Wake Forest's offensive line was its known weakness coming into the 2012 season. With big graduation losses and preseason injuries, they were expected to be overmatched by Florida States defensive line -- perhaps the finest in the land. And they were.
Florida State's defensive front tallied 11 (yes, 11) tackles for loss. Wake ran only 59 total plays. 19-percent of Wake's offensive snaps went for loss. And that does not even count the plays that went for no gain, of which there were 21 (14 passes, 7 runs).
Wake Forest only had two plays of more than 10 yards -- a run for 34 yards that occurred when junior linebacker Telvin Smith appeared to get out of his gap, and a contested catch down the sideline of 41 yards. On the day, Wake managed just 2.1 yards/play, and were held under 2 before garbage time.
But what's more impressive than keeping Wake from gaining a single yard on more than half of its plays (Wake gained positive yards on only 27 of its 59 snaps), was the discipline with which the Seminoles went about doing so. In the past, and particularly during the stretch of winning four of six against FSU, Wake's offense always seemed to catch Florida State out of position and gash the Seminoles for big plays.
The boys up front got it done. Scratch that, the men up front got it done. This is a different group. The young pups have grown up.
Afterwards, they chatted about their performance. And the central themes were discipline and teamwork.
"... The biggest thing going into Wake Forest was making sure that we played disciplined. They are a good team and they can run a lot of good trick plays so the biggest thing is just being disciplined and not coming out of your gaps and making plays within the scheme," sophomore nose guard Timmy Jernigan said. Note: Jernigan gingerly walked off the field in the second half, but was apparently dealing with cramps from the hot September conditions.
"We kind of knew what they were doing, but everything was different. We just had to stay focused. By everyone watching the film, we knew that everything would come along and that we would get it done," senior defensive end Cornellius "Tank" Carradine said. "... We were real excited and we were focused because this team defeated us last year so we were real confident. We knew how things were going to turn out." Carradine credited the defensive tackles for dominating the inside and allowing him to amass 2.5 sacks.
And what a special group of tackles it is. With nine, count em, nine defensive tackles who were rated four stars or higher coming out of high school, perhaps no defense in the country can match.
And it starts in the middle with Amp McCloud, the senior nose guard. The massive 24-year old who clogs the middle and keeps everyone loose in the lockerroom. It was his first time starting on the season after suffering a pectoral injury during fall camp. Jimbo Fisher raved about McCloud's work in the middle, and McCloud raved about his teammates.
"It's love, it's great," McCloud said with a big smile, when discussing the shutout and all the work the defense and the coaches put in during the week. McCloud said that it was good to get more reps and to gauge where he is at with his injury and his strength.
"Technique was our motivation. Last year we didn't play technique-sound football. Had eye violations," McCloud said. "This year. Keep your eyes on what you need to keep your eyes on. Play your gap and play your assignment and don't try to do too much. All 11 [players] do their job, and [inaudible] is the outcome of the game."
McCloud threw the credit for the defensive tackles' pass rush to the ends for driving the QB up in the pocket. In turn, the ends gave McCloud and the tackles credit for pushing the QB back into the ends. McCloud said that they try to motivate each other to play with even better technique.
And one of the key players McCloud motivates is sophomore phenom Timmy Jernigan, who would be a starter at probably every school in the country not named Florida State. In Tallahassee, he's McCloud's backup. It's clear the pair like to joke around a lot.
"Hey, that's all he needs to give me," McCloud said in response to Jernigan saying that he would give McCloud the edge in taking on double teams, but that it was all he was willing concede. "I pride myself on taking on double teams. And I'll give it to him. He quick. He moves better than I do. So we do the 1-2 punch. I go in there and try to tire 'em out with my size and strength. And then he goes in there, and he's quick, and I already done tired 'em out. That's out 1-2 punch. I try to wear em down and let these young guys with a little more energy than I got go in there and get the sacks."
"I just feel old. I just feel a little older," McCloud said jokingly when asked about his statement on the young players.
Speaking of young guys, McCloud shared some thoughts on freshman Eddie Goldman. "He's better than I was as a freshman. He's fast, quick, strong. He just has to work on technique and the plays, and his time is coming soon," McCloud said with a big smile.
And with Clemson's run game largely predicated on the A-gap (the gap on both sides of the center), Florida State's 1-2 punch will be called upon Saturday to win the battle and take Clemson out of its comfort zone. Clemson has a pre-season All-ACC center on its line, over which FSU will line up McCloud and Jernigan. That makes for one of the most intriguing battles to watch.