2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Wake Forest Struggled in Every Aspect of the Game in 2012, Making 2013 a Long Road Back

Wake Forest Struggled in Every Aspect of the Game in 2012, Making 2013 a Long Road Back

Team: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

W-L: 5-7 (3-5)

Postseason: N/A

Top Offensive Performer: Michael Campanaro, WR

Top Defensive Performer: Kevin Johnson, CB

It’s difficult to figure out what Wake Forest’s 2012 season actually was. Apologists cite numerous injuries along with off-the-field issues. Those more critical may even go after coach Jim Grobe’s diminishing returns over the past few seasons. But regardless of who/what is at fault — and all of the above (and more) are — there’s no denying there was just something decidedly listless about the Demon Deacons this year.

After September 29, Wake scored more than 20 points in a game just twice, and on the season, it happened just six times (and only one of those times did they top 28). To call the group “anemic” would actually be a compliment, as evidenced by their 18.5 points per game (116th in the country) and just 301 yards per game (120th). And really no player — maybe outside of receiver Michael Campanaro — is outside of criticism here. QB Tanner Price, who many thought was ready for a breakout season, regressed mightily to the tune of just 2,300 passing yards and 12 scores. The offensive line, which failed to block for him last year (allowed 34 sacks), didn’t really improve all that much this season (allowed 25), but it was his Price’s (in)accuracy that truly killed him. Five different times, he completed less than 50 percent of his passes, and even his most impressive effort (a 28-27 victory over North Carolina) featured zero passing scores (though he ran in two touchdowns). But was it because he felt too much pressure to carry the team? The Deacs averaged just 100 yards per game on the ground, with starter Josh Harris stacking up an immensely underwhelming campaign on his own, along with the rest of the backfield. And it only got worse as the season wore on. Wake couldn’t even amass 200 rushing yards over its final three games, even when one of those efforts amounted to 124 yards. One dimensional offenses can work, but that dimension needs to be effective. For this team in 2012, the offense can only be described as “no-dimensional.”

Continue reading

About these ads

2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Virginia Tech Hokies

Virginia Tech's Defense Was Forced to Carry the Hokies in 2012, With Mixed Results

Virginia Tech’s Defense Was Forced to Carry the Hokies in 2012, With Mixed Results

Team: Virginia Tech Hokies

W-L: 7-6 (4-4)

Postseason: 13-10 Russell Athletic Bowl win over Rutgers

Top Offensive Performer: Marcus Davis, WR

Top Defensive Performer: Antone Exum, CB

Going into the 2012 season, the biggest concerns for Virginia Tech surrounded the team’s youth on the offensive line (four new starters) and its inexperience at running back. As it would happen, both ended up having a severely negative effect on the team throughout the year. And then, when coupled with the added pressure on both Logan Thomas to deliver a standout performance (he did not), and the defense to make up for the offense’s shortcomings (also struggled)… well, it’s no wonder why VaTech failed to win 10 games for the first time in eight years.

Virginia Tech’s offensive struggles were foretold well in advance, yet that didn’t make it any less striking when fans actually saw it all in action. The Hokies finished 83rd in the country in yards per game (376.8), a steep drop from last season’s 36th-place finish in the same category. Their 25.1 points per game also underwhelmed, especially when considering how much that average was weighted by just three results (wins over Austin Peay, Bowling Green and Duke). In the Hokies’ other 10 games, they’d fall short of 20 points five different times, and average just 22.6 points per game (would’ve ranked 96th in the FBS). And it’s tough to blame just one part of the unit, either. As mentioned, Thomas fell well short of expectations, with his numbers for accuracy, completions and touchdowns going down, while interceptions and sacks spiked up. And the running backs, faced with following behind current New York Giant David Wilson, also found themselves in trouble, as five different rushers couldn’t combine for as many yards as he racked up his junior year. Of course, it’s a cop-out to blame the offensive line, but it’s hard to deny the effect of their inexperience on the overall results.

Continue reading

2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Virginia Cavaliers

Virginia's 2012 Season Was About as Tumultuous as They Come; But Is There Hope on the Horizon?

Virginia’s 2012 Season Was About as Tumultuous as They Come; But Is There Hope on the Horizon?

Team: Virginia Cavaliers

W-L: 4-8 (2-6)

Postseason: None

Top Offensive Performer: Oday Aboushi, OT

Top Defensive Performer: Steve Greer, LB

Coming off a breakout 2011 season, and another big recruiting class, Mike London’s Virginia team was poised to take the leap in 2012; or so many thought. Rather than progression, what the Hoos saw this past fall was a severe regression. Not only was the team’s win total cut in half when compared to the year before, but a squad that appeared built on continuity was suddenly in a tumultuous state. The Cavaliers’ secondary — as young as expected, took nearly two months to truly get their acts together. The running game, a formidable two-back system, was suddenly as unproductive as they come. And most glaring was the quarterback issue which would shape every narrative for Virginia, from August, all the way through the final, excruciating loss.

One would assume the thought process when bringing in Alabama QB transfer Phillip Sims was that he’d sit this season before taking the reigns in 2013. With returning starter Michael Rocco at the helm, that route seemed to make the most sense — until Sims was granted a waiver allowing him to suit up this season. With a quarterback controversy brewing, Rocco held onto the job, but never quite stopped looking over his shoulder, and the results were mostly hazardous. Thought the UVA passing game would finish a very respectable 37th in the FBS (in terms of yardage), it sorely lacked for efficiency or success. Rocco and Sims combined for 15 interceptions on the season (93rd in the country) and both passers’ accuracy turned out a staggered curve of inconsistency. For each game Rocco would have like the 41-40 upset of Miami (in which he threw for four scores), he’d have another like the 27-7 loss to TCU (126 passing yards, 2 INTs). And with so much riding on quarterback play, the ground game suffered as well. Regularly faced with dire straits, or simply two quarterbacks splitting snaps for the same job, their strong run game was suddenly pass-first. UVA was 98th in the country in both overall carries (417) and yards per game (128.5), and this with two highly skilled backs in Kevin Parks and Perry Jones. While no one would call them a high-flying group in 2011 (23.8 points per game), 2012 was absolutely dreadful from a scoring standpoint (22.8 points per game) — especially without a strong defense to bail them out.

Continue reading

2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Syracuse Orange

Syracuse Capped Off an Eight-Win 2012 With a Dominating Effort Over West Virginia

Syracuse Capped Off an Eight-Win 2012 With a Dominating Effort Over West Virginia

Team: Syracuse Orange

W-L: 8-5

Postseason: 38-14 New Era Pinstripe Bowl win over West Virginia

Top Offensive Performer: Ryan Nassib, QB

Top Defensive Performer: Brandon Sharpe, DE

Syracuse was looking to leave the conference they founded (the Big East) on a high-note, but things didn’t appear to be going as planned when they started off the year a disappointing 2-4. But then something clicked. The Orange, at one time haunted by the ghosts of a five-game losing streak to close 2011, wrapped up 2012 by winning six of seven, including their second Pinstripe Bowl victory in two years. It was a fitting end to send their senior quarterback (and soon after, head coach, too) out in style.

At the focal point of early August’s practices was a complete revamp of the SU offense. Over the past few seasons, the team appeared to get bogged down by their inability to move the ball (24 points per game in 2011; 22 points per game in 2010), and then-offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was tasked with fixing the issue. After quickly installing a no-huddle system with spread elements, it appeared the Orange were in business early in September. While the first two games both resulted in losses, the offense appeared to be firing on all cylinders, mostly by the strength of senior QB Ryan Nassib’s arm. In those two early contests alone, Nassib would complete 75 of 132 passes for 804 yards and six scores. But then the wheels began to come off, and thus entered then-coach Doug Marrone’s “tank” package; implementing goal-line elements on various downs and distances, specifically designed for running back Adonis Ameen-Moore. Once the set took hold, it immediately balanced the Syracuse attack, and a group that was floundering by mid-September finished the year scoring 30 points per game, with the  17th-ranked offense in the country. Nassib and wideout Alec Lemon were still the stars of the show, mind you, but what they really needed to be successful was a well-planned rushing attack — something they saw from October onward, as the SU backfield would end the season ranked 40th in the FBS, racking up 187 yards per game.

Continue reading

2012 ACC Football Season Recap: Pittsburgh Panthers

Pitt's 2012 Season Was a Roller Coaster, But Paul Chryst Has Bigger Plans Next Year

Pitt’s 2012 Season Was a Roller Coaster, But Paul Chryst Has Bigger Plans Next Year

Team: Pittsburgh Panthers

W-L: 6-7

Postseason: 38-17 BBVA Compass Bowl loss to Ole Miss

Top Offensive Performer: Ray Graham, RB

Top Defensive Performer: Aaron Donald, DT

For Pitt’s seniors, 2012 was the end of a three-year battle with uncertainty and mediocrity. Paul Chryst was their third head coach in as many years, and they also made their third consecutive trip to Birmingham’s BBVA Compass Bowl (not the most prestigious of honors college football has to offer). Rather than looking back at their time with joy and gratitude, it’s more likely these players are thankful to leave all the constant upheaval behind — no offense to Pitt, of course.

And it’s tough to capture those consistency issues better than you can by examining Pitt’s offensive attack — and sometimes lack thereof. Unlike previous years, the Panthers actually found themselves most successful this season when passing the ball with competence; or at least so long as they also ran it well. Which gets to the heart of the issue for Pittsburgh. There are no trends with this offense you can really dig deeply into to determine how they lost seven games. Quarterback Tino Sunseri threw for 21 touchdowns versus just three INTs. He threw for 200 yards or more 10 different times, and in those games, the team was 5-5. Running back Ray Graham rushed for 100 yards or more four different times, and in those games Pitt was just 2-2. Balanced or not, run or pass, it just never seemed like the Panthers could find a consistent rhythm on offense. Though when they did — in those rare moments of clarity — this team was one of the country’s toughest to slow down. Six times they scored 27 or more points (5-1 record), moving the ball with ease and seemingly scoring at will. Unfortunately, that success was always fleeting, resulting in a wildly up-and-down campaign that saw them alternate two wins and two losses all year long (up until the final loss against Ole Miss, which occurred following two wins).

Continue reading

2012 ACC Football Season Recap: North Carolina Tar Heels

In Its First Year Under Larry Fedora, North Carolina's Offense Exploded to New Heights

In Its First Year Under Larry Fedora, North Carolina’s Offense Exploded to New Heights

Team: North Carolina Tar Heels

W-L: 8-4 (5-3)

Postseason: N/A

Top Offensive Performer: Giovani Bernard, RB

Top Defensive Performer: Kevin Reddick, LB

After a very encouraging 2011 season, 2012 was supposed to be the year that UNC put it all together and finally won the Coastal division. And technically, they did. But due to a postseason ban, the school was not allowed to play for the ACC title, nor win the Coastal division. When looking at head coach Larry Fedora’s first year on the job though, it’s tough to argue that the Heels’ season was anything but a success — and another step toward the team’s goal of playing for a league championship.

When Fedora showed up at Chapel Hill, there appeared to be trepidation surrounding his spread offense. Quarterback Bryn Renner had always played in a pro-style attack, while running back Giovani Bernard was unsure how he’d continue to play a key role for an offense that appeared to be moving away from the running game. As evidenced by the team’s 14th-ranked offense this year, everything actually turned out just fine. Renner was a natural for the spread, and grew my leaps and bounds in comparison to his sophomore campaign. While attempting 72 more passes than 2011 (in one less game), the now-junior only saw a slight dip in accuracy, while throwing for more TDs (28 versus 26) with less sacks and interceptions. And Bernard actually thrived as both part of the passing game, and as a result of its importance in the offense. As a receiving option out of the backfield, Bernard caught 47 passes for 490 yards and five scores (in just 10 games). Plus, because of the spread’s emphasis on the passing game, the slashing sophomore back also saw more holes between the tackles as defenses feared Renner throwing the ball. The result? A campaign that should’ve gotten more Heisman buzz, as Bernard racked up another 1,228 yards on the ground with 12 TDs — again, in 10 games and on 55 less carries compared to last season. Not to be completely outdone, backup (and 2013 starter) A.J. Blue even got in on the act, rushing his way to 433 yards and nine scores on top of that. Overall, the UNC offense averaged 92 yards per game more than they did last year; a phenomenal jump in just one season.

Continue reading

2012 ACC Football Season Recap: NC State Wolfpack

After All the Preseason Hype for Mike Glennon & NC State, 2012 Was Just Another Letdown

After All the Preseason Hype for Mike Glennon & NC State, 2012 Was Just Another Letdown

Team: NC State Wolfpack

W-L: 7-6 (4-4)

Postseason: 38-24 Franklin American Mortgage Music Cit Bowl loss to Vanderbilt

Top Offensive Performer: Mike Glennon, QB

Top Defensive Performer: Earl Wolff, S

This was the year that Tom O’Brien’s NC State team was supposed to break through and contend in the ACC. He had the senior quarterback, the experienced secondary — everything this team needed to finally get over the hump. And yet at the end of the season, the Wolfpack finished with their typical six or seven wins, and then O’Brien was dismissed. How did this happen?

Well, for starters, that experienced secondary came back down to earth from last year’s phenomenal performance. After picking off 27 passes in 2011, the team managed just 16 this season, with the biggest drop-off coming from cornerback David Amerson (just five in ’12 versus 13 in ’11). From a team perspective, it’s also easy to how this all came about. Back in 2011, State’s aggressive, go-for-broke style allowed just as many big play (passing attempts of 30-plus yards) tries, but more of those resulted in interceptions. This time around, with the decrease in interceptions, more of those attempts resulted in gains of 30 yards or more (25 of that variety, 16 of which went for 40 or more). Part of this was an adjustment in opponents’ play (see Amerson’s dreadful performance against Tennessee in the season opener), but the rest can be perceived as a severe drop-off in the team’s talent level. If we’re looking for reason number-one why this squad fell short of expectations, the secondary probably sits front-and-center. When you finish 86th nationally in pass-defense, it’s just tough to argue you did your job, necessarily.

Continue reading