Fall camp is complete and Tulane game prep finished this morning with a walk through.
Preparation is finished. It’s now time for the season to begin.
The Deacs feel they’re an improved team that’s bigger, faster, stronger, deeper and more experienced.
There’s only one way that’s measured — the win-loss record.
What are the two keys for a Wake Forest victory Thursday night over Tulane?
Hang close in the ground game
Tulane coach Willie Fritz’s Georgia Southern team gained an average of 363 rushing yards a game last season. In comparison, the Deacs rushed for 105.2 a game last year. Fritz’s Eagles led the nation in that category, where Wake was No. 122 out of 127 FBS teams.
Fritz has the weapons at Tulane to continue his ground assault, with a stable of four running backs led by Dontrell Hilliard and Sherman Badie.
“We have some really good running backs,” Fritz said earlier this week. “I think the four of them are legitimate division-one running backs. They are complete backs — they can catch the ball, pass protect, run in between the tackles and run in the perimeter. I do think that’s an area of strength for us.”
Controlling the run game will be crucial for the Deacs, and will take a complete effort from Mike Elko’s defense. With the misdirection likely to come, playing pure assignment football will be a key.
“The toughest thing about defending this stuff is everything you teach on defense is pursuit and angles, and getting guys to the football,” Wake coach Dave Clawson said in his press conference Tuesday. “Then, in week one, bang. . . you better keep your eyes there and your eyes there. It becomes playing assignment football. If you just pursue and run, they could end up with the quarterback running the pitch or the dive. Then if your eyes aren’t in the same place, it’s a 40-50 yard play.”
But just as the Deacs defensively have to control the Tulane running attack, it’s vitally important that they establish one of their own.
Wake significantly improved their rushing attack in 2015, but it needs to have the same level of growth in 2016 for the Deacs to find success, and that’s equally as important Thursday against the Green Wave.
And it won’t necessarily be easy, as the Deacs will be squaring off against an experienced defensive line and a linebacker in Nico Marley that Clawson called a “heat seeking missile.”
“Defensively they return one of the most experienced defenses in the country. I think they have more than 140 combined starts,” Clawson said. “Certainly, up front, it starts with their three technique, Tanzel Smart, he's projected to be a mid-round draft choice. He's big, he's athletic, he's very physical. He's going to be a very difficult matchup for us. And at end, both [Robert] Kennedy and [Ade] Aruna we think are very athletic players who can rush the passer, and certainly our tackles will be challenged.”
Don’t expect the Deacs to gain more yards on the ground than Tulane Thursday night, but being within 100 yards would likely put Wake in a good spot for a win.
Handle the unknown
Wake is still a young — yet experienced — team, but it’s certainly less than optimal to be facing the Green Wave in these circumstances, against a proven successful winning coach with a seemingly established offensive system.
There’s little doubt he will completely abandon what Tulane had been attempting in years past, but will he implement his Georgia Southern system completely, or will it be a hybrid of sorts.
Reports from Tulane’s fall camp have it as a spread out of a pistol formation that incorporates option elements. Fritz averaged just 10 passing attempts per game in his final season at Georgia Southern, but is said to want to bring more balance to Tulane.
All this is unknown, but the Deacs somehow need to be prepared, yet adapt to the conditions they face on the field Thursday evening. That’s where the leadership of senior Marquel Lee, Josh Banks, Ryan Janvion and Brad Watson will come into play. Luckily for the Deacs, they have strong leadership at every level of defense to go along with the young guys.
Adapt to the unknown and the Deacs come out on top Thursday.