Florida State Opponent Preview: Wake Forest

Florida State takes on Wake Forest this Saturday in what will be the first ranked matchup inside Doak Campbell Stadium since the 2018 season opener against Virginia Tech. 

Wake Forest will be coming off a double-overtime loss to Clemson while FSU hopes to keep the momentum rolling after a beat down of Boston College. 

From a broad view, this game looks to be a shootout between two high-powered offenses. However, it will likely be decided by which defense steps up to the challenge that lies ahead. 

Wake Forest got the best of FSU last year 35-14 in an ugly game that saw FSU have 6 turnovers. But this is a different FSU team and with it looking like Doak will still be packed despite the hurricane it should be a much better showing.

One interesting stat I saw yesterday, Wake is 3-12 in stadiums above 45k since 2016. I don’t know who took the time to find that out but kudos to them because it is interesting. We just saw in the BC game where their players said they couldn’t hear due to the noise. 

If you think about it FSU, Clemson, and Virginia Tech are the only ACC teams known for their loud noise. With a home stadium capacity of just over 31 thousand, it’s not like Wake is used to playing in front of large crowds. When you’re playing an offense as good as Wake’s you’ll take every advantage you can get. Let’s take a look at what the Demon Deacons are bringing to Tallahassee.

Offensive Preview

The Wake offense is led by the talented veteran quarterback Sam Hartman. They run a unique “slow mesh” style offense which can be tricky to defend, and you have to stay disciplined on defense. Imagine watching a normal RPO offense but in slow motion.

As fluky as this offense seems Wake is good at running it and has found success doing so. Their offense is the strength of this team, in particular the passing game, and they tend to find themselves in a lot of high-scoring shootouts.

Sam Hartman is probably the best quarterback FSU will face all season. Let’s take a quick look at the passer profile for him.

Hartman has multiple talented targets to throw to as well. His top three are A.T. Perry, Jahmal Banks and Donavon Greene who have a combined 45 catches for 748 yards and 9 touchdowns.

Wake has a total of 6 receivers with over 100 yards, 5 with multiple touchdowns, and 4 with a 70+ PFF grade. This will undoubtedly be the biggest test for the FSU secondary so far this season.

I like the FSU secondary, but I do have some concerns as well. FSU does have the 16th-ranked pass defense but to be fair they’ve played one FCS team and two run-first quarterbacks. They just haven’t been tested yet as they will on Saturday.

The other thing about the way they run this offense is it draws a lot of pass interference calls. A lot of their plays are just deep passes where Hartman chunks it high and far and lets his receivers go get it. This can put a defensive back in a tough spot sometimes. Hartman is also very effective at throwing the deep ball with a big time throw percentage of 27.6% and a completion percentage of 46.2% on passes over 20 yards which is really good.

While it does provide opportunities to get interceptions, a lot of times it results in a flag. In fact, during the Clemson game Wake had 129 yards in the first half and 85 of those came solely from pass interference calls against Clemson.

Clemson’s secondary got somewhat exposed in this game. To be fair they did have a few guys out though. I already thought that was Clemson’s largest weakness and coincidently they got torched by Wake. I haven’t seen anything to make me believe the FSU secondary is dominant, but I do think it’s better than what Clemson has.

Wake has an experienced offensive line that returned all five starters from a year ago. However, Clemson was able to pressure Hartman to the tune of 17 pressures and 4 sacks which is something FSU needs to do as well.

When looking at Hartman under pressure vs not the difference is clear, but it’s not as simple as bringing the house. Hartman is actually better at passing against the blitz.

Obviously, if you don’t get home you’re asking for trouble. Let’s look at some advanced stats below comparing pressured vs non-pressured passing and blitzed vs non-blitzed. 

  • Kept Clean 72.7%
  • 55/84 (65.5%) 11 Tds | 2 Ints | PFF 80
  • Pressured 27.3%
  • 9/19 (47.4%) 2 Tds | 0 Ints | PFF 61.9
  • Blitzed 45.5%
  • 33/48 (68.8%) 488 Yds | 8 Td | 1 Int
  • PFF 90.7 | 4 Sacks 
  • Not Blitzed 54.5%
  • 31/55 (56.4%) 474 yds | 5 Td | 1 Int
  • PFF 58.1 – Sacks 5

As you can see if you can pressure Hartman without devoting too many resources to do it that’s where you’ll find the most success.

The Wake run game has struggled this season. They are currently 104th in rushing offense and 117th in rushing success rate with both main backs averaging under 5 yards per carry. While the slow mesh can be tricky to defend and open up huge running lanes, I have been very impressed with the linebacker play at FSU this season. They will have a big influence on the outcome of the game and I have grown to trust this group to make plays when it counts.

Unfortunately, I think the defense will be without two very important starters in Fabien Lovett and Jared Verse (Verse is a possibility but I don’t think we see Lovett). However, if the defense plays disciplined, they are talented enough to have success. I look for Robert Cooper to have a big influence in this game in the middle.

I’m definitely not a defensive coordinator but in my opinion, FSU should gamble on stopping Hartman and the passing game. You have to feel better about your chances against the 104th-ranked rush game vs the 16th-ranked pass offense. For a better picture let’s take a look the Wake Forest offensive stats so far this season.

I still think Wake Forest will get theirs. I wouldn’t be surprised if they had 400+ yards and scored over 30 points. In the preseason I figured this game would be a high-scoring shootout that I wasn’t sure FSU had the offense to win. However, as we transition to the other side of the ball that’s no longer the case.

Defensive Preview

The Wake Forest defense has not been nearly as good as their offense. They have allowed 987 yards and 87 points in their last 2 games. They have improved under new defensive coordinator Brad Lambert but still lack the talent to keep up with most conference teams. Let’s take a look at the defensive stats for Wake so far this season. 

WF defense stats

The FSU offense has been off to a hot start this season averaging over 500 yards per game. They just faced the 72nd-ranked defense against Boston College which allows an average of 378.5 yards per game and FSU put up 530 yards on them. Coincidentally, Wake is tied with BC for the 72nd-ranked defense and also allows an average of 378.5 yards per game.

Taking into consideration that FSU currently has the 15th ranked total offense and put up over 530 yards and 44 points on a similar level of defense. And that Clemson who has the 40th ranked offense put up 559 yards and 51 points on this Wake defense. I would like to believe FSU should be able to put up over 500 yards and somewhere around 40+ points. I know it’s not that simple but seems plausible.

Their defensive front doesn’t move the line of scrimmage much. They also didn’t get a lot of pressure on the Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei. DJ lit them up through the air with 371 yards and 5 touchdowns despite not having thrown for over 250 yards yet this season.

Wake had a hard time defending the size Clemson has at wide receiver and tight end which sounds excellent when you think about the size FSU has at receiver now too. Wake drew their fair share of pass interference calls trying to defend them.

I will give them credit; Wake is not a terrible defense and they make plays. They are just outmanned on most occasions. FSU should be able to work the run and pass against this defense. That has been one nice thing about the offense so far, they can attack you either way.

Florida State can force defenses to pick their poison whether you want to try and stop the three-headed monster FSU has in the backfield or try to stop Jordan Travis and this receiver group.

FSU will need a big game from its offense though. You have to keep pace with Wake because they can score in a hurry and are not a team you want to play catch-up with.

Also, keep in mind Wake had the worst red zone defense in all of college football allowing 100% of trips to turn into points. That could certainly be a factor in this one. However, they did force Clemson to kick a lot of field goals, and well…you already know how that has gone for FSU. 

Final Thoughts and Prediction

Every game is important but this one feels crucial for FSU. Not only does it keep the momentum rolling, keep you ranked, but it also keeps you in control of your destiny in the race for the ACC Atlantic.

Knowing that Wake took Clemson to double overtime, if you beat Wake you feel a lot better about that game too. Not to mention we’ll see how the game between Clemson and NC State goes.

A game like this, in my opinion, is one in which the offenses are going to make plays, but which defense do you trust more to make enough stops to win the game? For me, that’s the FSU defense.

I think they have more talent across the board with or without some impact players and are also at home with the crowd advantage. While on that note, if Jared Verse can play it could very well be a huge factor in the outcome of the game. Wake’s left tackle has been poor in pass blocking and could be an opportunity for Verse to make an impact.

Either way, I think this one will be close and challenging but I’m going to take FSU to win at home. If I had to tack a score on, I’d say something like 41-34 FSU. Thanks for reading and Go Noles!

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