November 4, 2013

Know Your Opponent: Wake Forest

2012 Record: 4-5 (2-4 ACC)

Starters returning: 18 (8 offense, 8 defense, 2 specialists)

Breaking it down:

The last time Florida State went to Wake Forest, the Seminoles suffered an ego-bruising 35-30 loss to the Demon Deacons as part of a three-game losing streak in 2011. But bringing up that loss now is just a way to try and inject some drama into what should be a lopsided win for FSU.

Wake Forest lost its best offensive weapon in wide receiver Michael Campanaro last week in a 13-0 loss to Syracuse, and that's a devastating blow to the Demon Deacon offense. It's not like WFU was exactly explosive beforehand: Wake is dead last in the ACC in total offense and scoring offense.

That's not a great standard for facing an FSU defense that's been incredibly dominant in the past five weeks, holding its past four opponents to just 11.25 points per game.

Wake's offensive struggles have come largely from a dismal attempt to switch to an option-based offense early in the season and then a switch to a more pass-heavy attack when that failed, and now, likely, a return to the option after Campanaro went down.

Through the air

Player to watch:

QB Tanner Price (Sr.)

2013 passing:
177-315 1,951 yards 12 TD 5 INT.

Gulp. Wake Forest's starting quarterback has put his name in the school record books with a solid four-year career as a starting quarterback. He's already equaled his season total for touchdown passes from 2012 through nine games. But he's missing his best weapon in Campanaro and is facing far and away the most dynamic and best defense he'll face all year. Campanaro has 40 percent of Wake Forest's receiving yards, 36 percent of its catches and almost half of the passing touchdowns. Nobody on Wake's roster has more than 15 catches on the season.

That leaves Price with a lot of questions to work with and not a lot of experience to go around. But the good news for Wake Forest is the Demon Deacons have been the team most willing to resort to trick plays this season - Price has caught a touchdown pass this year. That's not a promising pillar upon which to build an offensive attack, but it is something.

Pounding the ground

Player to watch:

RB Josh Harris (Sr.)

2013 Rushing
: 84 rushes, 306 yards, 33.6 yards per game.

Welp, at least Florida State doesn't have to worry about a pounding running game this week. Wake Forest's running game has been abhorrently bad so far this season. The Deacons are averaging just 89.7 rushing yards per game and have just eight touchdowns on the ground. No player for Wake Forest has more than 33 yards per game, and that's Harris. Given what FSU did to Duke Johnson and Miami, it's unlikely that Wake Forest puts up many yards on the ground.

Getting defensive

Player to watch

DL Nikita Whitlock

2013 Stats: 60 tackles, 13 tackles for loss, 7 sacks, 2 kicks blocked.

Here's the bright spot for Wake Forest: Whitlock has been a one-man wrecking crew on the defensive line for the Deacons. He's third on the team in total tackles and leads in both tackles for loss and sacks.

The knock on Whitlock is that he's a smaller guy at nose guard. He's only 5-11 and 250 pounds, so he relies on speed and athleticism rather than brute force. That's not a recipe that worked exceedingly well for Pittsburgh's Aaron Donald, a similar smaller defensive tackle. Florida State's offensive line has been really, really good at shutting out pass-rushers this season: As Donald, Vic Beasley and Brock Hekkig.

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