Notre Dame looks to continue to march toward an unbeaten regular season and a possible spot in the BCS national championship game when it hosts Wake Forest this weekend. The Demon Deacons (5-5) have had an inconsistent season to date, and are coming off their worst loss of the season after a 37-6 setback at the hands of North Carolina State.
Wake Forest actually lost to Florida State 52-0 back in September for a worse margin of defeat, but like NC State, they headed into this past weekend’s game with a 5-4 record and the chance to become bowl eligible with a win. The bitter taste of the 31-point loss and the still dangling carrot of a possible bowl berth give them much to play for when they visit Notre Dame Stadium this weekend.
“We certainly had some issues up front both running and throwing the football,” head coach Jim Grobe said of his Deacons after the loss. “Our receivers had some opportunities to make plays and didn’t make them. (Quarterback) Tanner (Price) didn’t pay really well tonight. It’s not fair, but Tanner can’t play average. If he plays average we can’t win.”
Price was just 18-for-33 for 113 yards and an interception in the loss to the Wolfpack. He was also sacked five times. He had no help from the running game, which was held to a mere 16 yards, either. Wake Forest managed just nine first downs to NC State’s 26 in the game.
Price is a junior who goes against the mold that Grobe has had since taking over at Wake a dozen years ago. Grobe has traditionally stocked his roster with smaller under-recruited players and redshirted them to give them the chance to develop as players and in physical stature. Price has started at quarterback since his true freshman season in 2010 though.
The Austin, Texas native set five school records for a freshman quarterback that year when he was one of just three true freshmen to see action for his team. Price, a lefty, has completed 55-percent of his passes this season for 1,965 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. Some of his struggles on Saturday can be attributed to the defense employed by the Wolfpack.
“We hadn’t seen man coverage consistently this year,” Grobe said of his offense’s struggles after the game. “We struggled to get off of (NC State’s) coverage and protect long enough for Tanner to get a chance to find someone downfield.”
Notre Dame is obviously a defensive team that relies more on zone principles, but Bob Diaco used more man-to-man than usual this past weekend against Boston College.
Wake Forest will get creative with its offense when throwing the ball. Price is one of five players to attempt a pass for the Demon Deacons in 2012. In addition to back-up quarterbacks Patrick Thompson and Brendan Cross, receiver Michael Campanaro and running back Deandre Martin have all thrown the ball at least once this season.
Campanaro accounted for Wake’s only touchdown Saturday with a 39-yard pass to Terence Davis on the only play of that offensive drive. Thompson was 3-of-4 for 17 passing yards in that game, while Cross was 0-for-2.
Martin is Wake’s second-leading rusher with 371 yards on 88 carries (4.2) as well as five touchdowns. He is 3-of-4 passing for 48 yards and also has eight receptions for 67 yards. Josh Harris leads the Deacs with 607 yards with five TDs and a 4.5 yards-per-carry average. He has 18 receptions for just 83 yards (4.6). Martin ran for just 41 yards on seven carries, while Harris had 15 yards on seven carries against NC State.
Campanaro and Davis are Price’s top two receiving targets. Campanaro has 65 receptions for 618 yards and five touchdowns. He averages 77.2 yards-per-game. Davis has 37 grabs for 495 yards and two TDs. Fullback Tommy Bohanan has 20 receptions for just 192 yards, but he has accounted for the remaining five touchdown receptions his team has this season.
Wake Forest’s 102.7 yards-a-game ranks a lowly 111th among FBS teams. The passing offense ranks 87th nationally. The team is 111th in total offense (309.7 yards-a-game), while the scoring offense (20.1 points/game) ranks 106th. Their team 3rd down conversion percentage of 32-percent also ranks 114th nationally.
Wake Forest’s defense is more the strength of the team, but only slightly. The Demon Deacons rank 70th in scoring defense at 28.9 points-per-game. They are 63rd against the run (156.9/game) and 78th in total defense (417.8 yards/game).
The Deacons do not have a lot of trips into opposing red zones this season, but when they get there they have success. Wake is 21-of-23 (91%) in red zone scoring opportunities this season, which ranks 12th in the FBS.
Linebackers Justin Jackson and Mike Olson are the team’s top two tacklers. Jackson, who plays outside, has team-highs with 75 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks. Olson has 68 tackles with 3.5 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack. Wake’s 68 TFLs are just two more than opponents have this year, while their 23 sacks are equal to their opponents through 10 games.
Including this season’s 5-5 mark, Grobe is 73-72 in his 12 years at Wake Forest. The team was 37-75 in the previous 10 seasons before he took over. He led Wake Forest to a bowl game for the fourth time in six seasons last year. That 2011 team set a school record with 3,291 passing yards. Grobe’s signature season came in 2006 when Wake won the ACC with 11 wins and made a trip to the FedEx Orange Bowl.