As we get to within 10 days of Spring camp for most schools, some familiarity will be gone for Wake Forest football. Depth has been the key phrase for head coach Dave Clawson in recent years. It will be tested this Spring, as the Wake Forest offense gets a makeover.
The first and most obvious change is at quarterback. Sam Hartman is in South Bend, Indiana getting ready to play in front of Touchdown Jesus. The Demon Deacons will see him in November. Gone with Hartman is a particular level of certainty. His game was known. The skill set was already proven. And most decidedly, the temperament was predictable as it pertained to leadership on the field and in the huddle.
Changing of the Guard
But now the Mitch Griffis era begins in Winston-Salem. It’s not as if Griffis is walking in out of nowhere. He made appearances in four games in each of 2020 and 2021. Last season he was called upon for week one when Hartman had emergency vascular surgery on his left arm. He went 21 for 29 for 288 yards and three touchdowns. But let’s be real. It was VMI. It would have only been a story if he had not run up those stats. He also appeared in mop-up duty in the blowout win over Army, and in the blowout loss to Louisville.
For the season, he threw at a 71% completion rate in his limited time on the field. He had five touchdowns and one interception. Griffis is a few inches shorter and about 15 pounds lighter than Hartman. He is also considerably shy of Hartman when it comes to the stubble-dominated beard. Hartman was grizzled. Griffis is baby-faced. Hartman was reluctantly and periodically polite with his media habits. Griffis, to this point, is punctual and gracious.
But maybe Griffis needs to adopt some of the hardness in his attitude. What has yet to be seen, and will only bear out over time is whether Griffis has, or can find, that “It” factor that Hartman had. It’s the air of appropriate arrogance when a quarterback walks into the huddle that silences the teammates because it is his huddle. While Griffis is decidedly unassuming and prepared to tell anyone who will listen that he feels blessed to be where he is, at some point during the season some quarterback cockiness will be needed in a game.
Griffis will enter Spring camp next week and will be looking around to remind himself of who is there. Many of the mainstays from the last few years are gone. That includes most of the starting offensive line. That turnover is not an automatic negative. It is a luxury to have the guys in front of your young quarterback know their ropes as well as his. Last year, the storyline was often that the line had more combined snaps than most other groups in the country. Yet, there were numerous times throughout the season when the line drew the ire of Clawson for what he termed undisciplined penalties, the kind you should not expect out of such a veteran group. Familiar names like Nash, Maginn, and Nya are gone. Now it is the likes of Sharpe, Vaughn, Gulbin, Elmonus, and others looking to grab the starting spots.
Carrying The Ball
Clawson has opted to have his running game be by committee for years now. But two-thirds of last year’s primary committee is gone. Christian Turner and Quinton Cooley hit the transfer portal, leaving starter Justice Ellison as the primary go-to ball carrier. He ran for just under 700 yards last season with six touchdowns. He had more than 15 carries only three times last season and hit the 100-yard mark one time. There has yet to be evidence that he can be that 25+ carry-per-game guy. So it is still likely to be running game by committee. It is just going to be a smaller committee, with Will Towns getting some of the work. He got some work toward the end of the season for about 75 yards.
Plenty of Talent on The Outside
There are still plenty of weapons for Griffis to work with on the outside. The loss of A.T. Perry to the NFL is notable. He is one of the better Wake Forest receivers in recent years, certainly with the strongest hands. But if you watched every snap, multiple times, there were periods where he was not even the most productive Demon Deacon receiver on the field. The loss of Perry can and will be absorbed on the outside by Donavon Greene and Jahmal Banks. They are physically gifted, and good route runners and Banks gets to any pass near him. Add Taylor Morin and Ke’Shawn Williams on the inside and Griffis has a full array of choices in the passing game.
There is plenty there, but there is a lot to be tested. Nineteen wins over the last two seasons is a new level of success in Winston-Salem. Much of it relied on the moxy of the quarterback and a veteran starting group around him. The transition to a new era starts next week.
Photo courtesy: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports