Florida State starts conference play against Wake Forest Saturday at Noon. Once more Jim Grobe has pulled together a football team that is always where they should be and punishes opponents for not doing the same. Wake has been a thorn in FSU's side for the last 6 years, winning 4 times. Will the trend continue? Can Wake once again bring down heavily favored Florida State? Here are some keys to the game.
What They Did Last Week: Wake Forest
Wake Forest completed a mild upset against North Carolina by a score of 28-27. The game was marred by a probable concussion suffered by North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner in the first half. Renner was having a very good game before the concussion but struggled afterwards and the coaching staff did not adjust. Wake Forest, like they do to every team they play, took advantage of UNC's mistakes and lack of adjustments to win the game late.
What They Did Last Week: Florida State
Florida State beat outmatched Savannah State in a lightning shortened game. FSU only punted after scoring seven straight touchdowns and then proceeded to score one more touchdown before the game was called. There wasn't much to analyze with such an inferior opponent. Fans hoped to evaluate freshman defensive ends Mario Edwards Jr. and Chris Casher. Unfortunately, the shortened game limited their snaps.
Wake Forest runs an 11 offense (one running back, one tight end) with mostly shotgun and pistol looks. Their run game has struggled with four new starters on the offensive line. Through two games, Wake has totaled 162 rushing at 2.3 yards a carry. However, Wake will show play action on almost every passing play. They do this to hold the linebackers and slow down the rush. Teams that do not respect the backfield movement will be punished with end arounds and reverses.
Wake Forest does have a nice passing game. Tanner Price is a criminally underrated quarterback. He has a great understanding of the offense and a wonderful feel for the pocket. The good news is that Price depends on Michael Campanaro, a solid wide receiver that understands his role and reads defenses very well. The bad news is that Price depends almost completely on Campanaro. Campanaro has 22 catches while the next leading receiver, Brandon Terry, has 5. That's not to say Wake only has one good receiver. Terry's five catches have resulted in 125 yards.
Look for FSU's defense to take away Campanaro as an option. The goal is not to completely deny Campanaro the ball but rather limit his yards after the catch. UNC tried to match Campanaro with linebackers and that resulted in 164 yards on 13 catches. FSU's linebackers are better than UNC's so FSU could run a 4-3 and use it's linebackers to disrupt Campanaro's routes. However, the LBs will not be freed to pay attention to the run game and blitzing, so a nickel heavy game with Tyler Hunter would seem to be the better strategy. The problem is that Hunter is mostly untested. Look to see if he can keep up. If Campanaro is running free, FSU might have to adjust their strategy.
Watch for how much time Darby, Casher, and Edwards get. Darby is still in a battle with Waisome for playing time while Casher and Edwards have only seen limited snaps. Will Stoops throw Casher and Edwards into the fire while the game is close or will he wait until the game is out of hand, assuming it gets that far?
Wake runs a 3-4 A gap defense. What does that mean? I'm glad you asked because TN writers have some great resources for you. Here is Riley Skinner talking about A gap penetraition. Here is an article by Bud Elliot and Alan Munday on how Wake utilizes this concept. Finally, here is an article by Eric Fisher on FSU's first test against a solid defensive line.
Our friends at Blogger So Dear noted that Wake has struggled with outside runs this season, and the outside zone play is something FSU has run very well on the year.
Unfortunately for Wake, star defensive lineman Nikita Whitlock injured his ankle against UNC and has not practiced since. Freshman Tyler Harris (245 pounds) took over for Whitlock after the injury and UNC's running game was much better. Wake did show some 4-3 but mostly stayed in the 3-4. Whitlock has not practiced this week and Grobe said he would be a game time decision. A high ankle sprain, which is what Whitlock is said to have, should make him a step slow so look for FSU to test him early and often if he does play. Whether Witlock plays or not, FSU's offensive line needs to have good communication and understand where Wake is bringing pressure. This will allow FSU to keep Wake's linebackers out of the backfield and allow the guards to get to the second level. For more injury information check out Blogger So Dear's post.
Update: Whitlock is listed as out of this game.
If Wake Forest is forced to pinch more inside to account for the loss of Whitlock, it could create a situation in which the aforementioned outside zone is even more effective for the Seminoles.
Wake's safeties do a good job of keeping everything in front of them and boasts playmakers in the secondary like Bud Noel. Wake Forest gives up about 6.9 yards per pass attempt so while they are not great against the pass they are certainly not awful. Wake will try and force Florida State to execute in the passing game and then make them pay for risky throws. EJ Manuel needs to take what Wake leaves open and not force the ball down field.
Cason Beatty only had one chance last week but boomed his only punt 46 yards and pinned Savannah State inside the 20. Watch Beatty's punts this week and see if he continue to build on his success. Wake does not have a great return unit, but Campanaro can certainly move and make teams pay for being unsound in the return game. FSU has a great coverage unit so FSU should not see many problems here provided the kicks are OK.
On the other hand, Wake punter Alexander Kinal averaged 42.9 yards on seven kicks against UNC. Wake has a decent but not great coverage unit allowing 9.3 yards on three punt returns. FSU has a better return unit than UNC though. Will Wake kick to Rashad Greene or force him to field the ball off the bounce as he has not done a good job of fielding those punts? Greene was solid on his punt returns against Savannah State but they did not rugby punt.
While Dustin Hopkins missed an extra point last week, he has made both of his field goal attempts (both under 40 yards). Wake Forest place kicker Jimmy Newman has a 74% FG average but has missed both field goals this year. Both were over 40 yards but certainly something to watch out for.
Watch FSU's offensive line. Showing a good understanding of Wake Forest's front seven movement means the coaching staff did a good job of preparing the offensive line. Conversely, pay attention to the linebackers. Since Wake runs a ton of backfield movement the linebackers need to have good recognition. The defensive line should be able to hold most of the running plays in check but the linebackers need to be weary of the reverses and end arounds while attacking the gaps to keep the running game moving backwards.
Wake has had a ton of injuries this season and off-season, just like FSU last year. It should not surprise anybody to see Wake keep things close early and get beat late. Look for FSU to focus on power running and play off of it. Fisher's offense is based on the power run game and this is where Wake struggles.
AussieRabbit has done a great job on his craft brew articles. Click here to see his articles from week one and two and check back for a week three article (yes, we are putting him on the spot this year). If you live in the central Virginia area keep an eye out for Charlottesville's Devil's Backbone Brewery.