Football analyst John Vogel has some thoughts on the creativity of the Wake Forest offensive scheme. In this, Vogel shows how Wake Forest masks their weaknesses within their scheme.
The entire point of a scheme in football is to utilize the strengths of players to form a strong football team. The more players can overcome their weaknesses and play to their strengths, the better your team will always be. In the Wake Forest offense, they are doing an incredible job of hiding weakness and utilizing power.
I got my first chance to watch Wake Forest this season live in week four on Friday night against Virginia. During the game, I couldn’t help but notice that the offense was very explosive despite the inconsistent performance of quarterback Sam Hartman.
Head coach Dave Clawson has been in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, for eight years as the head man of this program. He has a 40-45 record with the Demon Deacons, having to spend a few rough years in the brig rebuilding. The Demon Deacons haven’t done it with highly ranked recruits, as most of the players we see as standout talents were vastly overlooked in high school. This is a program full of players with something to prove.
Right now, Wake Forest is averaging almost 39 points per game. They have comfortably beat everyone that they have played. What is Clawson cooking up in Winston-Salem that’s working so well?
The Scouting Report on the Wake Forest Offense
Sam Hartman enters his third season as the starting quarterback for the Demon Deacons. His freshman year in 2018 was cut short by a broken leg, where he surrendered the starting job to Jamie Newman. Hartman returned following Newman’s ill-fated transfer to Georgia in 2020 and hasn’t missed a game since.
The problem with Hartman is that even though he’s an experienced quarterback (19 career starts entering 2021), he’s still not seeing or understanding the game the way you would expect. He still hesitates to make throws. He still struggles to get the ball out on time and doesn’t have the most efficient accuracy in the country. The offense revolves around the quarterback. You can have elite playmakers across the board, but they are ineffective if the quarterback can’t get the ball to them. Wake Forest has a bunch of playmakers, too.
The offensive line is not a strong running front. They do not consistently get push up front and force their running backs, led by Christian Beal-Smith, to create opportunities for big plays. They are much better suited to sit back and play pass protection. That forces Wake Forest to extend the running game with the pass.
Schematics: Simplifying passing reads for Sam Hartman
As a result of Hartman’s lack of processing ability, Wake Forest has to find a way to simplify reads and scheme players open. The faster that they can make that happen, the better the offense will be.
Let’s look at our first concept from Wake Forest. This is a double post concept where they send a deep crossing route across the posts. The double post pulls all sorts of attention to the near side of the field. The safeties in their deep zones are forced to react to the overwhelming number of deep targets moving their way. However, in this case, they are playing zone coverage across the board.
With the deep crosser, the zones have already been vacated to account for the double post. The defenders playing underneath don’t have that kind of depth to affect the route, either. As a result, Taylor Morin is wide open. So open that even with the hesitation to throw from Hartman, who’s second-guessing himself, no defensive back is in a position to make any play.
Adjusting the concept for effectiveness against man coverage
The concept above is so effective against zone coverage, but not necessarily against man. The double post requires the receiver to win the repetition and force Hartman to make an accurate read on the play in man coverage. Wake Forest tries to give him a wide-open receiver on every play so that he doesn’t have to do that.
This concept still incorporates the double post. However, this time, Wake Forest adds a switch concept to create traffic over the middle of the field for the defense to get caught up in. The switch crosses simultaneously, putting two receivers running opposite directions at about the exact moment. The hope is that the confusion forces a defender to lose a step and let a man create separation.
In the case of this play, the defenders weren’t confused. Instead, AT Perry was wide open on the deep post. In man coverage, the defense typically has two defenders playing deep zone coverage. You are still sending three deep receivers, and the safeties have to decide which cornerbacks they will help in coverage. This concept overwhelms them and forces the defense to stretch out fully. Hartman only has to read the reaction of the safeties to find his man.
How the Run/Pass Option forces defenses to respect the scheme
By now, everyone understands what a run/pass option is. We’ve heard the term thrown around in the broadcast booth (even in situations where it’s a read-option, not a run/pass option). Almost every analyst has explained it. You, dear reader, are not a child. I’m not going to break down what an RPO is for you.
Both of the concepts that we’ve shown you take time to develop, which means that the offensive line has to protect the quarterback for an extended period of time. This is why the run attack has to be effective for Wake Forest. Otherwise, a defense can pin their ears back and blitz the quarterback all game. Their choice of keeping the defense respecting them is the RPO.
Hartman starts his read by counting the box defenders. In this example, there are six. The odds are even to run the football, having a blocker for every defender in the box (the tight end makes six blockers).
Hartman has options here. The first read is the edge defender at the near side of the screen. The tight end creates the impression by lining up where he does that he will be blocking him. When he cuts inside, it leaves that edge rusher free to attack where he will. The tight end serves as an extra blocker where the Demon Deacons want to run the football, helping the numbers.
The passing concept allows Hartman to make a pre-snap read. Does he have the slant inside? If he wants to pull and throw the slant, he reads the near-side linebacker. Chances are the linebacker will cheat into the run action and leave the middle of the field open. If the defense was playing off-coverage, Hartman could go to the curl.
Conclusion: The Wake Forest Offense is legit
I think that Dave Clawson and his staff have created a brilliant cover for their quarterback. The offensive scheme is difficult to cover because of the way that it stretches a defense both horizontally and vertically. Their choice of using an RPO-style offense allows them to open the field for the spread concepts that they want to run despite not having a tremendous run-blocking line. It’s imposing looking at what the Demon Deacons have done to make their offense work.
The bad news: Wake Forest has some challenging games ahead of them. They have tough defense’s on the road at #25 Clemson (November 20th) and Boston College (November 27th). Then, they have a couple of shootouts that they will have to win against Louisville this week and on the road again against North Carolina (November 6th).
I’m interested in watching how Wake Forest will make things happen in those big in-conference games.