Each week during the season I'll try to pick a few different things to keep an eye on for each side of the ball. First up, the Demon Deacons.
When the Warhawks are on Offense:
The obvious answer of what to look for here is how comfortable Pete Thomas looks in HC Todd Berry and OC Steve Farmer's offense. One of the biggest reasons Thomas was never able to really take control of the QB position in Raleigh was because he didn't quite grasp the offense (and he also simply wasn't a great fit for what Dave Doeren was trying to do). But Berry said he's handled the offense well in this week's press conference and he won the job over Brayle Brown, so he clearly seems to be handling it well.
But really, he's probably not going to be asked to do much. The strongest part of the Wake defense by far is its secondary. Senior cornerbacks Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel might be the two best players on the team. So the Warhawks will rely heavily on Centarius Donald to get things going on the ground, which shouldn't come as a surprise. That should really be the focus of the offense all season, although it's certainly going to be even more emphasized on Thursday.
When Thomas does get the chance to throw, he might have a chance at some one-on-one matchups on the outside with either Ajalen Holley or Kenzee Jackson. Rashon Ceaser will be spending a lot of his time in the slot and will be the focus of the Deacons defense. Wake Forest runs a 4-2-5 so it'll be interesting to see if they shift either Johnson or Noel inside to cover him, or mix up the looks in some other way.
One more thing to watch for is how Chase Regian handles his first start at LT. He's the clear weak spot of an otherwise experienced, talented group. Lucky for him, Wake doesn't return much along the line and it's a pretty thin group.
When the Warhawks are on Defense:
New Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson went with true freshman John Wolford at quarterback. He broke a bunch of Tim Tebow's state records in high school, seems to be a great athlete and had offers from Penn State, Mississippi State, and ECU. Unlike the situation with Pete Thomas, I actually think Clawson will ask Wolford to make some plays rather than just get the ball to skill players and manage the game. Even as a true freshman he is already one of the more dynamic playmakers the Deacs have. They graduated a lot of skill position players from last year's squad so will be looking to the QB to provide a spark.
But Wolford might not even be the most important true freshman to start for the Deacons on Thursday. A'Lique Terry, a three-star recruit, will get the nod at center. Usually the center will be the one to direct the rest of the line pre-snap on who to block, who's the MIKE, where to step, depending on the situation (sometimes an experienced QB does this as well). Since both the QB and center are both freshmen, I imagine all of those calls will be up to Terry to make. He'll also be lining up against Gerrand Johnson, who will be making his life even more difficult post-snap.
It's highly likely that Warhawks defensive coordinator Troy Reffett will be sending the house early and often in order to test both Wolford and Terry: Fire blitzes in both A gaps, man up on the outside, and let's see if they make the correct decisions.
Wake doesn't return much on offense, and with a new coach, who knows what they're going to look like. Meanwhile, ULM returns nine starters from last year's defensive unit, so they should be experienced enough to be able to handle anything that comes at them. I'm sure they've watched plenty of film on last year's BGSU team that Clawson coached to a MAC championship and will at least be familiar with some themes and concepts.