We are very fortunate to have an excellent network of team-specific blogs to talk with during game weeks. The first edition of 2012's Opponent Blogger Q&A feature is a chat with our friends from Wake Forest at Blogger So Dear. Managing Editor Martin Rickman was kind enough to answer some questions for us about this year's Demon Deacons squad.
TN: Nikita Whitlock. The man has been a terror for FSU fans over his career, but has been banged up of late. What are the chances he plays on Saturday? What does the 260 lb. nose tackle bring to Wake's unorthodox 3-4 defense (sorcery?) and how capable of a backup is the fantastically named Godspower Offor?
BSD: I'm not one to speculate, but all signs point to Nikita being out on Saturday. He hasn't practiced this week, and he had to be carted off after returning for a play against UNC. I think his desire as a competitor hurt him more than the initial injury did. Coming back in and giving it a go reaggravated the sprain, and it's hard to recover from that in just a week's time. If there's any chance Whitlock can go, he will, but assume this as a gametime decision for now.
Sorcery is a good word, but speed and an absolute hunger to make plays may sum it up better. Whitlock doesn't quit. He fights and fights until he gets to the ballcarrier or the quarterback. It's scary what a guy his size is able to do. He bulrushes the center like a good nose should, and he uses great stunts and techniques to raise the linemen's arms and create separation.
Offor plays a much different brand of football, and he certainly needs seasoning, but he's had time to get stronger and more effective off the line (another great example of redshirting working out for the Demon Deacons), but you sure don't want to see a first start against a line as big and talented as Florida State. It's going to be a baptism by fire if Godspower has to go.
Hit the jump for more!
TN: Wake Forest has suffered a rash of injuries on the offensive line and will face a mighty test on Saturday against the ‘Noles' front four. How has the Deacs' starting five fared so far and how do you think they will deal with the challenge they'll face in Tallahassee?
BSD: Honestly, better than I expected. The Liberty game scared me, as did all the injuries during preseason, but the patchwork line held up well against UNC. The team needs to do a better job of sealing off gaps, getting playmakers in space and letting Tanner Price have enough time to get to his second and third options in his progression.
Whether this involves more traps, pulling guards, running bubble screens and crossing patterns or even some zone reads, I don't know, but creativity in playcalling is absolutely essential. This is something Wake gets stuck on at times, and I worry that the inside draws and handoffs, as well as the three route out routes that Wake falls in love with in the lull of the second and third quarters could end up burying them against Florida State.
TN: Tanner Price and Michael Campanaro are excellent players that have had fantastic starts to the 2012 campaign. On the other hand, the Demon Deacons struggled mightily in the running game against North Carolina in last week's huge win. How do you think Wake will look to attack the Seminole defense, a unit likely to find itself ranked among the nation's best at the end of the season? Does the weight of Wake Forest's offensive fate fall heavily on Campanaro's admittedly capable hands?
Wake will try to establish the run, but I don't think that's necessarily the best idea. Spread the field, move Campanaro around to get him the ball as often as possible, run some waggles for Price to get the tight ends, fullback Tommy Bohanon and the running backs some daylight, run quick counters and dives. But most of all, avoid the shotgun draws and short-side running that you see far too often out of Wake Forest. The Noles will make the Deacs pay in ways UNC wasn't able to, and an attempt at clock management and field position could get ugly fast.
TN: Florida State's offense returns quarterback EJ Manuel and most of its receiver corps for the 2012 season. How does Wake Forest's secondary, a group that features playmaker Bud Noel, match up against FSU's returning experience and talent in the passing game? Will the Deacs generate enough pressure and stop the FSU run game (a definite unknown quantity) with the front seven to help their defensive backs out?
BSD: Wake's secondary is the best unit on the field. Unfortunately, the defensive line is still not quite up to par with the rest of the ACC. The linebackers have done a good job of stuffing gaps on the inside, but they're not getting to the edge quickly enough - and UNC was able to hurt the Demon Deacons on runs when the ends were caught gambling.
I think E.J. Manuel will have decent throwing numbers, but the Wake Forest defensive backs ballhawk and play a bend-don't-break style, so a few cushions and first downs won't mean the secondary isn't stepping up. The line absolutely has to disrupt Manuel's timing or the DBs will find themselves on an island. I'd say line play in general on both sides of the ball is the most important key to this game.
TN: QUESTION O' MISCELLANY: How have Wake's special teams fared in 2012? Are there any other unmentioned injuries that will impact the game? Outside of Price, Campanaro, and Noel, is there a playmaker FSU fans should be watching for come high noon on the 15th?
BSD: Overall, much better than the last couple years. Poor special teams play drove me absolutely made in the 2009-2011 seasons, but having a weapon at punter again has been critical. Alex Kinal took a year to get ready, and the waiting was worth it. He's shown great touch on the long and short kicks. Campanaro and the return game are getting the ball further, as well. The only place Wake has disappointed on special teams is the field goal unit, but that might be an issue of luck rather than skill. Jimmy Newman is a much better kicker than he's shown so far.
Injury-wise, you guys at TN probably know which Wake players are injured even more than we do. But watch the status of Zach Thompson and Kevin Johnson on defense. Wake can ill afford to lose both of them on top of Whitlock on Saturday.
As to playmakers, the running backs are a critical x-factor. Josh Harris and DeAndre Martin have gamechanging potential, but they need the right opportunities. This starts and ends on the line.
TN: And finally, tell us a bit about the expectations for the Demon Deacs in 2012. After a great 2-0 start to 2012, where do you believe/hope the season goes from here?
BSD: Hopefully, it goes to a bowl game and seven wins. I don't think there were many Wake fans who thought the Demon Deacons would beat UNC, and Gio Bernard being out plus the hard hit to Renner proved to be the difference in what could have been a 14-point loss. Wake has winnable games against Army, Maryland, Duke, Vanderbilt, Virginia and BC left, as well as question marks against Clemson, N.C. State and Notre Dame.
Realistic expectations are that the Deacs can win four or five of those games pretty easily and the potential for another one or two if the ball rolls the right way. Fans are thrilled to be 2-0, but they're not getting ahead of themselves. The Seminoles are an incredible test for Wake Forest, and the spread shows that.
Thanks to Martin and the guys at Blogger So Dear! You can find the answers to our questions for them here.