I’d embed the video if it were possible, but over on ESPN’s ACC blog, Heather Dinich posted a quick piece on Wake Forest‘s issues as a result of key players missing time. Most notably, she cites the absences of Merrill Noel, Michael Campanaro and Nikita Whitlock as the primary concerns, while also noting that QB Tanner Price (their other big playmaker) has managed to play in every game. There’s also the matter of off-the-field issues, which left the team short-handed in its matchup with Maryland nearly two weeks ago. Heather believes this team can make it to the postseason with everyone healthy, but are we already too far gone for that?
I actually believe that may be the case, and it’s the reason why I left Wake out of the blog’s most recent postseason projections, too. Coming into the season, I felt that the Deacs would record sure losses in the following games: Florida State, Clemson, NC State, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt. Thus far, they’re 0-1 in those games, so with four “sure losses” still to go, they already have three on the board. Obviously I can’t predict the future, but the odds aren’t great to get to six wins. It also assumes they win both of their other two games (Virginia and Boston College) when Price has literally no one to throw to. The junior QB’s passing numbers are down across the board since Campanaro’s injury versus Duke, so until he gets back, the offense will likely continue to struggle.
And this isn’t just on Campanaro and Price either. Wake has lost 88 yards (fourth-most in the conference) on 12 sacks this season. The running game is ranked 99th in the country at 123.2 yards per game. It’s the offensive line that’s the issue, and given the multitude of injuries on that front, it’s unlikely that changes much going forward.
Then there’s the defense, which has given up 31 points per game, though it’s also shown improvement over the course of the season. Whitlock’s been coming on strong of late, putting in a great performance against Maryland (seven tackles and a sack). Is he the shot of life this group needs to get the pass rush going? It’s likely the case, and they’ll need much more production out of him in the second half. The secondary’s also been a bit of a problem area, with sophomore cornerback Merrill Noel failing to live up to the hype this season, now that former cohort Josh Bush is gone. Noel was part of the suspended group from a couple weeks ago, and is slated to come back this Saturday. Overall, more must be expected of him, however. To this point in the season, he’s totaled just 11 tackles, two pass deflections and a half-sack — not the type of numbers you want to see from someone who received all-conference consideration in preseason.
Knowing Jim Grobe, there’s still a chance this team exceeds expectations and makes it to another bowl game. But he must act quickly, with the window to do so closing rapidly this season.