We teamed up with the folks over at Blogger So Dear to share questions and answers in anticipation of this weekend's Atlantic Division clash between Clemson and Wake Forest. I encourage you to head over there and view their website to learn all about the Demon Deacons before the two quads meet up on the gridiron. Thanks again to Martin Rickman of BSD for working with us.
STS: When I think of a Jim Grobe-led Wake offense, I immediately think misdirection and cut blocks. This year’s, Demon Deacon team, however, has done its damage through the air (a 2000+ yard passer and a receiver with nearly 1000 yards receiving to this point). Have there been any philosophical changes to the Wake Forest offense and, if so, what drove those changes?
BSD: Wake hasn’t been the orbit/misdirection-style offense for a few years now. Grobe and OC Steed Lobotzke moved to a lot more I, pistol and straight shotgun formations. The sweeps and cutbacks have been replaced with draws, crossing patterns and isolating receivers on the outside.
Tanner Price gets a lot of credit for some of the change; he’s a very good quarterback and can hit receivers downfield. It definitely helps that the receivers have gotten better in the last few years as well, from Kenny Moore to D.J. Boldin to this year’s crop led by Chris Givens and Michael Campanaro. Wake has gotten a lot more physical and athletic, rather than just "speedy" on the outside.
STS: The Wake Forest rushing attack has been dominated by two rushers—Josh Harris (432 yards, 3 TDs) and Brandon Pendergrass (417 yards, 5 TDs). Is there any sort of controversy at running back between these two? Can you compare their running styles for us and tell us which player you think is the more dangerous back?
BSD: Nothing in the way of controversy. Just injury. Harris has been bothered by leg injuries (mostly hamstring) all year, and hasn’t been able to shake it. Pendergrass is a senior and runs north-to-south well, but really doesn’t have breakout speed or the ability to carry it 20+ times a game. We saw that against Notre Dame, he ground down in the second half significantly, and Jim Grobe ended up having to burn Orville Reynolds’ redshirt.
Harris is easily the more dangerous back. He stuttersteps and gets jumpy behind the line sometimes, but when he gets through the hole, he can bust any play to the second level. His health has definitely hurt him this season, and we may not see the true Josh Harris until next season when he has time to get right.
STS: Sophomore QB Tanner Price and Junior WR Chris Givens are both having breakout seasons. First, can you tell us a little about each of these players? Is there anything special that caused this increase in production in 2011?
BSD: Tanner Price is a Texas QB and came from the same high school as Drew Brees. I’m not comparing the two, but their styles are similar. Price isn’t ultra-speedy, but he does a good job of going through his progressions when he has time, he can make throws when he’s forced out of the pocket, and he has a better-than-average arm. He’s not super tall, so he does get bothered by big defensive lines, and has seen some passes batted down. Price is one of the most gifted QBs to ever come through Wake, but he needs to improve his decision-making at times. That’ll come with more experience. He’s still just a sophomore.
Givens is another Texas kid, and is having an unbelievable season. He’s got good leaping ability, holds onto the football, breaks down his man, gets yards after the catch, and always finds ways to make plays. The chemistry he has developed with Price is impressive. A knee injury put Chris under the radar a bit in high school, but Wake fans knew they were getting a special player if he could stay healthy. He’s shown that and more this year.
STS: Wake has given up 19 or more points in each of its conference games this season. What areas of this defense would you attack if you were Clemson’s offensive coordinator?
BSD: The secondary. Easily. Wake gets absolutely killed on intermediate routes, and has for years. They’re so focused on preventing the big play that teams can get yards in chunks against the Demon Deacons. Bud Noel has had a good season as a freshman—he is good at open-field tackling and knocks down a lot of passes—but the Deacs don’t have a shutdown second corner and aren’t terrific at safety. Big-time receivers have had a lot of success against the Deacs this year, as have receiving tight ends.
The run defense hasn’t been bad, but wears down in the second half. If I’m coaching against Wake, I attack the middle of the field on slants and drags, use my RBs out of the backfield, work in some bubble screens, and when Wake is forced to bring their corners closer to the line, throw over the top and work in some quick dives on the ground.
STS: On the flip side, what aspects of the Wake defense do you think will give Clemson trouble on Saturday? Are there any defensive players we really want to watch as fans on Saturday?
BSD: Nikita Whitlock and Kyle Wilber. Whitlock is an absolute terror. It takes two guys to block him, even when he is beat, he’ll still recover and end up making a tackle, he has a lot of chasedowns, and gets to the QB. He’s the best pass rusher Wake has.
Wilber is tough and physical. He’s battled some injuries, but he is a heck of a tackler and gets involved on a lot of late stunts or rushes from the edge. Those two lead a defense that has improved significantly from a year ago, but still has a long way to go.
STS: Finally, Wake is coming off of two consecutive tough losses. Do you think this team will rebound and play well or are you concerned that the last couple games may still be on the players’ minds and the Deacons open the game flat this week?
BSD: I’m absolutely concerned. Clemson needs this win to win the Atlantic. Wake has all kinds of trouble on the road, not just in general, but in Death Valley specifically. The UNC loss I can stomach. I felt like it would go that way, what with an escape against Duke and the Notre Dame game coming up.
Wake had the Fighting Irish right where they wanted them on Saturday. But the offense got conservative—and still made mistakes. The Deacs need an A-game out of the defense to stay in this, and they have to play to their strengths.
Jim Grobe made excuses for why Wake is running the football so much, but quite frankly, that won’t do it. They need to ride Tanner. They aren’t going to win this thing if they’re worried about time of possession and keeping the football out of Boyd’s hands. This isn’t going to be a 17-14, grind-it-out game. Wake Forest is either going to have to win this thing 35-34, or they’re going to end up losing 28-10.
Unfortunately, I feel like it will be closer to the latter than the former.