Robert reached out to me and wanted to discuss a few things in anticipation for tonight's game between the Deacs and the Warhawks. Before you read what we came up with, head on over to Blogger So Dear and read up on the Demon Deacons. They have a bunch of really great content that helped me a ton when researching for tonight's game.
First, Robert asked me a few questions about the Warhawks:
1. What are your thoughts on transfer QB Pete Thomas?
He was never a good fit for what they were trying to do at NC State, but he did show flashes. He has a big arm that he can use to get the ball downfield to speedsters like Ajalen Holley and Kenzee Jackson. He just doesn't always put the right amount of touch on the shorter throws, which really slowed down the Wolfpack offense at times last year.
One of the things that was rumored about why he wasn't able to seize the full-time starting job last year was that he didn't quite grasp the offense from a mental standpoint. But ULM head coach Todd Berry is confident enough that Thomas can handle his offense that he was awarded the job over Brayle Brown, the guy who seemed to be the incumbent earlier in the offseason.
I don't mind giving the job to a redshirt senior with a bunch of experience but maybe not the most raw talent with this team. He's got a ton of experience around him and all he has to do is get the ball out of his hands and into theirs. I'm confident in Berry's understanding of what Thomas' strengths are and his ability to use them in the context of the scheme.
2. ULM's defense was not great last season, but returns a lot of players. What can we expect to see from the ULM defense in both this game and throughout the season?
This could be the best defense of the Todd Berry era. Nine of eleven starters return from a group that on the surface didn't have a great season last year, but some of those stats were a bit misleading (don't get me wrong, it was still a pretty bad unit last year, just maybe not quite as bad as the numbers may indicate). The biggest question mark is at the edges. ULM mainly sticks to a 3-3-5 scheme, and didn't have much success rushing the passer while also letting up a lot of big runs, mainly to the outside. The secondary should be really solid and I'm excited to see how those guys are used.
3. Which ULM player/unit do you believe will be the biggest X-Factor in determining the winner?
It will probably be running back Centarius Donald. He's had some small injuries the last couple of year that have held him out of some games, but when he's healthy he is one of the more explosive backs in the Sun Belt. With Thomas starting his first game, the offense will be relying on Donald to get things going. ULM doesn't have a ton of depth at the position with their presumed #2 back getting hurt in preseason, so Donald will be the relied upon even more frequently early in the season.
4. What must ULM do well in order to win this game?
It sort of goes with what I said above, but the run game needs to get established early. It could be a long game for the Warhawks offense if Donald and Tyler Cain aren't able to churn out consistent 5+ yard gains. I'm not confident in Thomas' ability to win a game with his arm yet.
5. Finally, give us a final prediction for the game. Who wins and why?
I'm not a ULM homer. Before about a month ago, I didn't know anything more about the Warhawks than I did about any other team in the country. With that said, I'm pretty confident that ULM will take this one. Wake replaces a ton of talent from last year while the Warhawks return a bunch of starters from the 2013 team that beat the Demon Deacons. Obviously Wake also has the two true freshmen at QB and center starting their first collegiate games on the road. To me, all signs point to a Warhawks victory.
Here's what Robert said about the Demon Deacons:
1. What are your early impressions of Dave Clawson? What's the biggest difference between he and Jim Grobe?
I know he hasn't even called a play in an actual game yet, but I believe Clawson is going to turn out to be a home run hire. He did an outstanding job assembling his staff, and really finished the 2014 recruiting season strong. Our top six recruits, according to 247's composite rankings, all committed after Clawson was hired. He has rebuilt programs and won conference championships everywhere he's been. I'm not necessarily saying he will bring Wake an ACC title, but he will begin to make us very competitive. The 2015 recruiting class is shaping up to be our highest rated recruiting class ever.
Clawson is much more hands-on in his coaching style. Grobe would typically observe practices and had a "C.E.O." coaching philosophy. Clawson can play the role of C.E.O., but he has experience coaching every position over the course of his career and is very active during every drill set. He will coach anyone from the offensive line to the secondary. I've even seen him go over things as basic as how to recover a fumble.
2. Who will be the go-to playmaker on offense for the Deacs this season?
I believe slot receiver E.J. Scott should fill this role. I wouldn't necessarily call him a "playmaker," but he can find holes in the defense and should lead the team in receptions.
3. What should we expect from John Wolford?
I expect Wolford to show a lot of poise for a freshman. He doesn't have the world's strongest arm, but he's accurate and faster than he looks. He tends to make good decisions and I believe he has a very high football I.Q. He's on the smaller side (I'd guess he's actually 5'11") so you may see some balls get batted down at the line of scrimmage, but I expect him to have a solid freshman campaign. I would not be surprised at all to see him have a better season than Tanner Price's senior season in 2013.
4. Who's a guy we don't know about on the Wake front 6 that we should be keeping an eye on?
I think linebacker Marquel Lee is a candidate to have a very good season. He played last year as a true freshman, but mostly contributed on special teams. He's gotten stronger and has had an excellent offseason. I know everyone says things like that, but he led the team in tackles during the spring game and during the team's first scrimmage of fall camp. I also expect defensive tackle Tylor Harris to have the best season of his career.
5. Your prediction for the game. Who wins and why?
I'm going to take the Deacs to win this one 21-14. Wake should have a top 35-40 defense this season, and although we lost a lot of players on offense, we can't possibly be worse. In fact, getting a new offensive coordinator along will make us better. The matchup of nose tackle Gerrand Johnson versus our true freshman center worries me, but I didn't like what I saw when ULM lost Kolton Browning.