Cherry and Jimbo Fisher had a rather comical back-and-forth, as Cherry could barely keep a straight face while announcing a Wake Forest penalty.
Should Datko be out for the UM game, I would expect Rodney Hudson to slide outside with Orelus (or perhaps someone else) taking the guard slot. We've been trying to get the youngsters a chance outside without the pressure of a big game, but against a DL like Miami's we're likely to put our best outside.