Not surprisingly, Dave Clawson's first season at Wake Forest experienced more downs than ups. The good news is that 13 starters return from last season's 3-9 team. The bad news is that the Demon Deacons will once again be one of the youngest teams in FBS and this offense was not just the worst in the ACC, it ranked near the bottom of all of FBS in 2014. Wake Forest appears to be in good hands with Clawson at the helm, but success is probably still at least one more season away.
Follow Athlon Sports on Twitter: @AthlonSports
Previewing Wake Forest’s Offense for 2015
With a freshman quarterback and an overmatched offensive line, Wake Forest’s offense was historically bad. The Deacons allowed 48 sacks, the most in the country, and 37 percent of their runs went for a loss or no gain. Overall, Wake Forest’s 3.4 yards per play ranked last in the nation — by a wide margin.
Second-year coach Dave Clawson sees the offensive line improving, despite losing two starters and inserting three redshirt freshmen, and more playmakers arriving in the latest recruiting class. “The offensive line was the root of our problems a year ago and that will be a reason for our improvement next year,” he says.
Quarterback John Wolford took a beating and improved: He threw only four interceptions in the final seven games. But Wolford struggled to get passes downfield (only two of 35-plus yards in ACC play). Freshmen Kendall Hinton and Kyle Kearns will compete for the job.
Dez Wortham and Isaiah Robinson return in the backfield, but neither broke a run longer than 20 yards nor provided a pass-catching threat. So Clawson likely will look to highly rated recruits Rocky Reid (originally a Tennessee commit) and Matt Colburn (originally a Louisville commit).
Wake Forest’s receivers have struggled to hold on to the ball lately, but Clawson is encouraged by the return of Tyree Harris, who redshirted in 2014 after showing promise as a true freshman, and the impact of new faces. Speedy freshman Tabari Hines enrolled early and will take over in the slot. He was a spring standout, along with redshirt freshman Cortez Lewis. Wolford built a connection with tight end Cam Serigne, who led the Deacons in all receiving categories in 2014.
Related: Athlon's 2015 College Football Rankings: No. 1 to 128
Previewing Wake Forest’s Defense for 2015
The defense pulled off a miracle to finish in the middle of the ACC, and the veteran unit will have to lead the way again. The Deacons should be better up front and have one of the ACC’s best units at linebacker, but cornerbacks Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel and their 84 starts are gone.
The defensive line proved it could speed rush, with Wendell Dunn and Josh Banks combining for 15 tackles for a loss with three forced fumbles and an interception. But Clawson wasn’t as happy with the unit’s ability to control the line. Tylor Harris will need to stand out in the middle.
At linebacker, senior Brandon Chubb and junior Marquel Lee combined for 210 tackles last season. They’re teamed with senior Hunter Williams and backed by a strong group of young players. “That position is the one position right now that we look like an ACC team,” Clawson says.
The replacements for Johnson and Noel missed spring practice, and while Brad Watson (wrist) will return, Bryant Gross-Armien (ACL) is more questionable. Top recruit Dionte Austin could see playing time. Starting safeties Ryan Janvion and Thomas Brown are solid, but they’re backed by two redshirt freshmen.
Previewing Wake Forest’s Specialists for 2015
If you have a struggling offense, it helps to have a good punter, and the Deacons have one of the nation’s best in Alex Kinal. Mike Weaver opened his career with 10 straight field-goal makes and finished his first season 15-of-19. Wake’s returners haven’t produced big plays in years.
Clawson, coming off two straight bowl games at Bowling Green, walked into a disaster. The Deacons will be one of the nation’s youngest teams again, and the offense could feature eight underclassmen as starters. They have a difficult schedule and are likely a year away from being truly competitive, but Clawson’s recruiting classes have been historically good, giving hope that he can transform the program.