Florida State travels to Winston-Salem, North Carolina to face Wake Forest at 12:30 Eastern. The game will be on the ACC network (see listings here) and the forecast looks great.
Last year FSU treated this game against a very young Wake team as a glorified scrimmage. Wake had zero shot of winning and FSU cruised 31-0.
Jim Grobe promised that this year's team would be much better, and so far, he's been correct. Wake has been much, much better than they were last season, and way better than anyone projected them to be this year.
Improvement has come on both sides of the ball. Wake had a 92nd-rated offense last season. This one is considerably better. The Demon Deacons run a spread attack with a lot of speed.
|QB 10 Tanner Price 6-2 205 So.|
|13 Ted Stachitas 6-1 205 R-Jr.|
|TB 25 Josh Harris 5-10 205 R-So.|
|22 Brandon Pendergrass 5-9 200 R-Sr.|
|FB 42 Tommy Bohanon 6-2 245 Jr.|
|44 Ben Emert 6-1 235 R-Fr.|
|WR 2 Chris Givens 6-0 195 R-Jr.|
|81 Terence Davis 6-1 195 R-Jr.|
|FL 3 Michael Campanaro 5-10 190 R-So.|
|18 Danny Dembry 6-2 185 R-Sr.|
|TE 83 Cameron Ford 6-4 255 R-Sr.|
|80 Andrew Parker 6-5 245 Sr.|
|LT 73 Steven Chase 6-7 305 R-So.|
|69 Dennis Godfrey 6-3 315 R-Sr.|
|LG 78 Joe Looney 6-3 320 Sr.|
|59 Antonio Ford 6-3 315 R-Fr.|
|C 74 Garrick Williams 6-4 310 R-Jr.|
|66 Chance Raines 6-2 290 Sr.|
|RG 75 Michael Hoag 6-6 305 R-Sr.|
|68 Colin Summers 6-5 320 R-Fr.|
|RT 62 Doug Weaver 6-8 320 R-Sr.|
|76 Daniel Blitch 6-6 310 R-Fr|
It all starts with the quarterback. Sophomore Tanner Price has been a revelation. He was a heralded recruit out of Texas and had a rough freshman year, including the game against FSU in which the 'Noles gave him a nasty concussion. But the southpaw can really sling it. So far Price is 80-127 for 1119 yards with 7 TDs and 2 INTs. That's a great stat line and when Price is on, he's really on. But when he's off, he can be erratic. There isn't a throw Price can't make. As you'll read below, some teams have failed to make him pay for his mistakes. For Wake to win, Price will need to play mistake-free football, or have the 'Noles not take advantage of his mistakes.
The rushing attack is powered by redshirt freshman Josh Harris. Harris is strong and really shifty. He's a threat to break a big play on any carry, but so far, Wake's rushing offense hasn't really clicked. Redshirt senior Brandon Pendergras sees some short yardage carries, and junior fullback Tommy Bohanon is an excellent blocker. Wake is using the receiver run game much less this season than it has in the past, likely because Price has been so good.
Wake does sport an impressive receiving corps. Redshirt junior Chris Givens (27-498), senior Danny Dembry (19-272) and sophomore Michael Campanaro (16-203). Givens is the burner and Campanaro is the glue guy who always gets open for Price. These receivers block pretty well on receiver screens, and FSU cannot lose leverage and risk a big play off the bubble screen. Having Greg Reid back and healthy should be a big help to the defense covering this group.
Wake's offensive line was a veteran question-mark coming into this season. And there have been some interesting position switches here, most notably at left tackle, where #73 Steven Chase 6-7 305 R-So. has replaced 5th-year senior Dennis Godfrey. At left guard is #78 Joe Looney 6-3 320 Sr, a very solid player. Center #74 Garrick Williams 6-4 310 R-Jr. struggled with snaps in camp but has since come around. And Doug Weaver has been solid at right tackle. This group is very big and has played much better than expected.
With all of that said, however, I must make note that Wake has faced some seriously weak defensive competition to date. Syracuse is nothing special on defense and was without some key starters. N.C. State is essentially a M.A.S.H. unit on defense, and in some games has even resorted to playing offensive-walk ons on the defensive side of the ball in meaningful snaps. And Boston College is a shocking mess on defense after losing three of it four secondary starters in the first week of the season, as well as its only good defensive tackle.
To say that FSU represents a step up in the quality of defense Wake will face tomorrow is an understatement. Few, if any players from Syracuse, Boston College, or N.C. State who played against Wake could earn significant snaps on this FSU defense. Make no mistake, Wake's offense has grown up and it's nothing like it was last year. But it's also untested as of yet.
Florida State is going to need its excellent defensive line to turn in an excellent game. They'll need to be aggressive and win the battles up front, allowing FSU to play seven in coverage and not risk blitzes. I expect FSU to limit wake to no more than 5 yards-per-play during non-garbage time. Pay special attention to redshirt freshman Cameron Erving and true freshman Tim Jernigan. Both young tackles have played quite well and Price has not seen pressure in his face so far. Those two could be key in forcing a careless throw off the back foot.
|Hybrid 40 Joey Ehrmann 6-4 220 R-Jr.|
|49 Derricus Ellis 6-2 240 R-Jr.|
|DE 55 Tristan Dorty 6-2 255 R-Sr.|
|54 Kris Redding 6-4 265 R-So.|
|NG 50 Nikita Whitlock 5-11 260 R-So.|
|96 Duke Mosby 6-2 280 R-Fr.|
|DE 98 Zach Thompson 6-5 255 R-So.|
|57 Gelo Orange 6-1 240 R-Sr.|
|ROB 97 Kyle Wilber 6-5 240 R-Sr.|
|35 Zachary Allen 6-2 240 R-Fr.|
|MLB 32 Scott Betros 6-1 240 R-Jr.|
|41 Mike Olson 6-3 230 R-So.|
|WLB 45 Riley Haynes 6-1 220 R-Jr.|
|39 Justin Jackson 6-1 220 R-So.|
|CB 7 Merrill Noel 5-10 180 R-Fr.|
|29 Dominique Tate 5-10 180 R-So.|
|FS 4 Josh Bush 5-11 205 R-Sr.|
|23 Daniel Mack 6-0 200 R-So.|
|SS 5 Cyhl Quarles 6-3 210 R-Sr.|
|34 Duran Lowe 5-11 210 R-So.|
|CB 6 Kenny Okoro 6-0 190 R-Jr.|
|17 A.J. Marshall 5-11 180 So.|
Wake came into this year looking to improve on its 93rd-rated defense. 8 or 9 returning starters and a full commitment to the 3-4 scheme has helped. like Louisiana Monroe, the undersized Demon Deacons try to confuse blocking schemes with pre-snap shifting and post-snap stunting.
Last year this defensive line was demolished by most decent opponents, but it has been better this season, likely due to increased experience and physical maturity. Redshirt sophomore Nikita Whitlock is a very good defensive lineman, but at 5'11" and 260 pounds, he is very unique to the nose-guard position.
That right there should tell you that Wake isn't running the traditional 3-4 in which the defensive linemen try to draw double teams and let the linebackers run free. Instead, Wake's scheme is a one-gap 3-4 and is all about penetration and disruption. Currently at ends are redshirt senior Tristan Dorty (6'2" 255) and redshirt sophomore Zach Thompson (6'5" 255), who are undersized but decent players as well. Oh, and look out for Orange who is a good pass rusher, Duke Mosby who will spell Whitlock, and Kris Redding who has come on as of late.
Wake does have a massive nose guard in redshirt junior Ramon Booi (6'6" 300). He's been injured and generally a disappointment for Wake so far in his career, but if healthy, he would give Wake a different defensive look in the middle. The guys at BSD don't believe he will be a factor in this game.
This group of linebackers has really been an improvement for the Deacons. They had some known quantities in redshirt senior Kyle Wilber, who is an excellent pass rusher off the edge. But hybrid backer Joey Ehrmann has played with more feel for the game this year, and MLB Scott Betros and WLB Riley Haynes have not been the weaknesses they could have been, given that they were unknowns. Notice how almost everyone at Wake redshirts? 21 of 22 in the two-deep have redshirted. These guys have some age and experience on them. 19 of 22 have at least three years in the program.
FSU will look to get its lackluster run game going against this veteran Wake defense. We're not looking for a bunch of runs, but will be evaluating the run game based on Jimbo's standards: successful runs in short yardage, compressed red zone, and (if FSU has the lead) the four-minute offense to close out the game.
FSU is normally excellent second-level blocking, but this year that has not been the case at all. Andrew Datko isn't exactly healthy, David Spurlock hasn't been himself, and newcomer Jacob Fahrenkrug has struggled, though he was somewhat better against Clemson. This group must do a better job of getting second-level blocks. A large part of this is working together to understand when one part of the double team is secure so that the other blocker can leave to grab the linebacker at the second level. Leave too early, and the original defender bursts into the backfield. Leave too late and you miss the backer at the second level. FSU's coaches have had a bye week to focus on this, and it needs to improve. Pronto.
And when the line does open the creases, the backs must hit them. That has not always happened this year and it must improve as well. Missing holes at the rate that they have been is unacceptable. Chris Thompson is probably still FSU's starting back, but don't be surprised to see freshman Devonta Freeman or even Jermaine Thomas (if he is out of the dog house). Freeman is the best runner of the group, be he cannot play if he doesn't get the pass protections down.
Part of this is also making the right calls. That means the linemen must get the right calls down. But we're also not convinced the quarterbacks have been making the right checks at the line. That was an under-appreciated part of Christian Ponder's game, and Clint Trickett or EJ Manuel have to make sure the play is the right one and that it goes to the correct side.
Speaking of quarterbacks, FSU hasn't revealed who will be under center this week. There is no penalty for lying on the injury report, and FSU takes full advantage of this fact. Is EJ Manuel able to play? Is he able to take hits with his shoulder? Just how bad is that shoulder? He's not even listed on the injury report, but neither was Christian Ponder for the ACC Championship Game and Ponder never even suited up for that contest. To say that Manuel's status for this game is in doubt is conservative.
Luckily, FSU has a competent backup in redshirt freshman Clint Trickett. Trickett knows the offense well and while not a cannon, his arm is capable of making most of the throws. The biggest fear for FSU fans is that he'll have a freshman game. You know it's likely coming if he plays enough games, but you just don't know when.
And Wake's secondary is no joke, as the Deacons bring back all four starters and all four reserves. Cyhl Quarles (6'3" 205) is the star of the group at safety, and the corners are pretty good as well, including Merrill "Bud" Noel, a one time FSU verbal. I don't know anything about Wake's reserve corners, however, and not many teams have spread out the Deacons like FSU might elect to do (see: http://www.tomahawknation.com/2011/10/5/2466519/should-florida-state-use-more-multi-receiver-sets-this-season). To have an advantage there, FSU's young receivers must continue to step up.
Wake likes to blitz a lot, but you have to wonder if they'll be willing to do that in this game. Like much of FSU's gameplan, Wake's decision to blitz will depend on whether EJ Manuel starts. FSU must make Wake pay for blitzing with the screen game and, if in pro-sets, max protecting and going deep as a counter.
I expect FSU to rack up at least 6 yards/play in non-garbage time.
FSU has better talent than Wake Forest. The task this week will be to play focused, disciplined football. Jimbo must get FSU to respect Wake and to take them seriously. That's not an easy task, given the 31-0 beatdown FSU dropped on Wake last season, but perhaps showing them tape of BC and N.C. State victories will help. This is a huge game for Wake and is being billed as one of the biggest home games in some time. FSU doesn't need to match that intensity, but it does need to come somewhat close.
Winning in dominant fashion isn't important here. But when Fisher got to Tallahassee he made it clear that FSU was done losing to the ACC teams with far fewer resources. Since the ACC expanded, FSU is just 3-3 against Wake (1-0 under Jimbo). FSU needs to take care of business against a team that while not nearly as bad as I thought they'd be entering the season, is still not on par with FSU.
I'll give FSU a 90% chance of winning this game and say 'Noles 30 Deacons 16