Defensive Battle On The Horizon For BC-Wake Forest

Last year’s rendition of Wake Forest University was not a good football team. The Demon Deacons went 3-9, with the only ACC conference win coming in a 6-3 double-overtime tilt against Virginia Tech. In that game, no points were scored in the first four quarters and Hokies’ head coach Frank Beamer (in)famously raised his hands in sarcastic pride when time expired in regulation. The offense last year totaled 16 total touchdowns and its running backs averaged a mere 1.3 yards per carry. This year, Wake (2-3, 0-2 ACC) certainly has improved, boasting an offense that outgained No. 11 Florida State last week and came within a few plays of tying the Seminoles. There is a sense of optimism in the air in North Carolina. It is Boston College’s goal to crush that sense and send its opponents to the basement of the ACC.

For both Wake and BC (3-2, 0-2 ACC), this is must-win game if either wants a chance at making a bowl game. For BC, the Demon Deacons look to be the easiest game left on the schedule, which contains the likes of ranked opponents Clemson and Notre Dame. For Wake, the goal is to keep the dream of a bowl game alive for as long as possible, even if the odds are stacked against them. It may not be “win or go home,” but it might as well be, as the chance for bowl eligibility fades drastically for the loser of this one.

With the Wake offense improved but certainly not impressive, BC will need to do its best to disrupt freshman quarterback Kendall Hinton, who took over for the injured starter, sophomore John Wolford. The latter started the season well, passing for 300 yards in each of his first two contests against Elon and Syracuse. Despite the yardage, he has turned the ball over three times. Wolford, however, was injured in the first quarter of the Army game, and Hinton has been in control since.

The true freshman brings a running presence to head coach Dave Clawson’s offense, running for over 100 yards in his two starts. His presence has brought an energy to a languid rushing attack, albeit at the cost of passing efficiency. Hinton is completing just over 50 percent of his passes this year, which bodes well for a BC defense who has given up the least yards through the air. The dual threat abilities of Hinton should be contained by a defense that already held FSU QB Everett Golson to four yards rushing and only 119 passing.

The Eagles’ defense should also look to get pressure on young Hinton early, hoping to knock him out of his rhythm and to keep him from getting back into one. BC head coach Steve Addazio will look to exploit the inexperience at the edges of the Wake Forest line held down by Phil Haynes (right tackle) and Justin Herron (left tackle), both of whom are redshirt freshmen. If the Eagles can collapse the pocket and force Hinton to throw, it could be a long day for the Wake Forest offense. Wake’s running game is not potent enough to cause enough problems for the BC front seven, assuming it maintains the dominant form that it has held for the past five games.

BC’s offense will decide the game. It faces a 3-4 scheme Wake Forest defense that has been extremely disciplined with regards to both penalties (committing a mere 27 yards per game) and assignments. Its stars come from the starting linebacking corps of Hunter Williams, Brandon Chubb, and Marquel Lee, one of the best units in the ACC. The defense’s biggest failure this season, though, has been forcing turnovers. Despite holding opposing offenses to 300 total yards per game, the Deacons have generated a stunning zero turnovers.

Wake is also weak at the pass rush. Last week at FSU, Wake could not get consistent pressure and Golson repeatedly had all day to throw. Only when Wake Forest defensive coordinator Mike Elko blitzed his safeties or overloaded a side did the Seminoles feel any heat. The inexperienced BC offensive line should buy time for Troy Flutie and Jeff Smith against three and four man fronts. Pressure should be even less against Smith, as Wake will most likely have a spy in the middle of the field for the running oriented quarterback. Flutie will probably see more than a few blitzes but the Deacon front seven, so quick and accurate decision making will absolutely necessary. The quarterbacks for BC cannot turn the ball over if they want to win this game.

Open field tackling is also an issue in the Wake secondary. The linebackers are physical and don’t make mistakes at the line of scrimmage and in the middle of the field. The cornerbacks and safeties for Wake, however, failed to wrap up on more than one occasion so far this season, turning opponents’ 1-yard losses into 5-yard gains. If BC wants to win, is should throw screen passes into the flats and hope for a broken or missed tackle. BC cannot plan for yards after contact in the running game, so running up the middle on the Wake front seven seems an exercise in futility, especially without injured starter Jonathan Hilliman.

All signs point to this being a defensive struggle, where a pick-six or a scoop-and-score could be the only touchdown by either team. And who knows? There might be a repeat of the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest game last year.

Featured Image by Drew Hoo / Heights Editor

October 10, 2015