W-L: 6-7 (5-3)
Top Offensive Performer: Tanner Price, QB
Top Defensive Performer: Merrill Noel, CB
After choking away a late lead against Syracuse in the season opener, Wake Forest fans should’ve known they were in for a difficult year. Yet, with a 4-1 start, including a victory over early ACC-favorite Florida State, it appeared that first loss would just be a bump in the road. Five bowl teams in their final seven games thought otherwise, however, as what was a high-flying Demon Deacons passing attack was suddenly subdued and their defense was finding it increasingly difficult to contain opponents. Still, the team saw itself just a field goal away from a shot at a conference title — a division crown Clemson grasped away in the final seconds of their mid-November tilt.
Even as it struggled toward the end of 2011, Wake’s passing game, behind quarterback Tanner Price and receiver Chris Givens, still ranked among the nation’s top 40. Lacking any true balance, however (they’d average just 114 yards per game on the ground), predictability gave way to stalled drives and missed opportunities. And after topping 27 points in each of their first five games, Wake would only do so twice more — once in defeat, and again against lowly Maryland. On a more positive note, Price, a sophomore managed to throw for over 3,000 yards and 20 touchdowns on 60 percent passing, all among the best marks in the ACC. Givens also ranked in the conference’s top three or so in nearly every individual receiving category, propelling him to all-league honors and his probable first- or second-round selection in the upcoming NFL Draft.
On defense, Wake Forest was a slightly below-average unit, giving up slightly over 27 points per game and failing to get after the quarterback all that well (just 11 sacks all year). Where they did excel, however, is what kept them competitive in the early parts of the season — stopping teams on third down and forcing turnovers. Ball-hawks Josh Bush and Merrill Noel patrolled the secondary without fear, holding their own against some of the league’s top passing threats. Once again, the season splits were startling, though. Opponents topped 30 points just twice in the first five contests (an overtime loss and a win), but would do so five times over the final seven, including over-40 performances by North Carolina and Vanderbilt.
Without Givens to catch passes, or a running game to truly rely on, the jury’s still out on how well Wake Forest can really be next season. If Price continues his improvement, it likely shouldn’t matter as much as initially perceived, however. The rising junior showed equal sides of poise and learning-on-the-fly in 2011, and he could likely make the jump next year. If he does, it could be a harrowing season for ACC corners, who quickly have their hands full with a young stable of accurate, tenacious passers.