No, this wasn’t meant to describe Wake Forest’s defense as an immovable object, or an unstoppable force for that matter, although the Demon Deacons’ defense was not the reason they went 3-9 last year. The “trainwreck in slow motion” analogy may be a little cliché, but tell me, how else would you describe one of the worst offensive performances college football has seen since the turn of the century?
Where do you begin to discuss an offense coming off of such a dud of a season? I guess quarterback is as good a place as any. John Wolford returns as the starter for the Demon Deacons after starting in 2014 as a true freshman. Wolford topped 2,000 yards and threw twelve touchdown passes. However, he also threw 14 interceptions and depending on what source you consult was sacked somewhere between 45 and 55 times. (The only reason I consulted multiple sources on this is because I literally thought there had to be a typo when I read the stat initially). That might be more of a reflection on the line than the quarterback, but both are culpable to some extent.
The good news is that there are a few experienced returning players. The two most experienced returners are also changing positions on the line, which can’t possibly hurt can it? Or let me rephrase that, the line won’t be any worse right? Josh Harris is moving from right guard to left guard and Dylan Intemann is sliding inside from right tackle to right guard. Intemann and Harris have 41 career starts combined. Three redshirt freshmen are expected to fill in the other starting spots on the line, so any line improvement ought to be modest.
Cam Serigne should provide Wolford a good safety valve if and when the floodgates do open again. Serigne caught 49 passes for 469 yards at tight end last year. On the outside, Jared Crump is the leading returning receiver other than Serigne and the only other receiver to top 100 yards receiving that returns, but two guys who didn’t play for the Demon Deacons last year could potentially step into big roles. K.J. Brent is a graduate transfer from South Carolina who never really fulfilled his expectations for the Gamecocks, but a change of scenery and a bigger role in the offense might change that. Also, Tyree Harris returns after redshirting in 2014. Harris caught 25 passes for 225 yards as a true freshman in 2013.
Isaiah Robinson and Dezmond Wortham were Wake Forest’s leading rushers last season and both are back. However, the numbers are pretty dismal for returning contributors. Robinson and Wortham combined for 406 yards and three touchdowns. I repeat these are the two guys who led the team in rushing last year and they were closer to 0 yards rushing than 1,000…combined.
As all of you Wake Forest fans run for the Tums after reading that, the next few paragraphs may actually give you more relief. Even if you can’t score again in 2015, your front seven should be stalwart. All three starters at linebacker return, as a matter of fact pretty much every linebacker that played for the Black and Gold last year returns. Brandon Chubb led the front seven with 81 tackles and had 6.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. He will be joined by Marquel Lee, whose twelve tackles for loss led the team, and Hunter Williams who added seven tackles for loss and an interception to the mix.
Zachary Allen is the only departed starter from the front seven and his eleven tackles for loss and five sacks won’t be easy to replace, but the other guys returning aren’t exactly slouches. Josh Banks had four sacks at defensive tackle last year, and he and DE Wendell Dunn combined for 15 tackles for loss.
On the back end, Wake Forest should be solid also, but maybe not quite as good as the front seven. Cornerback Kevin Johnson is a big loss, but leading tackler Ryan Janvion is back. He and other anticipated starting safety Thomas Brown combined for 13 tackles for loss and nine pass break-ups last season, but no interceptions. In fact, no returning player in the secondary intercepted a pass last season. If Wake Forest is to improve this season, that will likely need to change.
Wake Forest is trying and if they don’t get any better it won’t be because of the defense. Their front seven should be good enough that they can at least hang around in most of their games, but they were arguably the worst power five team in football last year, and yes that includes Vanderbilt and Kansas. There aren’t too many shoe-in wins on the schedule either, with two of their weaker FBS opponents, Syracuse and Army, being road games. If they can’t pick up a win in New York or take down Indiana at home, then 1-11 is probably going to be the result. Expect a long season in Winston-Salem, but hopefully some young guys can get some experience, leading to brighter days ahead.