To preview this weekend's ACC Atlantic pillow fight between the Eagles and Demon Deacons, we welcome back the boys from Blogger So Dear for Five Good Minutes. In exchange, I answered some questions on the Eagles over at BSD.
BC Interruption: While Wake hasn't exactly played a murderer's row in the early going, I was surprised to see the
Demon Deacons defense ranked 18th nationally in total defense through its first three games. What have
the Deacons done well on the defensive side of the ball?
Blogger So Dear: The 18th is a bit misleading. If you take out the game against Gardner-Webb, the Deacs drop to 45th nationally. Gardner-Webb is a very, very bad team, and allowing only five points against them (their quarterback is downright horrendous) was to be expected. The defense has improved leaps and bounds over last year though, when it was one of the worst defenses I've ever seen.
The team has done a much better job of taking away the big play in general. While on most third and longs last year, it was almost assumed the opposing team would get a 1st and keep driving, this year, there's a lot more hope that the D will hold. That starts with keeping assignments and better coverage from the DBs, who still have a long way to go, but have used their athleticism to make more plays. Bud Noel is a huge part of this.
Another key is Nikita Whitlock, who is giving the opposing offensive line fits from the NT position and is keeping QBs from being as comfortable as they were a year ago. The team needs to get more pressure and press a bit more from the backs, rather than giving up 10 yard cushions, but there is a lot to be optimistic about defensively.
BCI: BC has struggled to defend against mobile quarterbacks this season. Do you expect Tanner Price to have another big day on Saturday? Assess his 2011 season to date.
BSD: Tanner isn't going to get out and run on you, but he does like to get out of the pocket and throw from there. In that regard, he reminds me a lot of Colt McCoy, another Texas product. Tanner is comfortable in the pocket and can make throws from there, but he seems to be at his best when the play breaks down a bit and he can find a receiver making something out of nothing. He has established a really great rapport with Chris Givens. Unfortunately it is looking like Michael Campanaro is out, so he will need another great game out of Danny Dembry (16 catches, 230 yards, 1 TD) in his absence.
Overall, Tanner has done an unbelievable job. I still am not in love with his arm angle on some of his throws on the run when he tends to drop his shoulder a bit, but he has a heck of an arm, makes generally good decisions and has a lot of poise in the pocket. He's a special player, and he (and the play of the receivers) is one of the biggest reasons the Deacs have gone 2-1 to start the season.
BCI: Wake got an extra week off to prepare for its road game in Chestnut Hill this weekend. Will the extra week off help or hurt the Deacons?
BSD: Helps, definitely. The Deacs were more banged up than they should have been this early on in the year, and the relatively easy game against G-W plus this extra week should have them fresh for this stretch that includes this @ Boston College, Florida State, Virginia Tech, @ Duke, @ North Carolina, Notre Dame and @ Clemson. Although ideally I would have liked to see the bye week come AFTER this week or next week, there are some defensive players who needed the rest, and that's the weakest facet of the team's game.
BCI: Wake Forest needs just four more wins over its last nine games to become bowl-eligible and take a step towards a return to the postseason. Does this team get them?
BSD: Wow, I have been thinking about this a lot. And over and over again I keep coming back to the Syracuse game when the Deacs held Tanner Price out after his injury, made an awful lot of suspect coaching decisions and flat out got unlucky (the last Syracuse touchdown in regulation wasn't a catch. It just wasn't). Am I glad the team is 2-1, heck yeah I am, but it's just like the Cleveland Browns this year (of which I'm a fan, fitting, I know)...they should be 3-0. And you can't just squander away possible victories on the schedule.
But to answer your question, let's look at the schedule. I already listed off the next seven games. Not exactly a ton of wins coming out of those. I think Wake will beat BC (sorry, I just do). I also think Wake will beat Duke. That leaves two wins out of the hell road of FSU, VT, UNC, ND, Clemson and then the final two games against Maryland and Vanderbilt. I want to believe Wake beats Vandy; they have in the past, it's the last game of the season and it is at home. So if we assume that's five wins, that leaves one win against Maryland or the other five teams.
Account for Wake being Wake and biffing a game that I'm not predicting correctly ... that means Wake is going to have to upset at least one other team, the most likely being Notre Dame (a team with no defense) or UNC (yet another team with no defense). It's possible. But it would be a lot more likely if they had closed out the ‘Cuse game.
BCI: Thoughts on the ACC's recent additions of Syracuse and Pittsburgh and how it will affect the conference and Wake Forest specifically.
BSD: I love it honestly. I think Pitt and Syracuse fit in the ACC really well. Their basketball teams have identities that gel really nicely. Their football teams have a rich history, but the ACC model of underachieving in the last few years (which we apparently love in this conference). I'm not going to be driving up to Syracuse very much, but it fits in the gap between Maryland and Boston that the conference wanted to have and road trips to Pittsburgh aren't hard at all (especially if I was still living in Cleveland).
I am soured by this whole expansion thing as a whole, but I would much rather have 'Cuse and Pitt in here than teams like UConn and Rutgers. Those two make the conference stronger, and that's what we want. Plus it gives our former Big East guys some rivalries back, which is nice too.
BCI: Last one. What does Wake have to do to win this game? Care to give us a prediction on how this goes down? Final score?
BSD: Wake needs to minimize mistakes on both sides of the ball. They would prefer this game be a shootout rather than a T.O.P. battle. The Deacs would love to see the running game get going, something that has been a bit of a disappointment thus far. Defensively, they need to force turnovers and avoid the big play downfield, be it on a long pass or a big run from Harris. I honestly think the Deacs are a slightly better team (which is really odd to mention out loud), and I guess Vegas does too, making Wake three point favorites on the road.
Now Montel Harris changes a lot for BC. This is the first real game the Eagles have had with him at full speed. And I am not super confident in Wake's rushing defense as a whole. That does really scare me. But I just don't know that Rettig can get in a blow for blow fight against Price, and I don't feel like BC can outscore Wake in general. So with that, I'll give the edge to the Demon Deacons...let's say 31-27.