Thursday, August 25, 2011

season preview: Wake Forest

Wake Forest Demon Deacons


9/1: @ Syracuse (Thu.)
9/10: NC State
9/17: Gardner-Webb
9/24: BYE
10/1: @ Boston College
10/8: Florida State
10/15: Virginia Tech
10/22: @ Duke
10/29: @ North Carolina
11/5: Notre Dame
11/12: @ Clemson
11/19: Maryland
11/26: Vanderbilt

Skip: Georgia Tech, Miami, Virginia

Projected starters:

QB: Tanner Price (So.)
RB: Josh Harris (rSo.)
FB: Tommy Bohanon (Jr.)
WR: Chris Givens (rJr.)
WR: Michael Campanaro (rSo.)
TE: Cameron Ford (5Sr.)
LT: Doug Weaver (5Sr.)
LG: Joe Looney (Sr.)
C: Garrick Williams (rJr.)
RG: Michael Hoag (5Sr.)
RT: Dennis Godfrey (5Sr.)

DE: Tristan Dorty (5Sr.)
NT: Nikita Whitlock (rSo.)
DE: Zach Thompson (rSo.)
OLB: Kyle Wilber (5Sr.)
ILB: Riley Haynes (rJr.)
ILB: Scott Betros (rJr.)
OLB: Joey Ehrmann (rJr.)
CB: Kenny Okoro (rJr.)
CB: A.J. Marshall (So.)
SS: Cyhl Quarles (5Sr.)
FS: Daniel Mack (rSo.)

K: Jimmy Newman (Jr.)
P: Alex Wulfeck (So.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Jim Grobe (16th season)

Media prediction: 6th place, Atlantic Division


2010 1st team: none
2010 2nd team: none
2010 HM: none
2011 preseason: none

(Italics indicate departed player.)

Wake Forest's main problem lies about two inches up: the fact that nobody thinks their players are any good.  Despite being one of the few ACC teams not to be breaking in a new quarterback, the 71 media members that voted in the ACC preseason poll gave Wake just 80 points and put them in last place in the Atlantic by a huge margin.


The winner of last year's quarterback derby at Wake was true freshman Tanner Price; the rest of the competition turned out to be pretty bad, actually.  Price wasn't terrible, but he still played like a freshman.  Actually, he's not the only returner; most of the starting offense comes back.  This was one of the conference's least productive offenses last year - only 5.7 yards per passing attempt, for example, 110th in the country - but the rushing offense was not bad, and improved once Josh Harris became the feature back.  Harris, too, was a freshman and had the usual freshman inconsistencies.  He ran for 241 yards and 12 per carry against Virginia Tech; in other games, he was held to 27, 20, and 38.  There aren't many other experienced backs on the roster, so Brandon Pendergrass's role should increase.  Pendergrass had a decent freshman season three years ago but has regressed since.  If he gets rid of his severe case of the fumblies (he dropped two in a one-point loss to Navy last year and never carried again the rest of the season) he could return to his freshman level of productivity.

The line they run behind is nothing if not experienced, as four starters return, all seniors.  The only newcomer to the starting lineup is center Garrick Williams, converted from guard where he's seen some spot starts.  None of these guys have ever come in for any all-conference honors, but with so many seniors here, if they can't put together a good year this year then they never will.

The question on the offense is, who will catch the ball?  Chris Givens is a decent start, but most of Wake's production last season in this department has left.  Tight end Cameron Ford is only an occasional option in the passing game.  Wake needs someone to step up and show out as a receiving threat, or the passing game will continue to be anemic.


Wake started last year as a 4-3 team but evolved their way to a 3-4 by season's end, and top defensive lineman Kyle Wilber is now an outside linebacker.  He'll probably be that Cam Johnson type that plays with his hand on the ground at times.  Wilber is a solid player, but his counterpart on the other side, Joey Ehrmann, will need to be more productive this year, and the inside is still heavily unsettled.

Adding to the concern is that defensive ends Tristan Dorty and Zach Thompson only check in at 250-255 pounds, rather undersized to be DEs in the 3-4.  Thompson is inexperienced besides.  Nose tackle Nikita Whitlock is even smaller for his position at 260.  Whitlock, though, earned second-team freshman all-America recognition last year and was generally a pleasant surprise at defensive tackle after converting from linebacker.  At 260 pounds he won't be the traditional kind of 3-4 nose guard that can clog the middle while taking on a double-team, but he does have playmaking talent.

The secondary has potential and some options, but the players have to produce.  Cornerback Kenny Okoro was a little disappointing last year after being a freshman all-American himself in 2009.  A.J. Marshall played last year as a true freshman and started a few games; Dominique Tate also played as a true freshman and did fairly well, but that was in 2009, and he missed last year with academic issues.  Tate and Marshall will push each other for the starting job and both will be in the rotation, but all three cornerbacks have to turn potential into production or the pass defense will continue to be poor.

Fortunately, things look decent at safety, where Cyhl Quarles is a steady presence.  Daniel Mack and Josh Bush are competing for the free safety position; as with cornerback, the loser will still be in the rotation and must turn potential into production.  If things fall into place this could be among the better secondaries in the conference, but that requires a lot of pieces to work.


Jimmy Newman is a good, solid kicker when he gets the chance; he missed only one field goal last year but only attempted 13.  He may also end up with the punting chores; that job remains unsettled, as does punt returner.  Michael Campanaro averaged a decent 24.5 yards returning kicks in 2010, which offers hope that he can bring some of that ability to the starting wide receiver role opposite Givens.


Chances are pretty good that the media got this one right.  The Atlantic Division looks more competitive than in recent years, and Wake is a likely victim of that rather than a beneficiary.  The OOC schedule is tough, too; Notre Dame, plus two revitalized teams in Syracuse and Vanderbilt.  Barring some major improvements in things like the passing game (both offense and defense in that regard) - or a couple teams like Maryland being worse than expected - it's tough to see where Wake Forest can even find much improvement over their 3-win season last year.  Definitely no bowl game.

No comments: