To understand the state of Wake Forest football, consider one of its spokesmen.
At ACC Media Days this week, head coach Dave Clawson brought two players as the face of his program. One was the punter, Alex Kinal. Sadly for the Demon Deacons, that selection held figurative and literal significance. Few players made a bigger impact on Wake Forest last season. And it would be hard to pick anybody out of the offensive depth chart anyhow.
“Representing my school here as a punter, I didn't really expect it,” Kinal said this week at ACC Media Days. “It is a pretty big honor. I'm pretty happy about that.”
Wake Forest went 3-9 in Clawson’s debut, which followed Jim Grobe’s resignation after a 13-year run in Winston-Salem, N.C. The results were predictably bad with a freshman quarterback in over his head, a schedule with few breaks and a learning curve for Clawson and staff after five seasons at Bowling Green.
Following up might not be much easier.
Wake Forest could start a true freshman quarterback again, the schedule is still difficult – starting in October, at least – and the roster doesn’t feel much older. The Demon Deacons have barely a half-dozen seniors on the roster and have been working to add graduate transfers, with a safety from Maryland (Zach Dancel) and a receiver from South Carolina (K.J. Brent) joining.
Irish Illustrated’s look at Notre Dame’s schedule moves to Wake Forest, which could offer Brian Kelly a comfortable Senior Day.
Wake Forest was brutal offensively last season.
The Demon Deacons ranked No.127 in scoring offense (14.8 points) and rushing offense (39.9 yards). They ranked dead last at No. 128 in total offense (216.3 yards), first downs (14.3), sacks allowed (48) and tackles for loss allowed (127). Wake Forest also ranked No. 126 in third down conversions (28.26 percent).
For the entire season, the Demon Deacons had just six plays of 30+ yards, also a national worst. For the sake of comparison, the Irish had 28 plays of 30+ yards, which ranked in the middle of the pack nationally.
“I expect us to be improved. I expect us to be more explosive,” Clawson said at ACC Media Days this week. “Are we going to go from where we were last year to averaging 45 points a game and 500 yards of offense? Probably not. But we need to make a good, solid, incremental jump.”
Wake Forest figures to start just one senior on offense in right guard Dylan Intemann. Sophomore quarterback John Wolford should keep his job after a rough debut – 58.3 completion percentage, 12 touchdowns, 14 interceptions – but early enrollee Kendall Hinton offers a more athletic alternative. Regardless, Wake Forest may start eight first- or second-year players on offense.
Even with Elon, at Syracuse, Army and Indiana out of the gate, the offense isn’t built to win now. In the opener last year against Louisiana-Monroe, Wake Forest scratched out 97 total yards.
“So I think across the board, we will be a stronger, more explosive, deeper football team,” Clawson said. “Again, just our challenge is our youth. We're going to have to get those guys to play old quickly. That's on us as a staff to get them ready.”
Considering what it was saddled with offensively, Wake Forest’s defense put out a respectable product last season.
The Demon Deacons never surrendered more than 500 yards and held Virginia Tech to just a field goal in a 6-3 double overtime win. Wake Forest even produced a first round pick in cornerback Kevin Johnson, who went 16th overall to the Houston Texans. That made Johnson the third corner off the board in last spring’s draft.
Even though Wake Forest must rebuild in the secondary, six starters in the front seven return, which should give Clawson a foundation. Safety Ryan Janvion, linebacker Brandon Chubb and linebacker Marquel Lee all return. Each posted at least 100 tackles last season.
“I thought it was amazing last year how well our defense played despite the fact that time of possession was never good, we weren't working first downs,” Clawson said. “They were stuck a lot of times defending a short field.”
Wake Forest hopes Clawson’s first full recruiting class can help the cause. The Demon Deacons signed 14 three-star prospects last cycle, including two defensive ends, a couple cornerbacks and a safety.
“The recruiting is off the roof,” Chubb said. “This freshmen class that came in this summer is the highest rated class. You got guys that can play right away, guys that can play special teams right away, not have to take your corner and rep him 15 times on kickoff and kickoff return, or take your linebacker and have him do punt, block, punt, kickoff. That's 20 extra snaps a game just off of special teams.”