Prister’s Preview: ND vs. Wake Forest

Wake Forest is challenged offensively. Defensively, however, the Demon Deacons can be a handful, particularly in the red zone where ND showed improvement vs. Pittsburgh.

WAKE FOREST HEAD COACH

Dave Clawson (2nd year at Wake Forest) – Clawson, 48, is working on his fourth reclamation project as a head coach. He went 0-11 in his first year at Fordham in 1999 and was 7-4 by year three and 10-3 by year four. The Spiders of Richmond were 3-8 in his first year, but 9-4 by year two and 11-3 by year four. Bowling Green was 9-16 in his first two years as head coach; 18-8 in years four and five.

In his 15 years as a head coach, Clawson has delivered a conference championship at every stop. His career record is 96-95. The challenge in the ACC, however, is extreme. The Demon Deacons have not finished above .500 since 2008.

Clawson led Wake Forest to a 3-9 mark in his first season in Winston-Salem, including a late-season, two-overtime victory over Virginia Tech as a two-touchdown underdog. Clawson’s most notable achievement of the ’15 season is the 3-0 victory at Boston College the second weekend of October.


KEY PERSONNEL

• LB-Brandon Chubb (Sr.) – Standout performer on a defense that has allowed 24 points or less in five of nine games. Leading tackler with 78 stops and 6.5 tackles for loss. Was at his best last time out when he finished with 12 stops and a tackle for loss vs. Louisville, who the Demon Deacons held to 68 yards rushing. Three of his eight tackles against Boston College were behind the line of scrimmage. Was second on the ’14 team with 109 tackles. One of four finalists for the Pop Warner College Football Award.
• LB-Marquel Lee (Jr.) – Good-sized Mike LB (6-3, 235) who led the team in tackles for loss last year (8), which he’s already exceeded this season (8.5). Second on the team in sacks with three.
• TE-Cam Serigne (Soph.) – Team’s leading returning receiver (54 catches, 531 yards, 5 TDs) paces a pass-catching unit that features five players with at least 24 receptions. Has scored three of the team’s 10 passing touchdowns. 
• S-Ryan Janvion (Jr.) – Wake Forest’s leading returning tackler with 115, including 18 against Utah State. Has just one pass broken up and no interceptions. Has been battling through injuries since early in the season. Was an honorable mention all-ACC choice in 2013.
• P-Alex Kinal (Sr.) – Aussie gets plenty of work. He has 320 career punts for 13,326 yards, which set an ACC record. He needs just three punts and 296 yards to break the NCAA career record.


WHAT WAKE FOREST DOES WELL

• Most things defense: Wake Forest is 45th in scoring defense (23.0 ppg.), 57th in rush defense (160.2 ypg.), 24th in pass defense (184.2 ypg.) and 31st in total defense (344.4 ypg.). The Demon Deacons also have the 12th best third-down defense (30.0 percent).
• Red-zone defense: The Demon Deacons are stingy once opponents get inside the red zone. Only nine teams in the country (including Boston College and Clemson) have allowed fewer than Wake Forest’s 11 touchdowns surrendered in the red zone. Their 44.0 percent touchdown allowance is 20th nationally.
• Offensive improvement: The Demon Deacons average just 339.9 yards total offense per game, which ranks 113th. But it’s a far cry from 2014 when they managed just 216.3 yards per game. That’s a 57.1 percent increase, which is tops in the nation.
• Punt: Alex Kinal certainly gets a lot of practice. He’s about to become college football’s all-time leader in attempted punts and punting yardage. Plus, he’s good. Of his 58 punts, 25 have landed inside the 20 while only two have gone for touchbacks. He virtually assures that the opposing team’s field position will be compromised.

WHERE WAKE FOREST STRUGGLES

• Scoring: Wake Forest’s high-water mark in six ACC games is 19 points. They scored 17 against Syracuse, 16 vs. Florida State, three against Boston College, 14 vs. North Carolina and 17 against North Carolina State. In eight conference games in ’14, the Demon Deacons’ highest scoring output was just 21 points.
• Red-zone scoring: Wake Forest is 116th nationally in red-zone touchdown percentage, converting just 24 entries into 11 touchdowns (45.8 percent).
• Youth: A total of 74 of the 103 players on the Wake Forest team (71.8 percent) are either freshmen or sophomores. Of the 168 points scored by the Demon Deacons, 162 have been tallied by freshmen, red-shirt freshmen or sophomores.
• Turnover margin: Wake Forest’s defense has intercepted just three passes on 222 attempts (once every 74 passes). The Demon Deacons are 119th in turnover margin (-11) with seven takeaways and 18 offensive turnovers, including a 14-to-10 interception-to-touchdown pass ratio.
• Sacks/sacks allowed: Despite a solid defense, Wake Forest has just 15 sacks in nine games (80th nationally) while allowing 31 sacks (125th) on the other side of the football.


KELLY’S CALL

“We’re just going to focus on getting better this week, improving on the things that we need to get better at, and not worry about the noise out there about where we are (in the rankings) and really concentrate on how we can become championship football players and what that means.

“For us, it’s the attention to detail and practice. It’s the preparation. It’s the work ethic. It’s staying focused on the present.”


Odds and ends

Wake Forest has the smallest enrollment of all Power 5 conference teams with 4,823…No team has a more difficult schedule the next two games than Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons visit No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 1 Clemson…Wake Forest is playing an 8-1 team for just the fourth time in school history. Each of the last two (Clemson in 2011, Georgia Tech in 2009) ended in Wake Forest losses on the final play of the game…Notre Dame is allowing 23.1 points per game; Wake Forest is allowing 23.0…After not playing Wake Forest during the first 124 years of its football existence, Notre Dame finally took on the Demon Deacons in 2011 in Winston-Salem. It wasn’t easy against Jim Grobe’s team, which led at halftime before falling to the Irish, 24-17. Notre Dame had a much easier time of it a year later at home where the Irish claimed a 38-0 victory. That, like this weekend’s game, was Notre Dame’s home finale. Wake Forest managed just nine first downs and 209 yards total offense…Notre Dame has scored 10 touchdowns of at least 50 yards; Wake Forest ranks 118th in plays allowed of 50 yards or more…Josh Adams’ 147 yards rushing against Pittsburgh was one-yard shy of the school record by a freshman. Jerome Heavens rushed for 148 yards against Georgia Tech in 1975 (the Rudy game)…Reaching the 1,000-yard mark has been difficult for C.J. Prosise. He entered the Temple game with 922 yards, but managed just 14 carries for 25 yards vs. the Owls and then five carries for 28 yards against Pittsburgh before leaving the game in the first quarter with an injury. Prosise heads into Week 10 with 975 yards.


PRISTER’S ANALYSIS

When a football team struggles so mightily to win, it usually starts on the defensive side of the football. You can’t beat anybody if you can’t stop anybody.

Well, Wake Forest is pretty good at stopping people with its defense. In 2013, despite averaging just 18.3 points per game, the Demon Deacons managed to hold opponents to 24.1 points per game, which ranked 38th in the country. Last year, the numbers bumped up to 26.4 points allowed per game, which was 60th.

These are incredible feats when you consider how abominable the Wake Forest offenses have been as the Jim Grobe era came to a close and the Dave Clawson era began in ’14. When you can’t score, can’t convert on third down, and spend most of the game punting the football to the opposition, that puts a huge stress on the defense, and yet the Demon Deacons have held their own under coordinator Mike Elko.

Wake Forest remains good on defense despite its own inability to force turnovers. The Demon Deacons rank 119th in turnover margin with just four fumbles recovered and three interceptions. They compensate with the 12th best third-down defense in the country.

The bulk of the problems are on the other side of the football, where offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero is trying to recapture the magic from Bowling Green. Ruggiero coordinated Clawson’s 2013 Falcon offense to 34.8 points per game.

Wake Forest simply doesn’t have the personnel right now to be productive offensively. The team is incredibly young as a whole, and it starts up front where red-shirt freshmen start at both tackle spots, which explains why the Demon Deacons are 125th in sacks allowed (31 in nine games).

Wake Forest can’t run it, although it’s vastly improved over last year’s 1.3 yards per carry and 40 yards per game on the ground. They’re up to 3.1 per carry and 110 per game, which is significant progress, but not enough to fully compensate for a passing game that has accounted for 14 interceptions and just 10 touchdowns.

Notre Dame will see both sophomore John Wolford and freshman Kendall Hinton at quarterback. Wolford throws it better and Hinton is more productive on the ground. In fact, Hinton leads the Demon Deacons with 316 yards rushing and six of the team’s nine rushing touchdowns.

But it’s not enough to derail Notre Dame’s playoff push, which took on a little extra drama this week when the Irish moved from No. 5 to No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings. It’s also senior day, which hasn’t always been a formula for success and consistency in years past. In fact, Notre Dame’s performance against Northwestern in last year’s loss was a proverbial gift-wrap.

If the Irish continue their success in the red zone that began last week against Pittsburgh, they will score in the 40s. Only one opponent has scored more than 35 points against Wake Forest this year, and that was North Carolina (50). The Irish certainly have the offense to put a huge dent into the Demon Deacons’ defense, specially considering Notre Dame’s big-play nature and the fact Wake Forest ranks near the bottom of college football in big plays (50 yards or more) allowed.

The hunch here is that reality lies somewhere in between. The Irish won’t be 4-of-4 scoring touchdowns in the red zone as they were last week, partly because of Wake’s prowess inside the 20 and partly because the Irish are due for a bit of an emotional letdown after back-to-back challenging road games and the typical emotions that can spill out on senior day.

The difference this week compared to last week at Pittsburgh is that Wake Forest – even against Notre Dame’s leaky defense – simply does not have enough offense to make this a very interesting game. Barring a rash of turnovers, which has only happened once this season in the rain on the road at night against Clemson, Notre Dame will continue its quick-strike scoring ability against a game but talent-/experience-lacking Demon Deacon squad.

Keep an eye on Clawson because he’s a good, relatively-young head coach who could ascend to a higher level some day. But with Notre Dame’s eye on the prize now that it has risen to No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings, senior day will end in a sideline full of smiles with little drama along the way.

Pointspread: Notre Dame by 27 1/2; over-under 52
Prediction: Notre Dame 37, Wake Forest 13
2015 Season Record: 7-2 straight up; 1-8 vs. points; 4-5 over-under


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