Opponent Outlook: Wake Forest has widespread issues

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

It's been a tough football season at Wake Forest.

The Demon Deacons (3-6) have managed victories over Elon, Army and Boston College, and will come into Notre Dame Stadium Saturday with a three-game losing streak.

They have had an off week to deal with the frustration of a 20-19 loss to Louisville.

Dan Collins, columnist with the Winston Salem (N.C.) Journal, adds some perspective to their visit.

ND Insider: What have been the primary factors that have contributed to the tough season?

Dan Collins: In the history of Wake Forest football, the Deacons have never been young and good. That's why when former coach Jim Grobe followed the Orange Bowl 2006 season with winning records in 2007 and 2008, it was the first time the Deacons had three straight winning seasons since the inception of the ACC in 1954. And this year they're one of the youngest teams in college football. On its two-deep depth chart, Wake lists 10 freshmen, 11 redshirt freshmen and 26 sophomores or redshirt sophomores.

NDI: How has the program handled the one-point loss to Louisville?

Collins: Coach Dave Clawson called it the toughest loss of the season. He's been saying all along that there's a substantial gap between the Deacons and the ACC's elite, but they have to start knocking off the middle-echelon teams such as Syracuse and Louisville and N.C. State. Wake Forest did get its long-awaited open date, which allowed the Deacons to help heal their bumps and bruises. Alex Kinal, one of the best punters in the nation, could hardly walk during the Louisville game because of a sore groin. The time off will definitely help him.

NDI: What is the difference between quarterbacks Kendall Hinton (88 of 172, 907 yards, 3 TDs, 5 int.) and John Wolford (88 of 148, 1,143 yards, 7 TDs, 8 int.)?

Collins: John Wolford is the better passer and knows the offense far better, having started all 12 games last season and seven of nine this season. He's played on a sprained ankle since the second game at Syracuse, but he was healthier against Louisville than he's been since the injury. Kendall Hinton is a bit scatter-armed, and his knowledge of the offense is limited, but he's a greater threat running the ball (82 carries, 316 yards, 6 TDs). He has made some really electric plays this season.

NDI: What has gone into the Deacons' offensive line giving up 31 sacks?

Collins: Wake Forest has had a perennial problem in the offensive line really since the heyday of Jim Grobe. Clawson, upon arrival before the 2014 season, identified it as the biggest problem he faced in his efforts to rebuild the program. So he installed two redshirt freshmen — Justin Herron and Phil Haynes — as starting tackles from the outset of spring practice. Both have struggled. Hayes struggled so badly against Louisville he was pulled for the first time all season. But they'll get better, and when they do, Clawson feels he'll have twin pillars to build a solid offensive line around.

NDI: What would have to happen for Wake Forest to upset Notre Dame?

Collins: For Wake Forest to beat Notre Dame, it would be the biggest upset in school history since the 1946 Deacons beat No. 4 Tennessee in Knoxville. And that Wake team, coached by Peahead Walker, was a strong team that finished 6-3. The Deacons are not a strong team this season.

North Carolina's Junior Gnonkonde sacks Wake Forest quarterback John Wolford (10) during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015. North Carolina won 50-14. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)