Wake Forest Demon Deacons football has a new coach, a new offensive scheme, and a new outlook as it tries to once again assert itself on the rest of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Former coach Jim Grobe is gone, and new Dave Clawson has taken the reins. Clawson led Bowling Green back to glory in his time there and he is looking to do the same at Wake. Clawson’s resume includes the 2013 MAC Championship where his team beat previously undefeated Northern Illinois.
Coach: Dave Clawson (1st year, 32-31)
Stadium: BB&T Field (Capacity: 32,000)
Last Season: 4-8, 2-6 (ACC)
The last year of the Jim Grobe Era ended not with a bang, but with a whimper. Wake Forest found itself outmanned in several of its games last year. Grobe’s tenure had been marked by using misdirection and scheme to maximize the skills of his roster. Last year the magic just did not seem to work. Wake Forest did manage to beat rival NC State and beat Maryland. Their other victories though were over Army and Presbyterian. Grobe decided to retire, ending a good career that saw him take the Demon Deacons to the 2006 ACC Championship.
Offense: Multiple Offense
Clawson does not believe in a having too rigid of a scheme, but rather in adjusting to his personnel. At Bowling Green, he initially ran a pass heavy spread. That was when he had no running backs and a quarterback who could throw a little bit. By the end of his tenure at BGSU, Clawson had his running backs in place. One of them became the all-time leading rusher at BGSU.
Ideally, Clawson would like to emphasize balance. If he does have a preference, it does seem that he likes to run the ball. He also is a proponent of throwing it to the backs out of the backfield. This is a habit he likely picked up while coaching Brian Westbrook at Villanova early in his career. Clawson helped Westbrook become the first running back in D-1 history with 1,000 rushing and 1,000 receiving yards in the same season.
Clawson’s flexibility has aided him in building up Richmond and Bowling Green, and he will need every bit of creativity this year. Wake Forest entered camp with quarterbacks, which is to say none. Wake Forest also started shifting players between positions, including the move of defensive back Orville Reynolds to running back.
Clawson came in to find only one running back on scholarship. This means running back will also be a position by committee. The wide receiver corps will desperately miss Michael Campanaro, now of the Baltimore Ravens.
Youth will be the main characteristic of the offense, with a number of major players, particularly on the offensive line, being sophomores.
Defense was not the problem for Wake Forest last year, unfortunately a lot of those pieces are gone. However maybe it is a blessing in disguise, as Wake Forest is transitioning from a 3-4 to a 4-2-5 set. Roles won’t be as ingrained as they might have been for last year’s bunch. The tranisition to a more traditional line should help senior defensive end Zachary Allen, who never quite fit in the 3-4.
The 4-2-5 tries to do several things. One, it relies on speed, even at the expense of bulk at certain positions. It also creates hybrid positions. One of the defensive ends is really a defensive end/linebacker hybrid who functions as a rush specialist. A linebacker is traded out for an extra defensive back, again putting more speed on the field.
The 4-2-5 is also easier to recruit for. A coach may not run across true linebackers or true linemen very often in the competitive world of recruiting. However there are always guys who can run and potentially become defensive backs in the system or tweeners that traditional systems avoid, but the 4-2-5 almost requires.
The weakness of the system is the front line. This will be particularly true for Wake Forest, who lost a number of defensive linemen. They also lost senior Johnny Garcia to a torn ACL. The 4-2-5 runs into trouble when opposing offenses are able to mangle the smaller defensive line since one of the ends is not really an end.
The 4-2-5 shines against wide receiver heavy spread offenses, since that targets its strengths and helps hide its weaknesses. This should mean continued good play from seniors Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel. Wake Forest has a windfall of linebacker recruits, and some of them will become rush ends.
Player to Watch: Ryan Janvion, Sophomore, Strong Safety, 5’11” 190 lbs
Normally on a team that inherits an offensive minded coach like Clawson, there would be some positional player who would benefit right away. However Wake Forest has no established weapons on offense. The big producers on the defensive line graduated.
However that left Janvion, who exceeded expectations as a redshirt freshman last year. He was the team’s leading tackler with 95 tackles including 61 solo stops. You should always worry when a safety leads your team in tackles, but Janvion proved quite capable. The 4-2-5 will likely require him to continue to pile up tackles until the system has all its pieces.
Janvion recorded only one interception last season, but he was aided by good cornerback play. Those corners defensed a number of balls, allowing Janvion to be more of a rover. It will be interesting to see if Wake keeps Janvion at strong safety or moves him to the hybrid rover position in the 4-2-5 which can play more like a linebacker at times.
8/28 Gardner Webb
91/13 at Utah State
9/27 at Louisville
10/4 at Florida State
10/25 Boston College
11/15 at NC State
11/22 Virginia Tech
11/29 at Duke
Prediction: 3-9, 1-7 (ACC)
It will be a year of growing pains for Wake Forest. Coach Clawson will be figuring things out and his people out. He’s not starting with much, but Clawson has a reputation as a builder.
Things may be tough this season, but this season for Wake Forest is not really about 2014. It’s about next year and trying to follow the path that Clawson charted at Richmond and Bowling Green.
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