Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Red-zone defense essential to Wake Forest victory over Florida State

October 8, 2016:  Wake Forest safety Cameron Glenn is congratulated after his fumble recovery for a touchdown during the Wake Forest Demon Deacons 28-9 win over the Syracuse Orangemen at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, NC.  (Photo by Sean Meyers/Icon Sportswire)
Sean Meyers/Icon Sportswire

This week’s matchup between Florida State and Wake Forest wasn’t exactly one of the games college football fans circled on their calendars before the season.

The last time these two schools met with the Demon Deacons having the superior record in Week 5 or later: 2006. However, that’s the case this season (Wake Forest is 5-1, 2-1 in the ACC; Florida State is 4-2, 1-2 in conference), which brings extra intrigue to this weekend’s matchup.

Last season, Wake Forest tested Florida State in Week 4 despite the fact the two programs finished with nearly opposite records (10-3 for FSU, versus 3-9 for Wake). The Seminoles led by four at halftime and held on to win 24-16. The Demon Deacons have the tools to make this matchup close again this Saturday.

The biggest key to a Wake Forest upset is its red-zone defense. The Demon Deacons have allowed a score on just 63.16 percent of the opposition’s red-zone possessions. Wake Forest has been a little lucky, because three times opponents have missed field goals inside the 20-yard line, but its defense has also forced two takeaways (interceptions or fumbles) and two turnovers on downs in the red area.

Florida State is one of the best offenses at converting red-zone drives into points, but those drives don’t always end up as touchdowns. The Seminoles are ranked 10th in the ACC in red-zone efficiency — they score a touchdown just two-thirds of the time.

That’s where this game could be won or lost. If Wake Forest can keep Florida State out of the end zone, forcing the Seminoles to settle for field goals in some instances and causing turnovers in others, the Demon Deacons will have a chance to win this game. The Seminoles are coming off their worst offensive red-zone performance of the season. They reached the end zone just one time on four attempts last week against Miami.

Usually every great upset includes a big play somewhere for the underdog. It would also help Wake Forest if there’s a big play somewhere either on defense or special teams. Wake Forest returned an interception for a touchdown against Indiana and a fumble for a score last Saturday versus Syracuse. A defensive score could drastically change this game.

Punt returns are another area where the Demon Deacons could post a big play. Wake Forest doesn’t have a single punt return of at least 20 yards this season, but Florida State has showcased some of the worst punt coverage in the ACC, allowing three punt returns of at least 40 yards and two that have gone over 60. Demon Deacon sophomore punt returner Tabari Hines will have his chances.

Of course, Wake Forest will also have to prevent the big play from happening to them in order to win. Florida State has gained 10 or more yards on 115 plays this season, which is second-most in the ACC. The Seminoles have shown good offensive balance, too — 68 of those plays were passes and 47 were runs.

Wake Forest is ranked 10th in the league in two categories: yielding plays of at least 10 yards and allowing third-down conversions. Expect Florida State to attack that weakness, looking for big plays down the field. If the Seminoles can score from any distance, their lack of efficiency in the red zone won’t be as big a deal.

Ultimately, Florida State was able to get back on track after beating Miami last week. The Seminoles are expected to win, but Wake Forest should supply a good test once again.

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