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Summer Scheming: Wake Forest Demon Deacons Football

Wake finished 8-5 in 2019, but the SP+ didn’t think fondly of the Deacs.

Wake Forest v Clemson Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Dave Clawson started his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Albany back in 1989. Claswson slowly worked up the ranks of the FCS, moving from position coach to coordinator and eventually the head football coach at Fordham in 1999. Clawson moved on to Richmond for the 204-2007 seasons, where he lost in the FCS Playoff semifinals in ‘07. After a year as the offensive coordinator at Tennessee, Clawson was named the head coach at Bowling Green and then Wake Forest.

In his 20 years as a head football coach at four schools and two levels, Clawson has compiled a 126-119 overall record, including 36-40 at Wake. Clawson has led Wake Forest to four consecutive bowl games including three straight bowl wins from 2016-2018.

Wake finished 8-5 (4-4 in the ACC) in 2019, and heads into the 2020 season 81st overall in the SP+ preseason rankings. Wake is projected to have the 99th ranked offense and 60th ranked defense per Bill Connelly’s analytics. Miami on the other hand is ranked 23rd in the SP+ preseason poll including 63rd on offense and 9th on defense.


Wake Forest has three players on the Athlon 2020 preseason All-ACC first team. Wide receiver Sage Surratt, defensive lineman Carlos Basham, and placekicker Nick Sciba. Surratt finished 2019 with 66 catches for 1,001 yards (15.2 yards per catch) and 11 touchdowns. Basham was dominant a year ago logging 18 tackles for loss, 10 sacks, and three forced fumbles. Sciba was nearly perfect last season making 47-of-47 PAT’s and finishing 24-of-25 on field goals.

Wake doesn’t have another player appear on the list until the 3rd team, with offensive lineman Zach Tom and safety Nasir Greer. Linebacker Ja’Cquez Williams made the 4th team defense. Tom paved the way for Wake to have two 1,000 yard receivers, three players rush for over 500 yards, and the combination of Jamie Newman (now at UGA) and Sam Hartman to throw for over 3,000 yards in 2019. Greer made 65 stops with four passes defensed, while Williams made 75 tackles with 6.5 for a loss and 3.5 sacks.

Scheme on O

Sam Hartman came in late to replace an injured Jamie Newman and played well enough to secure the starting spot and see Newman leave for the Georgia Bulldogs. Hartman averaged 8.6 yards per attempt, completed 57% of his passes, and threw four touchdowns with two interceptions. Hartman will miss quarterback-turned-receiver Kendall Hinton who also hauled in 1,001 receiving yards and four scores.

Ah this picture should look quite familiar, it’s 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end) with a winged h-back. That’s the NCAA and NFL offense at this point. First, I’m running the damn ball to the strong (H’s) side here at the way UNC is lined up. Bubble your slot, work your H up to the linebacker or safety (first to show) and it’s a 20 yard explosive play.

Wake runs inside zone read and waits absolutely forever in a really deep mesh that crawls up to the line of scrimmage. This is drastically different than how most of the FBS programs run inside zone read (see above). Look (see below) at how close to the line of scrimmage the QB works as he’s meshing with the back. The Q can pull much later than on the typical IZR and it helps with RPO’s and options because it forces defenders to commit. It also puts the Q closer to danger and can result in your quarterback taking unnecessary punishment.

The delayed mesh also sets up play-action passes. Coach Rumph needs to hope D.J. Ivey has overcome his penchant for falling asleep on plays and Bubba Bolden, Gurvan Hall, etc at safety are also awake.

The quick play fake and the bubble fake will draw linebackers and safeties up, and allow Surratt to get 1-on-1 and even potentially behind defenders. Surratt averaged 15 yards per catch last season, not eye popping (17+ would be eye popping) but certainly nothing to ignore.

Scheme on D

Wake Forest runs a traditional 4-2-5 defense on most downs. UNC runs a pretty typical 11 personnel offense focused on inside zone, split zone, and counter while using RPO’s and Air Raid passing schemes. Phil Longo wants to complete passes, pick up first downs and lull you to sleep before hitting a deep bomb downfield.

At the top of the screen, the cornerback at 8-yards off and inside leverage. The nickel is playing head up and 5-yards off the slot receiver. The safety to the trips (two wide receivers and the h-back) side is 10-yards off and playing split between the slot and h-back (#2 and #3, respectively).

Both defensive tackles playing a 3-technique (aligned on the outside shoulder of their respective guard) is odd, but typically that means there’s a blitz or one will stunt inside after the snap. The single receiver side has a safety at 10-yards and the cornerback at 5-yards with the pecker-in stance and eyes on the QB, meaning he’s clearly in zone coverage.

Ways to beat them? Get enough protection to throw a deep dig route and hope your QB is as talented as Sam Howell was as a freshman completing an NFL caliber throw here in traffic.

Wake isn’t going to have the same alleged speed that Miami does. I haven’t seen Miami play fast in years but allegedly there’s speed to burn. Finding ways to get the ball in space is a Rhett Lashlee special and Longo does the same against Wake at UNC. Bullet motion for the back and hitting him on a swing out in space is a great idea for Miami to use with Jaylan Knighton.

Canyonero keys to victory

Miami has to play disciplined defense in order to beat Wake Forest. Without Newman and Hinton the Deacs aren’t as dangerous as they were for most of 2019, but they’re still going to be efficient. The SP+ doesn’t do Wake much justice but Coach Clawson always seems to find away to get chicken salad out of chicken poop. Play-actions, delayed meshes, and RPO’s could prove to be deadly if Miami can’t play gap sound, assignment based football.

On offense, Miami needs to be able to pass protect to slow down the Wake pass rush, but also to hit the deep middle concepts like Y-Cross and Drive that are part of most offenses. The offensive line and Coach Justice will be under the gun to improve quickly during this COVID shortened/adjusted season.

It’ll be a battle of the wits between Clawson and Diaz-Baker. Can Manny Diaz out-coach someone as seasoned and cagey as Dave Clawson? Miami fans sure do hope so as Diaz needs to show vast improvement in his game day coaching abilities in 2020. Wake Forest will show up prepared, will Miami?