Game preview to come at Noon
We are very fortunate to have an excellent network of team-specific blogs to talk with during game weeks. This week's edition of our 2011 Opposing Blogger Q&A feature is a chat with our friends from Wake Forest at Blogger So Dear. Editor RAJohnston was kind enough to answer some questions about the Demon Deacons for us ahead of Saturday's game.
TN: This year's Demon Deacon team is off to a 3-1 start that could easily have been 4-0. What are the expectations for the season like around Winston Salem right now? Has this start raised them from say, one of bowl eligibility at the beginning of the season?
BSD: The mood around Winston is pretty good right now. Coming into the year most people did not expect much from the team. That sounds awful to say, but it is true because of how terrible we were last year. Obviously we all want to be 4-0, but sitting at 3-1 right now is pretty unexpected from most fans. From here on out, making a bowl is still our #1 priority. If we can win on Saturday, the bar may be set a little higher, but for now I think 6-7 wins is what we need to aim for. The schedule in front of us is still very difficult. FSU this week, VT next week, @ UNC a couple of weeks later, ND and @ Clemson later on. That's not an easy schedule, but with Duke, Maryland, and Vandy left, there are definitely 3 games that we can win left on the schedule.
Personally, I would be very pleased with a bowl of any kind. It would serve as a great jumping off point for next couple of years when we can make serious runs at the Atlantic Division title.
Hit the jump for more!
TN: Josh Harris averaged a solid 5.8 yards/carry last season as a freshman. This year has yet to see Harris return to last year's form. Why has this been the case, given that Wake has a relatively veteran offensive line?
BSD: There are a few reasons why our rushing offense hasn't really been up to par in my opinion. The offensive line has done a superb job in pass blocking. Almost all of the sacks have been coverage sacks, and they have been a huge part in the success of the passing game this year. The rush blocking has been pretty bad though. Pass blocking and rush blocking are two very different things obviously. I don't want to say that it is not in our hog mollies nature to be extremely aggressive against the defense, but I do believe that they are better suited to sit back and let the defense come at them, rather than getting out and hitting somebody.
Another possibility is the type of blocking that we are doing. In years past we have varied between zone blocking, and a type of cut blocking (the kind that Georgia Tech gets everybody up in arms over). For smaller lines, cut blocking works very well because it allows the players to take out the legs of the bigger guys, and hit a bit lower to stop the momentum of the d-line. The zone blocking requires more of a traditional style of blocking, and depends on the reads of the guys up front to fulfill their assignments, and really make the correct reads at the LOS. I'm not saying that the guys up front are dumb or anything, but something has been off with the zone blocking, and it seems like even when they do make the right reads and blocks, the hole isn't hit by Harris or Pendergrass. This is one of the biggest lines we have ever had, and sometimes size can be a detriment if they are pulling and swinging out to make zone blocks.
Coach Grobe mentioned a couple of weeks ago that he thought our receivers could improve their blocking a little more in running plays instead of simply going through the motions. They block well on the bubble screens we run, but not so much on the actual running plays. As Coach Fisher said on Monday, Wake Forest is also just one or two blocks away from springing long runs on nearly every single play.
I also think that Harris could do a better job of hitting the holes in front of him instead of trying to bounce everything outside. Running north and south is something that he can work on, and something that I think Brandon Pendergrass does quite well. I expect the running game to pick up over the next few games, because we are still looking to run first and throw second (153 run plays, 144 pass plays this year).
TN: Wake Forest's defense features a front seven that operates at a significant size disadvantage. How do the Deacs scheme around this and do you expect the front seven to hold up against Florida State's offensive line?
BSD: Wake Forest uses the size disadvantage up front to their advantage. As perverted as that sounds, it is what we want to do scheme-wise. We switched to a 3-4, but not a traditional 3-4 where we have a huge DT in the middle to stuff up the run with two O-linemen. With our size we can be extremely versatile and use the quickness to bring blitzes from all angles. I know in the past Bud has been critical of Nikita Whitlock's size and said that he is just too small, but I just have to disagree with him. On pass plays he is extremely disruptive and demands a double team on nearly every single play. The biggest problem right now is coming from lack of depth right there. Ramon Booi and Duke Mosby have both been banged up, causing Nikita to have to play way too many snaps.
I think that our D-line will do what it has done so far this year: limit the run game and contain the passing game as well as possible. Montel Harris had a fair amount of success against us last week, and I'm sure our defensive coordinators are looking to find where we went wrong up front. Hopefully we can fix that by Saturday. Neither team has been successful with the run so far this year, and if Manuel is back, it will give the Noles a big boost in the backfield. I do think we are better suited than some to contain the QB because of our speed up front. Time will tell though.
TN: Tell us about the health of Tanner Price. Has the injury limited what Wake can do with him as far as mobility, or has it had minimal effect because the offense mostly keeps him inside the pocket?
BSD: Aside from the knee sprain he suffered in the first week of the year against Syracuse (obviously that was a big injury that likely cost us the shot at 4-0), he has been very healthy. He is still wearing a knee brace (I believe), but I would say he is 95-100%. Coach Grobe has said that we are limiting the inside zone reads to keep him healthy. When y'all knocked him out last year with a concussion, that is what got him out of the game in the first place. Once again, it is hard to overstate how good our pass blocking has been this year. Price hasn't taken too many hits, and that has allowed him time to set, scan and throw successfully.
TN: Wide receiver Chris Givens has been very impressive early on. What are his strengths as a player and how will the Demon Deacons try to utilize him against a talented FSU secondary?
BSD: Chris Givens has been a phenomenal player for the Deacs early on this year. As we wrote on BSD earlier this week, Chris has a chance to have one of the best receiving years ever at Wake Forest, and consequently career-wise as well. He relies on his quickness and speed at the LOS to exploit corners that are playing too far off. The blocking gives him time to get free after a few seconds, and once he catches the ball on a slant/curl/sideline route, he has the speed and ability to get a ton of YAC. I would like to see us try to get the ball to him and Camp a little more on run plays because of how lethal they can be with the ball in their hands.
Givens has been targeted 35 times this year, and caught 27 of those balls (77.1%), with 14.2 yards per target. He also accounts for 27.3% of all passes for Wake Forest. I would like to see that get up to 33% with the talent that he has shown so far this year.
TN: What will be the keys for Wake Forest in attempting to pull an upset on Saturday?
BSD: Well first of all, we have to bring a more balanced offense to the table. If we just throw and throw and throw, I suspect that the FSU secondary will get some sacks and a couple of interceptions. That's not a slight to Tanner Price at all, just a testament to the speed and skill of the FSU defense. All of the small things are also in play: limit turnovers, limit the big plays, and be efficient with the ball.
One of the biggest things that we can improve on is our TD% inside the RZ. We are 20/22 in RZ scoring this year (91%), but sit at a 41% FG rate in the RZ. That's the 4th highest FG% in the country through last week. For a team like Wake Forest, that relies on close games and winning games in the 4th quarter, even one more TD than FG per game can be the difference in a win and a loss. For an already explosive offense, these points left out there each game could boost us to another 1-3 wins if we can grab them in the next few games.
In the first half the Deacs have gotten up early on each opponent. We have struggled to keep the foot on the accelerator though, and seem to stall out in the 2nd half with a lead. I'm not sure whether it's playcalling, or the offense tightening up to avoid mistakes, but this is certainly something that we need to work on if we want to make this a special year.
...and not that you asked, but I'll go ahead and throw out a prediction for Tomahawk Nation! I have gone back and forth on this game a few times. I'm not really sure how good Wake Forest is right now because of the schedule we have played. We are much improved from last year's 3-9 team, but we were REALLY, REALLY bad too. I'm also not sure how good FSU is. They looked pretty good at times against Oklahoma and Clemson, but they also had a lot of mental mistakes that could have cost them the game. I think FSU is a little better than most Wake fans think, but I also think that Wake Forest is a lot better than FSU fans think.
That being said, I will say 34-27 FSU. I think there will be a few FG's out there, and that will give it this score. Wake will likely come out pretty pumped up and take an early lead. Once the emotion goes down a little bit, I think the talent will take over for the 'Noles, and they will outscore the Deacs by a couple of TD's in the 2nd half to take the win. In a game this close, I think anything could swing the tides though. Look for Bud Noel to make a big play when it counts for the Deacs. If he can do that, I could see us pulling it out.
Best of luck to Florida State this weekend and the rest of the year. I am a big fan of Tomahawk Nation, and y'all do some incredible things over there!
Thanks to RAJohnston and Blogger So Dear for answering our questions! Our answers to theirs are here.