Florida State comes into this game at 2-1, off a dominant performance against BYU that saw the Noles double BYU's output per play. The Wake Forest Demon Deacons come in at 2-1, but off a ridiculous 68-24 loss to Stanford. Wake didn't get home till 4am and is coming off somewhat off a short week. Wake changed its practice habits because Grobe felt the young defense needed to simplify things and get more reps. After a bad loss last year, Stanford was motivated to crush Wake. Florida State is unlikely to be motivated for this game after watching Wake's film against Stanford. But the 'Noles must be mentally disciplined and focus on what they need to do to win the game. Florida State owes Wake Forest a huge debt of gratitude for the 30-0 home clubbing that finally pushed Jeff Bowden out the door. In many ways, Wake exposed Florida State's flaws over the lost decade. Wake is well coached and you have to admire coach Grobe for what he does with extremely small resources (Wake only has about 4,000 students). This year, however, Wake is clearly rebuilding after a nice multi-year run. This Wake team is likely the worst division-1 team Florida State has faced since the 2007 Duke team. For more coverage of Wake Forest head to BloggerSoDear.
Wake Forest's Offense v. Florida State's Defense
Wake has returned to the days of yesteryear. After the graduation of quarterback Riley Skinner, Wake Forest has gone back to its option-style attack from the spread. Wake will run some no huddle, but it's not polished like a Tulsa or an Oklahoma. The Deacons will run zone read, speed option, veer, and typically motion one of many talented receivers into the backfield to take a handoff. Wake's passing game is almost entirely off play-action. The drop-back game is non-existent and if Wake gets down big it is dead in the water. Wake's scheme is made to take advantage of undisciplined defenses. For years, Wake ran this and gave Florida State's defense trouble. Yes, the 'Noles would win big, but Wake's offense would do more than a team with its talent should. Expect to see a lot of crazy offensive plays from the Demon Deacons, including multiple reverses, passes by wide receivers, etc. This game will be an exercise in concentration and mental discipline for the 'Noles.
For the second week in a row, FSU will be facing a true-freshman quarterback in Tanner Price. Like BYU's Jake Heaps, Wake's Tanner Price has a big arm. Unlike Heaps, Price is a lefty who can really scramble and isn't very polished. He stands 6'2" 190. So far this year he is 21-44 for 270 yards with 3 TDs and 2 INTs. Most of that came against an awful Duke defense. Price has a quick release but he is very erratic and like most freshmen his footwork isn't even close to being polished. FSU will likely employ some cover-3 against Price and make him consistently display patience, poise and accuracy in the face of pressure. This game plan will look somewhat like FSU's against Oklahoma, in that FSU will give the receivers a considerable cushion in order to avoid the big play. It will make Price deliver an accurate ball and then must come up and tackle the receivers. Price sometimes lacks touch and FSU must make him go through his progressions with accuracy. If the Noles shut down the run game, that will lessen the effectiveness of Wake's play-action game. There is a good chance that Price will throw FSU an interception over the middle either because of a miscommunication with his tight ends, because he rifles the ball without touch leading to a pick, or because he doesn't read something right. FSU must avoid allowing big plays to Price. Keeping him inside the pocket by pushing the pocket and not running wildly past the pocket (see 2009) will be key because Price doesn't look comfortable back there. FSU must make this kid feel as if the walls are falling in around him. FSU should get its shots in on Price now because he could be quite good in 2013 as a Senior in Winston-Salem.
Wake's offensive line is a work in progress. While they are not young (all upperclassmen), this group lacks experience and hasn't really played all that well together. Luckily for these guys, Wake's scheme isn't really hard on them and they often benefit from using double teams with the option attack. They are awful, however, in the drop-back passing game. Here's Wake on 3rd and 5+ yards against Stanford:
3rd-5, WAKE25 14:12 T. Price incomplete pass to the right
3rd-8, WAKE37 8:07 T. Price passed to C. Givens down the middle for 21 yard gain.
3rd-6, WAKE46 3:55 T. Price rushed up the middle for 1 yard loss
3rd-15, WAKE15 13:29 T. Price sacked by C. Thomas for a loss of 9
3rd-6, WAKE35 10:09 T. Price incomplete pass to the right
3rd-10, WAKE26 6:51 T. Stachitas sacked by S. Fua for a loss of 6
3rd-10, STAN47 0:31 T. Price rushed to the left for 6 yard gain
3rd-6, WAKE29 12:17 A. Yancy intercepted T. Price
3rd-12, WAKE27 4:55 B. Cross rushed up the middle for 10 yard gain
Wake converted only 1 of 9 opportunities on 3rd and 5+. Further, here's the 2nd and long situations (8 or more to go):
2nd-8, WAKE37 8:59 T. Price incomplete pass to the left
2nd-11, WAKE28 6:16 T. Price passed to M. Williams to the left for 8 yard gain
2nd-19, WAKE11 13:51 J. Adams rushed up the middle for 4 yard gain
2nd-9, WAKE32 10:38 T. Price passed to B. Pendergrass down the middle for 3 yard gain
2nd-12, WAKE24 7:22 T. Bohanon rushed to the left for 2 yard gain
2nd-10, WAKE42 1:04 T. Price passed to C. Ford down the middle for 8 yard gain
2nd-10, STAN47 0:35 T. Price incomplete pass to the right
2nd-11, WAKE24 12:38 T. Price rushed to the left for 5 yard gain
2nd-10, 50 9:52 B. Pendergrass rushed up the middle for 15 yard gain
2nd-10, STAN22 0:28 M. Campanaro rushed to the right for 22 yard touchdown.
2nd-10, STAN18 0:10 B. Cross sacked by B. Gardner
That's not much better. The bottom line is that this offensive line is a decent run blocking line, and off of that is serviceable on play-action. But it is not at all good when Wake is forced to pass without the legitimate threat of a run fake.
The strength of this Wake line is in in Russel Nenon, a quality center, Joe Looney, an experienced guard, and Dennis Godfrey, who is an impressive 335-lb athlete. Godfrey is very raw, however, and FSU's up-and-comer at defensive end Brandon Jenkins should be able to work some moves on him if Florida State's defense can win first down. The right side is a question and I was particularly underwhelmed by the play of #75 Hoag against Stanford. He could have a long day blocking Jacobbi McDaniel, Everette Dawkins, Amp McCloud, and Demonte McAllister.
Finally, Wake does not chop as much as I remembered.
Receivers & Backs
I group these two together because Wake uses their skill guys very interchangeably. Wake has some excellent skill guys. For all the Demon Deacon's troubles recruiting the big guys, Wake's skill guys are very, very good.
TB 27 Josh Adams 6-0 185 R-Sr. | 22 Brandon Pendergrass 5-9 200 R-Jr. | 25 Josh Harris 5-10 205 R-Fr.
FB 42 Tommy Bohanon 6-2 245 So.
WR 8 Marshall Williams 6-1 190 R-Sr. | 18 Danny Dembry 6-2 195 R-Jr.
FL 3 Devon Brown 5-9 185 R-Jr. | 2 Chris Givens 6-0 195 R-So.
TE 83 Cameron Ford 6-4 255 R-Jr.
80 Andrew Parker 6-5 245 Jr.
I don't just mean they are good for Wake Forest, I mean they are legitimately one of the top 25 groups in the country. In Wake's new again scheme, these guys all run the ball and they all catch passes. Bohanon is a good fullback and can spring the big play. Williams can actually throw the ball and has done so already this year. Florida State needs to respect these skill guys and make Wake consistently execute, not allowing the big play. FSU has been good about not allowing the big, quick drive this season. The goal of the new zone defense is to force opposing offenses to execute repeatedly. FSU has to watch out for all of the backs, and Williams, Brown, and Givens at receiver. The tight ends are not much of a threat. Wake is also a good screen team. These guys don't yet have great chemistry with Price, however, and that doesn't seem likely to change Saturday.
Florida State will also play some cover-4 against Wake, as Mark Stoops' defense did against Oregon.
Pursuit With Leverage
Wake Forest won't hurt FSU's defense very much unless FSU allows it to. Jimbo Fisher repeatedly stressed the need to pursue the ball with leverage. That means the linebackers are pursuing inside-out and the corners and safeties are pursuing outside-in. Stoops (and all good coordinators) preach that the defense must not allow the ball to be cut back against the grain. If the ball is cut back against the flow, there are no defenders there to help and Wake will hit big plays. Florida State's defense has been much more disciplined this year than in the previous decade, but this unique offense will be a major test. I see Wake running 65 plays for 340 yards, an average of 5.25 per play. I see Wake scoring 21 points. Wake will hit a few big plays but FSU will also have some big defensive plays of its own.
Inside, find my look at the Wake Forest Defense and the Florida State Offense!
Wake Forest's Defense v. Florida State's Offense
DE 55 Tristan Dorty 6-2 255 R-Jr. | 57 Gelo Orange 6-1 230 R-Jr.
NG 93 Frank Souza 6-4 285 R-Fr. | 99 Ramon Booi 6-6 300 R-So.
DT 50 Nikita Whitlock 5-11 240 R-Fr. | 54 Kris Redding 6- 4 255 R-Fr.
DE 97 Kyle Wilber 6-5 235 R-Jr. | 98 Zach Thompson 6-5 255 R-Fr.
SLB 40 Joey Ehrmann 6-4 215 R-So.
MLB 56 Hunter Haynes 6-2 240 R-Sr.
WLB 45 Riley Haynes 6-1 225 R-So.
Wake Forest really has some problems in its front-seven (line and linebackers). The Deacons have faced 31 offensive drives this year and have only forced 4 three-&-outs. That's 13% and the 5th-worst in the BCS. Compare that to Florida State, which has forced three-&-outs on 5 of 19 opposition drives (26%). Wake is the 2nd-worst in the BCS in giving up 64% of the potential defensive yards it could allow. For reference, FSU has allowed 44%. Also, Wake is the 2nd-worst at allowing "explosive drives", surrendering them at a 30% clip! FSU allows explosive drives on only 10.5% of opponent drives.
Wake Forest lacks talent and experience in the front seven, a deadly combination. Let's take a look at Wake's drive charts in its first two games:
|Sizes Of The Front Sevens Florida State Will Face (Projected)|
This is the smallest front FSU will face all season. I believe Wake is the only BCS-conference program to have a front-seven of less than 1700 lbs. That is way, way too small and that lack of size puts serious pressure on the secondary, as you will see below.
Florida State's front seven also lacks experience, but it at least has talent. That's not the case with Wake. The Deacons aren't a poorly coached group and they don't play with awful technique, but physically, this defense looks like one of the worst in the country. The line is too small to hold the point of attack. The linebackers aren't very fast or big. To Wake's credit, it realizes its problems and has tried to correct it. Wake plays a lot of different fronts, including 4-3 over, 4-3 under, 4-3 stack, and 3-4. Wake will try to shoot gaps and run blitz to get penetration, but in doing so, it allows a lot of big plays because guys get out of place. Unfortunately for Wake, FSU's offensive line, though banged up, is still quite adept at preventing penetration. Florida State's challenge here will be much more mental than physical. Wake has been throwing a lot of looks at opponents, but as discussed in the link, they have simplified things now. Grobe said that the defense was smart but not playing smart. This is a young front seven that lost talented players off of last year's squad and has not replaced them.
Wake's back four is only slightly better. Okoro and Frye are above average defensive backs. Bush, however, is coming off an injury and he missed the Stanford game, while Quarles has not stood out on film.
Wake doesn't trust its front seven, but I think how they align really is telling about how much Wake doesn't trust its secondary. Wake often aligns pretty far off the ball and plays cover 3, though it will run some cover 2.
How FSU Attacks Wake
I expect FSU to treat this game as a good power pitcher does a Spring Training game. That is, the pitcher knows he has a good fastball that will work whenever he wants to throw it, but he is going to throw a lot of sliders even if the batter knows they are coming because he knows he needs to work on it. In this case, Florida State knows that Wake can't stop its running game. Wake Forest likely knows it can't stop Florida State's running game. So I think FSU will work on its passing game, even if Wake Forest knows the 'Noles plan to work on their passing game. That means Wake will be playing the pass. This will make it more difficult for FSU to throw, but it will be good work for Christian Ponder and the young receivers like Willie Haulstead and Rodney Smith. Additionally, Kyle Wilber will be a good matchup for left tackle Henry Orelus, who is replacing the injured Andrew Datko. Because Wake likely realizes FSU wants to work on its passing game, Wake will have some success by flooding the passing zones and bringing odd pressures. I expect FSU to have about 35 passing plays for 320 yards and 30 run plays for 180 yards. That's an average of 7.7 yards per play, which is excellent. I'll say that gives Florida State 7 touchdowns and 49 points.
Wake's coverage teams have not been good this season, and while it is a small sample set, FSU will have great field position if it continues.
95% chance FSU wins. FSU out-gains Wake by 45% per play in a convincing performance. 49-21 Noles