First look: Wake Forest

NC State's spring football wrapped up with the annual spring game on April 12. With football season quickly approaching, The Wolfpacker takes an in-depth look at the team's upcoming opponents in 2014.
It's a new era for Wake Forest football. After 13 years of being piloted by Jim Grobe - the last five of which were losing seasons and featured just one bowl appearance - Dave Clawson takes the helm. He is the former head man at Fordham, Richmond and Bowling Green, and he also spent a year as the offensive coordinator at Tennessee in 2008.
It will be a complete rebuilding job for Clawson, who will rank among the ACC's most experienced head coaches with 14 years under his belt, after the graduation of do-it-all receiver Michael Campanaro, four-year starting quarterback Tanner Price, standout nose guard Nikita Whitlock and starting running back Josh Harris, who paced the team in rushing for three of the past four seasons.
The only Wake Forest player to be named to any of Phil Steele's four preseason All-ACC teams was fifth-year cornerback Kevin Johnson, who was tabbed on the third-team. Last year, he led the team with 12 pass breakups and tied with classmate Merrill Noel for a team-best three interceptions. Johnson enters his final campaign with six career interceptions and 27 pass breakups.
Noel is another big-time player, although he has slipped from his 2011 form that allowed him to tie for first in the nation with 21 passes defended and earned him consensus Freshman All-America laurels. He has nine pass breakups and three interceptions in the past two seasons, but should still team with Johnson for a formidable cornerback duo.
Senior safety Anthony Wooding, a former Air Force transfer, and redshirt sophomore Ryan Janvion both started last year and round out the secondary, which should be the team's strength. Janvion led the team with 95 tackles last year en route to All-ACC honorable mention, while Wooding played more and more as the season wore on, especially after the injury to graduated safety A.J. Marshall.
The defense was not terrible last year - it ranked among the nation's top 51 for all four major categories - but there is only one returning starter outside of the secondary, redshirt junior linebacker Brandon Chubb. He ranked second on the team with 88 tackles in 2013; he also tallied three tackles for loss and an interception.
Fellow linebacker Hunter Williams has some starting experience and finished last year with 39 stops; he should be a factor in the new 4-2-5 alignment the Deacs are expected to utilize. The team ran a 3-4 last year, so there has been some position shuffling this offseason.
Only three starters return to the other side of the ball, and they were not very good on offense last season. The best national standing among the four major categories was passing, where they ranked 11th in the league and 96th nationally with an average of just 196.6 yards per game; they ranked dead-last in the ACC and worse than 114th in the other three.
The trio of returning starters are offensive linemen, so the hope is that will greatly improve Wake Forest up front, after they allowed 24 sacks and averaged just 94.2 rushing yards per game. The sack numbers would've been worse had it not been for Price and his experience.
The quarterback battle this spring was between Tyler Cameron, who attempted 24 passes as a redshirt freshman, and redshirt junior Kevin Sousa, who played out wide last year and originally committed to Michigan as a quarterback out of the prep ranks in Florida. Cameron threw three picks in his limited action and completed just 29.2 percent of his throws last year.
The only returning running back with any significant experience from 2013 is redshirt sophomore Dominque Gibson, who rushed 53 times for 138 yards and a score last year. His average of 2.6 yards per carry was not much lower than the team's average of 2.9 yards per tote, and he was moved from the secondary last year.
Senior Orville Reynolds, who arrived in Winston-Salem as a running back but played receiver last season, could also help stabilize the backfield, but at 5-9 and 185 pounds, he can't shoulder a major load by himself. Reynolds caught 12 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing nine times for 36 yards last year.
Sophomore Tyree Harris showed promise last year while finishing second on the team with 23 receptions and is a good-sized target at 6-3. Redshirt sophomores Jonathan Williams and Jared Crump also measure at least 6-3 and combine with Reynolds to give the squad four returners who tallied at least 10 receptions last year. Still, the foursome combined for just 68 receptions, 788 receiving yards and three touchdown catches.
With such an inexperienced offense, the Deacons will have to rely on their defense, which has its own question marks with limited returners among the front seven and a system change. Clawson has a reputation for turning programs around and making the most out of tough situations, but the deck is certainly stacked against him in year one.
Offensive starters returning/lost: 3/8
Defensive starters returning/lost: 5/6
One key thing: Three of the Deacons' four wins last season came at home, including back-to-back conference wins over NC State and Maryland by a combined score of 62-23. They were competitive down the stretch with the exception of a 59-3 drumming at home against National Champion Florida State, but the schedule is not as kind this season.
After its four non-conference games - two of which are away - Wake will travel to Louisville and Florida State. The bye week comes next, so they'll have a chance to recover before hosting Syracuse, Boston College and Clemson in three straight weeks. Their best chance for a league win falls there because the rest of the slate is: at NC State, home against Virginia Tech and at Duke.
Wake is always better at home, which isn't unusual - but there's a drastic difference between their road and home results. In the last seven years, they are 17-11 in ACC home games, but just 6-22 against conference foes on the road. To further compound that stat, the home team has won the last seven times that the Pack and Deacons have played.
Wolfpack connection: Chubb, the Deacons' top linebacker, is the older brother of NCSU freshman defensive end Bradley Chubb. The elder Chubb was ranked as a two-star recruit coming out of Hillgrove High in Georgia and was a key special teams contributor before emerging as the team's top linebacker last season.
Bradley was listed as a three-star prospect coming out of Hillgrove. Their father, Aaron, lettered at Georgia as a linebacker from 1985-88 and was selected in the 12th round of the 1989 NFL Draft by the Patriots.
Previous first looks
Georgia Southern
Old Dominion
South Florida
Florida State
Boston College
Georgia Tech
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