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B1G nonconference opponent: Wake Forest

We're taking a look at the 2015 nonconference opponents for Big Ten teams. Up now: Wake Forest, which plays Indiana on Sept. 26.

When Dave Clawson took over the Demon Deacons, he knew that ending a streak of five straight losing seasons wouldn’t happen in Year 1 — or even Year 2. But after one of the worst offensive performances the FBS has seen in a decade, folks in Winston-Salem have to wonder: Just when will it get better?

Offense

Unfortunately for Wake Forest, the answer to this question in ’14 was simple: They can’t. In the past decade, no team has averaged fewer yards per game than the Demon Deacons did (216.3), and only one team, SMU, scored fewer ppg (14.8) in ’14. But there is reason for optimism, albeit cautious. Sophomore QB John Wolford, who was sacked 45 times, most in the FBS, showed marked improvement by throwing just one pick over the final four games after starting the season with 13. Sophomore tight end Cam Serigne also emerged as a legitimate weapon with team highs in catches (54), yards (531) and TDs (5). But most important, the O-line has had time to bulk up and add reps.

How you beat the Deacons:For all the potential promise in the passing game, the line’s inability to create holes and the lack of burst from sophomore RBs Dezmond Wortham and Isaiah Robinson offer little hope—208 players rushed for more yards than Wake’s team total of 479. And the Deacons’ average of 1.3 yards per rush was an FBS worst by 0.7 yards. Clawson actually admits he has seen high school O-lines that were bigger than what he had a year ago. If Wake can’t run, Wolford will be a sitting duck once again (10.9 percent sack rate, highest in the FBS).

Defense

How the Deacons beat you:: Perhaps the ACC’s most underappreciated stat in ’14: As poorly as the Deacons played, they still lost just four games by more than two TDs. Credit a D that could defend the pass (186.6 ypg, No. 12 in the FBS; 6.4 ypa, No. 24) and stop teams in the red zone (52.3 percent conversion rate, No. 24). And those stats came despite a Wake offense that scored a TD on just 10.5 percent of its drives, second worst in the FBS. But departed standout CBs Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel (3 INTs) will be sorely missed, and the six returning starters on the front seven have to step up their ability to get in the backfield, primarily LBs Brandon Chubb, Marquel Lee and Hunter Williams, who combined for 25 tackles for loss and 8 sacks in ’14.

How you beat the Deacons: The D-line was green in ’14, and it showed: Wake ranked No. 12 in the ACC in rush ypg (182.7) and No. 10 in yards per rush (4.4); it allowed Army and NC State to gain more than 300 rushing yards. Clawson has to hope that group gained enough reps to help out a trio of new starters in the secondary. CB Brad Watson is emerging, and Rutgers transfer Bryant Gross-Armiento could add depth, but Wake’s offense isn’t equipped to get into any shootouts, especially if the DBs can’t hold up.