Maryland went down to Winston-Salem last year, having lost 6 straight games, wishing that the season were over already. Poor offensive execution and defensive effort led to the Terps getting their shells waxed 31-10. Despite a 110 yard rushing performance from CJ Brown, Maryland couldn’t convert on third downs (4-of-16) and Deacs QB Tanner Price went absolutely ham on the defense for two fourth quarter touchdown passes to seal the deal. It was a poor effort by the Terps, and one that we’d like to see change in 2012, so without further ado..
Deacons 2011 Record: 6-7 (5-3 in ACC)
Wake Forest 2012 Schedule
Sept. 1 Liberty
Sept. 8 North Carolina
Sept. 15 at Florida State
Sept. 22 Army
Sept. 29 Duke
Oct. 6 at Maryland
Oct. 13 Bye
Oct. 20 at Virginia
Oct. 25 Clemson (Thursday)
Nov. 3 Boston College
Nov. 10 at NC State
Nov. 17 at Notre Dame
Nov. 24 Vanderbilt
The Deacons are good because…
We’ll start with one of the obvious reasons the Deacons are pretty darn good, and that’s because of their quarterback Tanner Price. Price is a junior Texas-bred quarterback, which means he likes to slang that thang around the field. Last year he finished up the season with 20 TDs and 6 INTs to go along with 3,017 yards, but it’s almost a certainty that his numbers could be better this year given that it’s his third season in Jim Grobe’s offense. 20 TDs is a deceiving number, too, because Price could have been a whole lot better if he actually had a running game. Unfortunately, starter Josh Harris came up lame with hamstring injuries most of last year and was a non factor, which pretty much let every defense know what play they were going to run next. Senior Brandon Pendergrass filled in admirably with 823 yards on the ground and 9 TDs, but he is nowhere near the big play person that Harris was considered to be as a freshman (when he averaged over 5 yards a carry).
Their offense never seems to beat themselves with mind numbing turnovers, which is a big reason why their 12 turnovers total last season (a number which was 6 fewer than Virginia Tech, who is nefarious for never relinquishing the rock) is so impressive. Forcing this team to cough up the ball is like asking a homeless man to give up 20 bucks; ain’t happening to often. Price has completed his last 173 passes without an interception heading into 2012, and you’d be hard pressed to go into the history books and find many streaks better than that. That’s why they can always stay in games despite not lighting it up offensively, where they finished 8th in the ACC in scoring.
Another reason why they’re good, and in my opinion their biggest strength, is Wake’s secondary. They return defensive freshman of the year Merrill “Boo” Noel, and he might make all the difference. Good luck throwing any ball his direction, because Noel looks like he was created at the Master Lock factory. And NFL scouts seem to think so, too, when they compare him favorably to former Deacon great Alphonso Smith. Last year alone, he led the nation (all players, not just freshmen) in passes deflected with 19 total. He makes that defensive secondary very tough to throw on, and was a big reason why CJ Brown threw the ball 42 times and only had 186 yards (who says he can’t throw?!). Here’s why it gets harder:
Kevin Johnson, a Clarksville, Md. native who played his HS ball at River Hill, actually beat out Noel for a starting cornerback job last season. The freshman defensive player of the year Noel, who had 66 tackles and 2 picks! He beat him out! The only reason this guy wasn’t on the field for a single game is because he probably didn’t attend classes, and ended up being ruled academically ineligible. The year before that as a true freshman playing spot duty in 11 games, Johnson had 20 solo tackles, including nine against Virginia Tech alone. It’s scary to think about how hungry this kid is going to be when he finally gets on the field, and for that reason this might be one of Wake Forest’s most dangerous secondaries in a long, long time. (On a lighter note, the good news is that Maryland’s QBs may be incapable of throwing the ball far enough for them to pick it off.)
Back to the running game, where the Deacons have a healthy Josh Harris and sophomore Orville Reynolds as their one-two punch, with DeAndre Martin filling in when needed. Josh Harris has shown flashes of becoming a 1,000+ yard rusher, but he hasn’t been healthy. If everything is right for him, and rumors out of camp are that they are, their backfield is set. Reynolds is the little engine that could, given that his height is around 5’7 at best but he’s the fastest guy on the field. He was a true freshman last year and only rushed for 109 yards, but I had the unfortunate experience of witnessing him rush for 62 of those yards against the Terrapins. The combination of runners and their differing skills makes for, if everyone is healthy, a formidable backfield.
The Deacons will lose to Maryland because…
Lots of reasons. We can start with their hollowed out offensive line as the biggest reason why the Deacons could fall to the Terrapins. Center Garrick Williams is the team’s lone returning starter on the offensive line. Steven Chase, the Deacons new starting left tackle, just went down in camp with a torn ACL and meniscus, so he’s cooked for the year. LT Colin Summers also has had some trouble with a bum foot. Basically, they’ve got issues up front, and that’s never a very good thing for teams with small running backs, injured running backs, and not necessarily speedy quarterbacks (though Price is mildly mobile).
That offensive line is going to cause their offense to cough some balls up, as the rumors coming out of camp seem to state that nothing is going very well for the offense during scrimmages. Price has been getting hassled by the defense their last two scrimmages, and it all leads back to that makeshift line…
And the fact that Price is going to be missing one of the best wide receivers in the ACC last year in Chris Givens should really sting. Anytime you lose 1,300+ yards and 9 touchdowns (and your favorite target), it’s expected to affect you statistically. Sure, the Deacs have Michael Campanaro coming back (who had 833 yards and 2 TDs last year), but Michael Campanaro is more Robin than he is Batman. Ask Batman to play the Robin role for Gotham City and the crime rate is going to skyrocket. Even if Campanaro (who ate Maryland up on 7 catches for 80 yards last year) comes in with a 1,000 yard season, he’s basically all they’ve got outside of a senior who had 250 yards last year. Asking unproven commodities to step up and perform is a risky game, but that’s the game the Deacons are playing this year.
Finally, if that running game can’t stay healthy this year and play some consistent football, then this could be a bad season for Wake Forest. Even with Maryland’s injuries, the game could be a toss up given some of the holes on this roster.