The fourth game of last season was the Notre Dame explosion, when Wake Forest dropped to 2-2 and its defense was gashed repeatedly by a first-time starting quarterback.
Well, obviously we know more about Ian Book at this point.
We also know a lot more about the Deacons’ defense under Lyle Hemphill at this point.
Coach Dave Clawson made it clear after the third game last season, when Boston College threw it all over BB&T Field, that something was going to have to change for his team’s defense. When the mistakes repeated against the Irish — players out of position, communication issues — defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel was fired the next day.
I remember working in the press box after the Notre Dame game, and looking over to the David F. Couch Ballpark and seeing that Wake Forest’s baseball team was going through workouts. It seemed odd to see, after there were 30,000 people watching a football game underneath us mere hours ago.
In the aftermath of Saturday’s win, the same scene played out. A couple of hours after blowing past Elon, there was the baseball team going through a workout.
The football game went a little differently.
Here’s something stripped from below. Now, Elon isn’t Notre Dame, if that really needs to be said. But regardless of opponent, this is a vastly different defense from 365 days ago.
• Elon had 112 yards on 21 plays in the first quarter. Means the Phoenix had 71 yards on 33 plays for the rest of the game.
Here’s what I picked up on while re-watching the game:
• Evan Lepler on the call, going to be a good re-watch.
• Homecoming, 75 degrees, barely a cloud in the sky, unbeaten team receiving a little national buzz and … the crowd was kind of sparse. I'm not talking in the second half when the game was in hand — there weren't many butts in seats for kickoff. Announced attendance was 24,079, probably accurate.
I get that it’s Elon, it’s not the season opener and it’s not North Carolina. Just figured that, for homecoming and the first Saturday game, there’d be a few thousand more.
• Kenneth Walker III has to find somebody to block if he’s not going to catch the kickoff. There, might be the only negative thing I say of him for this game.
• Cade Carney explodes for a 12-yard run on the first play, but was really more about a massive hole opened by the Beef Boys (plus Jack Freudenthal).
Also, here was Dave Clawson on getting Carney back in the mix: “We wanted to try to get him about 20 to 25 reps, and just get him carries and back into the groove a little bit as we head into ACC play. The great thing is we have three backs and we confidence in all three of them. … And really this was a game that we were going to say they’re going to play a third, a third, a third.”
“I think Cade got his reps and got to play and hopefully he has some confidence with his injury and his health now that he’s full go for BC.”
• Really decisive and smooth read on Jamie Newman’s first pass, RPO slant to Scotty Washington.
• Newman overthrows Jaquarii Roberson on a third-and-4 screen, doubles over at waist and claps his hands — about as frustrated as you’ll ever see him get.
• Strange to see Elon’s Bryson Daughtry fair-catch a pass inside the 5-yard line, but coverage team was down there to prevent a touchback.
• Misfit run means 13-yard run up the gut on Elon’s first play.
• Second play, Rondell Bothroyd twists with Ja’Corey Johns and Bothroyd blasts Davis Cheek as he released, causing overthrow.
• I don’t know who was supposed to block Justin Strnad, but whoever was, uh, didn’t.
• Here’s where it’s apropos to point out: Elon was missing its slot receiver, tight end and left tackle. Not the easiest thing for an FCS team to punch up a division without those pieces.
• Elon player’s helmet comes off rather easily on facemask penalty against Ryan Smenda Jr., but he shouldn’t have been in post-play scuffle to begin with.
• Strnad goes around the left tackle to blow up a screen pass, after Essang Bassey had already blown by the receiver trying to block him.
Might not be the only time I say this here: Wake Forest simply overpowered Elon, so the Deacons did exactly what they were supposed to do.
• Luke Masterson gets a heavy shot on Cheek from behind. Wake Forest did well to make him uncomfortable early.
• 25-yard punt return for Sage Surratt, he does that a few more times and I’ll stop calling him the most unnatural-looking punt returner I’ve ever seen.
• A little unfair of Dave Archer to say Newman got off to a “slow start to his career” at Wake Forest. What was supposed to happen, bench John Wolford in 2016 or ’17? And Kendall Hinton? Not get hurt last year?
• Another smooth RPO slant to Washington.
• [DJ Khaled voice] Another one, this time to Surratt to get to the 4-yard line.
• Roberson almost with the catch of the year, nice play by Elon’s Tre’Von Jones to push Roberson out.
• OK, so on the touchdown it looks like Brandon Chapman and Roberson are blocking on Washington’s touchdown. I think — and I emphasize that word, because I’m not sure — they can block there because Washington runs his route behind the line of scrimmage. Pretty sure the Deacons got a touchdown on a play like that last year, and an opposing coach was going nuts about it.
• “Delighted to be playing football on a Saturday afternoon, the way it was meant to be played.” — love it, Evan.
• Amari Henderson had four tackles in this game, three of them on consecutive hitches on Elon’s second possession.
• [DJ Khaled voice] Another one, this time to Roberson. Newman’s confidence in his arm strength on throws over the middle is high.
• Really nice throw on sideline, over head of short-field coverage in a place that Surratt could make a play on the ball.
• That’s a great play by Roberson for his first touchdown. Runs a good route to get the first down on fourth-and-4, breaks a couple of tackles and sprung for the rest by a good block by Surratt.
• Elon’s third possession, and this is when they score. It’s also when Wake Forest subbed — by design — nearly every starter out for a backup.
• Third-and-2 and Elon takes Cheek off the field for backup QB Joey Baughman. A certain angel on my shoulder (or one sitting in the seat next to mine) pointed out that this was a nice look for the Phoenix.
• So, Baughman keeps and picks up 10 yards. Probably forgivable if that wasn’t on tape.
• I think Royce Francis gets held there. Again: motor does not quit. He’s going to be a really good player.
• The second-team defense can’t come in and just refuse to tackle.
• Strnad, Masterson and Boogie Basham back in the game, 1-yard run. To his credit, Chase Monroe in the mix, too.
Projecting to next year, Wake Forest will have to adjust to life after Strnad. Monroe, Ja’Cquez Williams, Chase Jones and D.J. Taylor will make for an interesting competition to start alongside Smenda. The Deacons can still be strong at linebacker.
• Pocket collapsing, nice throw by Cheek for the touchdown. Avery Jones beat Isaiah Essissima.
• Bobbled kickoff at the 10, got the 17-yard line. #NotgoodDino moment from Christian Beal-Smith.
• If such a thing exists as “most-important drive of the game” in a 49-7 win, it’s this one for Wake Forest.
• The ball needs to go to Walker. He never gets tackled by the first player to get to him, always takes more than one, always has the feel like he’s one cut away from breaking something long — he’s just an electric ball-carrier.
• There is a considerable amount of Matt Colburn II patience in Walker’s running style, and that fits the extended mesh point zone reads.
• Great read, powerful run by Newman to pick up third-and-1 inside the 5-yard line.
• Smooth route, quick release off the ball on Surratt’s 5-yard touchdown catch. Newman put it in the perfect spot, too.
• Sulaiman Kamara has been dependable for about 2-3 standout plays per game.
• Basham forces Cheek from the pocket with a bull rush, and there’s Kamara’s second standout play in this three-and-out.
• Nearly a blocked punt for Henderson.
• AGAIN: The camera freaking loves Traveon Redd’s dad, and his No. 1 finger prop.
• Washington diving catch over the middle for 41 yards. He said it reminded him of the Birmingham Bowl catch because it was the same play. I told him it also harkened back to the Belk Bowl catch, and I thought he only made those catches in bowl games.
“Naw, not anymore, changing it up,” was his response.
• Kind of an inadvertent facemask on Freudenthal. Weird to get called for one of those while run-blocking.
• For a human battering ram, Carney does actually have decent hands out of the backfield.
• “Personal foul … participated with his helmet off” is just a strange, strange penalty. I understand and I’m sure it’s a rule that was followed, but the guy’s helmet comes off when he’s 10 yards away from the play — and he never gets closer than that. It’s strange for football to have a penalty for playing hard.
• Up to 360 carries for Carney without a fumble.
• There’s the interception. Looks to me like the ball just needed to be thrown a little more to the outside and it’s a touchdown.
• Fourth time they’ve thrown a short hitch to Henderson’s side of the field, fourth tackle he’s made. He’s played better in the past two games from the first two.
• Second-and-3, TFL because Mike Allen got great push up the middle.
• Three-and-out, the third-down pass a deep shot to Washington in one-on-one coverage. I think that’s the one Clawson was talking about that he thinks it was a good throw by Newman, but that Washington misjudged it.
• Nice special-teams tackle for Ja’Cquez Williams.
• Three-and-out for the Phoenix, and a great play by Strnad to get the third-down sack. On a roll out to the left, he picks a spot between the blockers, misses Cheek, Bothroyd redirects Cheek, and Strnad keep pursuing to get the sack.
• That’s an awesome story from Lepler about Strnad reaching out to Rice quarterback Wiley Green on instagram.
Also, to note: Green passed for 128 yards Saturday against Baylor, which won 21-13. Baylor is one of 23 unbeaten teams in the country. Now, their quality of competition hasn’t been high (Stephen F. Austin, Rice and UT San Antonio), but Rice sticking with the Bears further illustrates that that’s an improving program under Mike Bloomgren.
• Walker runs for 9 yards on second-and-7 with about 1:40 left, and that gives Wake Forest’s offense the green light to go into a two-minute drill. Justin Herron and Sean Maginn had great blocks to open it up for Walker to cut back to the left.
• And on the next play, Walker picks up a blitzing linebacker up the middle and holds his own in pass protection.
• Weird that Newman was on point for the first 4-5 slants, and then got a little wild high later in the game. Usually think of quarterbacks starting wild, getting the ball down.
• Steve Claude had three of the toughest catches for 16 yards I’ve seen in a while. So, remember: It’s never too late to be a breakout player.
• Didn’t realize Loic Ngassam Nya was in at right guard for this drive. Assuming Nathan Gilliam got a break — don’t recall seeing him get injured.
• There’s the 48-yard touchdown to Surratt, who only went to the slot during this drive because Roberson was shaken up on the third-down pass interference play. Offensive line gave Newman a clean pocket, he delivered a beautiful deep ball between and behind the safeties.
• Oh, and Walker picked up another blitz up the middle.
• Dion Bergan Jr. isn’t going to be a guy who racks up stats, but he’s been tremendously valuable in the middle of the Deacons’ defensive line.
• Cool halftime segment with Clawson talking about how he finds quality time with his family during football season.
Wholeheartedly believe Clawson would be a teacher if he wasn’t a football coach. The most excited he ever gets during practices — other than when talking to Les Johns of Demon Deacon Digest and myself, of course — is when teaching players end-of-game situations and that kind of thing.
• Second half underway with a Ja’Corey Johns (no relation to Les) tackle for 0 yards. He played a nice game. Again: Wake Forest’s young defensive line doesn’t lack talent, doesn’t lack athleticism and probably most importantly, every one of the younger D-linemen seems to play with a motor that never pauses.
• Essissima’s block in the back costs Wake Forest about 50 yards (or more) in field position. No wonder Clawson lights into him when he comes off the field.
• Bubble screen to Roberson on first down of Newman’s final drive. Great downfield blocking by Washington, too.
• Ngassam Nya and Maginn out there as guards again. So, checking on Gilliam’s health will be imperative Tuesday.
• Great job of Newman to navigate his way to a fourth-and-1 conversion. Beal-Smith got blown up in the backfield, had to keep, had to make a cut behind the line and get what he could.
• The 1-yard scramble on first down is the great 1-yard scramble I’ve ever seen. Newman told us after the game: “Just, you know, things like that just happen. Just have to be able to stand in there and make a play.”
My response: “Things like that don’t just happen. (laughter) Take the initial it, spin, and then are you looking downfield?”
“I was looking for Scotty Washington for a second, but then I could feel a guy on my back hip, so I just tucked it, saved a play,” Newman said. “I was going to throw it away for a second. But I felt like that guy, if I would have cocked back for it, he probably would’ve strip-sacked me. I just wanted to get as much as I could, minimize the chance for the defense.”
• Carney had a massive hole on third-and-3 and just gets tripped by Newman, who only steps into Carney because he takes on a hit from the unblocked man.
• Fourth-and-2, single coverage on Washington — same principle that applied to Greg Dortch on third downs last year. That’s where the ball should go.
• Three-and-out when Elon gets the ball back — kick returner Shamari Wingard didn’t do the offense any favors with a muffed fair catch.
• Enter Michael Kern, and he takes a shot on his first pass (a nice little 7-yard bubble screen to Surratt).
• Walker needs the ball.
• Ah, next play is his fumble. And he recovered it. So, with not blocking somebody on kick return, two gripes.
• All due respect: I didn’t know Kern had the wheels to spin and outrun three defenders to the edge for a 9-yard scramble on third-and-9.
• Ngassam Nya and Jake Benzinger open a huge hole on Walker’s touchdown run. And he’s gotta be an offensive lineman’s dream to block for, with how hard he hits the hole.
• OK, OK. Enough talk about Curt Cignetti.
• This is where I stopped taking play-by-play notes.
• There’s Tyler Williams getting into the backfield. Kind of a quiet debut for him, but don’t think you needed him running out there and getting two sacks and three TFLs for it to be a successful game for him. Just ease him into the rotation.
• Prophetic from Lepler on “Appalachian State, a team that could come into Kenan Stadium and beat you.”
• There have been at least five times that the Southern Miss-Alabama score has been on the ticker and it’s been the exact same score. Fun coincidence.
• Spencer Clapp set the edge for DeAndre’ Delaney to get outside for a nice gain.
• Good throw, good catch for Kern to A.T. Perry on third-and-4.
• Delaney runs really hard. Felt like he’d be a decent third running back until seeing Walker in camp — still think Delaney is a decent insurance option.
• Kern is pretty athletic and quick. Can’t wait to hear how sneaky athletic he is in four years or so.
• Nice job by Perry on his touchdown catch to shield the defender away from the ball.
Wake Forest has three wide receivers that it really likes — Surratt, Washington, Claude. If Perry, or Waydale Jones or Donavon Greene, can enter the mix and become a viable fourth option, it’ll only help.
• Chase Jones must be banged up, to not even be on the field with 10 minutes left and a ton of reserves on the field.
• These were an important 10 minutes for Zach Ranson. Wound up with three tackles. He’s going to redshirt, but he’s also one to keep an eye on in the linebacker mix next year, too.
• Ja’Sir Taylor makes up for his muffed punt earlier with a nifty 25-yard return.
• Wake Forest goes over 600 yards of offense in a game for the fifth time in program history. Three of those games came in 2017 (Louisville, at Syracuse, against Texas A&M).
So, four of the five such games have come with Warren Ruggiero as the offensive coordinator.
• We’ll end on that one. Elon runs out the clock.
Thanks for reading.