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Meet Wake Forest, which is in a brand new era but ain’t feeling so great

Florida State v Wake Forest
Why do I feel like there’s a guy right behind me just now?
Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Wake Forest has been a model of consistency and peskiness ever since Dave Clawson got his feet underneath him. The Deacs have been to seven straight bowl games, which is easily the longest streak in school history, and it’s to Clawson’s credit that Sam Hartman’s departure for Notre Dame didn’t feel like a five-alarm fire.

It was going to hurt, but it didn’t feel like a disaster in the making. Mitch Griffis was already the heir apparent at quarterback—Wake didn’t bring in any transfers to compete with him—and Wake had the support of a deep wide receiver group to ease the transition.

But it’s been rough going all the same, with the drop off from the offense primarily responsible for what has been a struggle of a season. The Deacs averaged 36 points per game and 5.7 yards per play in 2022, and have seen those numbers tumble to 22 and 5.0, respectively. So what happened?

The simple answer is that Griffis hasn’t been close to Hartman’s quality; he has nine touchdown passes against seven picks, and averages 192 yards per game on 7.5 per attempt. Hartman averaged over 300 yards per game on 8.6 per attempt last year.

Hartman’s excellence helped Wake get by despite an unremarkable running game, but suddenly that’s become a bit more visible. The production is basically the same: 3.37 YPC last year, 3.38 this year.

And there’s no A.T. Perry on this team, either. For the last five years, Wake has had a standout WR1: Greg Dortch, Sage Surratt, Jaquarii Roberson, Perry. Donavon Greene might could have been that guy for the Deacs this year but suffered a knee injury in camp.

This is not to say Wake’s receiver group is a slouch—Jahmal Banks in particular is an excellent player—but the Deacs are missing the big-play material they’ve had to work with in the past. In a transition year at quarterback, they could have used that.

In general it’s been a year where Wake doesn’t really seem to have much identity on the offensive side, and that’s odd, especially when we’ve all become conditioned to expect that stupid slow mesh in the ground game. But the jig is up there.

Wake’s offense is converting on only 36% of its third downs this season; it is also an impressive 3-11 on fourth downs. These are the things that stack against one’s psyche as a season progresses.

All the down-to-down stuff aside, sometimes you just need the stupid pointy sportsball to do you a stupid favor with its stupid bounces. Wake is -5 in turnover margin on the season, which is its worst margin since finishing -13 in 2015. (Still time to turn it around!) When the franchise quarterback and the turnover luck go out the same door, the cracks tend to show.