2011 ACC Season Recap: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Receiver Chris Givens Was a Big Part of Wake Forest's Passing Success in 2011

Team: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

W-L: 6-7 (5-3)

Postseason: 23-17 Music City Bowl loss to Mississippi State

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. Continue reading

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Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Recap: Mississippi State over Wake Forest, 23-17

Mississippi State's Ran Away From Wake Forest in a 23-17 Music City Bowl Victory

What Happened: In spite of four turnovers, the Mississippi State Bulldogs triumphed over the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in the Music City Bowl. The Demon Deacons continued their late-season offensive struggles, with just 287 total yards. Mississippi State, while hampered by the aforementioned turnovers, were led by running back Vick Ballard to the win. Though their passing game struggled, the Bulldogs’ senior piled up 180 yards and two touchdowns on only 14 carries. With such a strong running attack all game (quarterback Chris Relf also managed 64 yards on the ground), it’s no wonder State was able to put Wake Forest away in the fourth. Regardless of forced turnovers, and a 12-minute advantage in time of possession, Wake was just two-for-17 on third down conversions — a huge part of their fifth loss in six games.

Who’s to Blame: At this point, Wake’s inefficiencies are not just limited to this game, but more a part of their overall issues in the second half of the season. Quarterback Tanner Price started out the year hot, but then could not continue that momentum during their 1-5 slide (continuing in this game, with zero touchdown passes and just 50 percent accuracy). Coach Jim Grobe, forever a saint on campus after getting the team to a BCS bowl, just did not create a gameplan suitable for the defensive pressure and running efficiency of this Mississippi State team. By abandoning the run, the Deacs became far too one-dimensional, which contributed heavily to their inability to convert drives into touchdowns.

It Was Over When: Ballard recorded a school-record 72-yard sprint for a touchdown with about 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter. At that point, the 23-14 lead was just far too much for a Wake Forest team that failed to finish off drives all day. Tracing back even further, the Bulldogs went ahead for good early in the second quarter, when Relf connected with Arceto Clark for a 31-yard touchdown grab.

Game Ball Goes To: Ballard, after rattling off the two longest gains in school history, with 72-yard and 60-yard rushes respectively. With Relf’s passing leading to just 129 yards (along with two turnovers), Ballard had to carry the load, but nonetheless delivered a victory in his final collegiate game. The defense should also be applauded for their blocked field goal in the second, as well as the six sacks they recorded on Price.

Predictions Update: While I got the score of the game correct, the results were reversed, and like the ACC, I fall to 2-2 on the bowl season.The league has two very winnable matchups coming up on the docket, but it will surely be tough sledding on the road to postseason respectability.

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Preview: Wake Forest vs. Mississippi State

The 2011 Music City Bowl Matches 6-6 Teams Wake Forest and Mississippi State

While Wake Forest and Mississippi State may have started the season with different expectations (the Bulldogs were a preseason top-25 squad), both arrive at the Music City Bowl disappointed. Under the heightened expectations attached to the season, Mississippi State collapsed to the whims of a strong SEC West division. Wake, on the other hand, lost its way following an impressive and unexpected 4-1 start. Still, little of this matters anymore when the Demon Deacons take on the Bulldogs in Nashville, Tenn.

Bowl Game: (Franklin American Mortgage) Music City Bowl

Location: Nashville, Tenn.

First Year: 1998

2011 Participants: Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-6) vs. Mississippi State Bulldogs (6-6)

Last Meeting: None

***

Wake Forest (previous bowl game: 29-19 win over Navy in 2009 EagleBank Bowl)

As mentioned above, Wake did not end their season well, losing four of their last five (with the only victory coming against an absolutely putrid Maryland team). In spite of strong skill players on offense, the Deacs looked completely lackadaisical when in possession of the ball in these late contests, with much of their totals racked up in garbage time. The worst moment of all — a 41-7 dusting at the hands of Vanderbilt, who also went 6-6 this season.  And it’s not just the offense that can take on all the blame. Wake gave up nearly 28 points per game, letting opponents total over 30 points six different times. Outside of Josh Bush on D, and their offensive “big three” of QB Tanner Price, RB Jordan Pendergrass and WR Chris Givens, there was little going on, and it showed when one of those aforementioned parts were not 100-percent.

Mississippi State (previous bowl game: 52-14 win over Michigan in 2011 Gator Bowl)

What the Bulldogs lacked in offensive firepower this season (just 25.5 points per game this season), they mostly made up for a tenacious defensive attack that only surrendered 19.9 per contest (good for 19th overall in FBS). While they do hold six losses, all occurred versus ranked teams on their tough SEC slate this season. Most notable of the defeats: a two-point loss to South Carolina and a seven-point heartbreaker to Auburn. On the other hand, the six wins all came versus teams with losing records. So, which team is showing up in this contest? Once again, the results make it hard to really predict. With a largely inconsistent and unimpressive offense countered with their high-ranking defense, it’s still anyone’s game.

Verdict

As we find with most bowls, this one comes down to mistakes. Whoever commits the most errors will be exploited early and often. For Wake, they’ll need to establish an offensive rhythm from the opening snap to keep State’s defenders honest. If they succeed, it forces the Bulldogs’ offense to bring them back — something most are unsure they’re actually able to do effectively. Plus, with no passing attack to speak of for State, it could be easy pickings for Bush and his fellow Wake defenders to feast on risky decisions come the second half. Though I originally figured this game could belong to the Bulldogs’ defense, the shakiness of its offense is disconcerting. The fact that the Demon Deacons’ offense was once its strongest asset also shifts favor in their corner. It’s a reluctant choice, but I’m going with Wake. Prediction: Wake 23, Miss. State 17

Advocare V100 Independence Bowl Preview: North Carolina vs. Missouri

This Year's Independence Bowl Pits North Carolina Against Missouri

Welcome to ACC bowl season! Crazy that postseason festivities have been going on for over a week already without the conference’s participation, but the resulting eight-team, 10-day whirlwind (Pittsburgh doesn’t play until a few days after the Orange Bowl) promises to be exciting, even if it’s not necessarily fruitful for the conference’s less-than-stunning bowl reputation. We start off with an evenly matched contest between the North Carolina Tar Heels and the Big 12‘s Missouri Tigers in the Advocare V100 Independence Bowl.

Bowl Game: (Advocare V100) Independence Bowl

Location: Shreveport, La.

First Year: 1976

2011 Participants: North Carolina Tar Heels (7-5) vs. Missouri Tigers (7-5)

Last Meeting: 1976, a 24-3 home win by Missouri

***

North Carolina (previous bowl game: 30-27 win over Tennessee in 2010 Music City Bowl)

Rather than talking about how wide receiver Dwight Jones could improve his draft stock during his final game as a collegiate athlete, we were too busy worrying about his likeness on club posters last week. In spite of those shenanigans, Jones will play and promises to be a major factor in the Tar Heels. Based on their offense’s performance at times this season, he’ll need to be, too. Finishing 57th overall while scoring 28 points per game, UNC also had three games where they only managed two touchdowns or less (including an embarrassing shutout at the hands of NC State). Their defense, while good, still let up an average of 23.5 points per game — a bit concerning considering the level of competition UNC faced this season. While Missouri is hardly the best team these ‘Heels have faced (they’ve previously lost to far superior Clemson and Virginia Tech squads this year), their most impressive win is a 28-17 victory over an unranked Virginia outfit. Needless to say, they still have something to prove.

Missouri Tigers (previous bowl game: 27-24 loss to Iowa in 2010 Insight Bowl)

I recall last year’s Iowa-Missouri bowl game being utterly confusing, since both teams wear the same colors (yellow and black). Glad bowl organizers avoided such a mix-up this year. Of note about these Tigers, they won four of their last five games to get here, have a better offense (32.2 points per game) and a very similar defense (same amount of points per game as the Heels — 23.5). Missouri quarterback James Franklin appears very similar when compared to UNC counterpart Bryn Renner, both racking up around 2,700 yards passing along with 20 or so touchdowns — until you see Franklin’s eye-popping 839 yards on the ground, too. If one of these teams excels at anything, it’s the Tigers and their run-game, which was ranked 11th in the FBS (against Big 12 competition, to boot).

Verdict

Missouri’s proficiency running the ball will likely be the difference in a game of mostly equal competitors. It can also be argued that the Tigers were only truly “out” of one game all year, a 45-24 drubbing at the hands of Oklahoma State (who actually beat Oklahoma by even more than that margin, so take from that what you will). North Carolina, on the other hand, was truly dominated in two of their games — a respectable loss to Clemson and the previously mentioned shutout to NC State. Looking at the quality of opponents though, the nod here (based on resume) goes to Missouri, with four losses to ranked teams. Plus, with their forthcoming move to the SEC, it would only be fair that they torched an ACC squad to kick things off. I’ve heard it’s part of the initiation process. Prediction: Missouri 38, UNC 24

ACC Bowl Projections, Week 14

Virginia Tech Looks Poised to Win Its Fifth ACC Title

Admittedly, including Syracuse and Pittsburgh in these bowl projections makes little sense, so that won’t happen until the teams actually begin conference play. Each week, I’ll just provide a postseason ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on both, while for the current ACC schools, a bowl game will be assigned.

In this week’s rankings, Virginia Tech gets more entrenched as the odds-on favorite to win the ACC, and the conference’s second tier jostles for position in the middle of the bowl lineup. After some late heroics, NC State finds itself in the postseason, while either Syracuse or Pitt will end up sitting at home late this December.

Discover Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech Hokies (11-1)

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Clemson Tigers (9-3)

Champs Sports BowlFlorida State Seminoles (8-4)

Hyundai Sun Bowl: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-4)

Belk BowlVirginia Cavaliers (8-4)

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl: NC State Wolfpack (7-5)

Advocare V100 Independence BowlNorth Carolina Tar Heels (7-5)

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop GrummanWake Forest Demon Deacons (6-6)

Syracuse Orange (5-6): As far as most SU fans are concerned, the 2011 season ended back in October. With very little offensive production and a defense that refuses to wrap up when making tackles, how can you blame them (us)? Still, the Orange have an opportunity to wrap up a bowl bid (potentially) by beating rival/expansion-mate, Pittsburgh. Can they do it? No. And I say that as someone who’s chosen to watch every game this season.

Pittsburgh Panthers (5-6): Few can blame Pitt for falling by one point to a superior West Virginia squad, but mistakes did cost them dearly at several junctures. Pitt has had to rely heavily on their passing game and defense these past few games, and it will likely be up to them to halt Syracuse on Saturday. If the Orange play-calling resembles recent weeks, the Panthers should be just fine.

ACC Bowl Projections, Week 13

As it Stands, Virginia Tech Looks to Be Returning to the Orange Bowl This Postseason

Admittedly, including Syracuse and Pittsburgh in these bowl projections makes little sense, so that won’t happen until the teams actually begin conference play. Each week, I’ll just provide a postseason ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on both, while for the current ACC schools, a bowl game will be assigned.

In this week’s rankings, the shuffling all over the board reflects the weekend’s unexpected results and the shifts happening all over the ACC power rankings. With a new king of the hill, some teams in a freefall and one squad (Miami) taking itself out of the postseason picture in spite of bowl eligibility, things are looking drastically different from week to week — with some more changes bound to happen before season’s end.

Discover Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech Hokies (10-1)

Chick-fil-A Bowl: Clemson Tigers (9-2)

Champs Sports Bowl: Virginia Cavaliers (8-3)

Hyundai Sun Bowl: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (8-3)

Belk Bowl: Florida State Seminoles (7-4)

Franklin American Mortgage Music City BowlWake Forest Demon Deacons (6-5)

Advocare V100 Independence Bowl: NC State Wolfpack (6-5)

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman: North Carolina Tar Heels (6-5)

Syracuse Orange (5-5): Will the bye week do the Orange a favor in either of their final two games? Knowing the mentality of this team, they’ll have to win this weekend’s contest versus Cincinnati, otherwise, it’s very difficult to see them gathering the ability to emerge victorious in a season-ending, must-win contest. As of right now, I’d say they’re not headed to the postseason.

Pittsburgh Panthers (5-5): No easy tests left for Pittsburgh either, with arguably their two biggest rivals remaining (SU and West Virginia). Most frustrating for the Panthers is that they were within a score in all but two of their losses. As mentioned, I think you’ll see Pitt win a must-win scenario with ‘Cuse, especially given they can still win the Big East right now (miraculous).

ACC Bowl Projections, Week 12

This Week's Projections Feature a New Orange Bowl Representative

Admittedly, including Syracuse and Pittsburgh in these bowl projections makes little sense, so that won’t happen until the teams actually begin conference play. Each week, I’ll just provide a postseason ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on both, while for the current ACC schools, a bowl game will be assigned.

In this week’s rankings, there was plenty of shake-up. Clemson’s sudden vulnerability has them shaky as the presumed league champ, while Virginia Tech’s running game makes them a likely replacement. Two of the league’s 5-5 teams need just one more victory to become bowl eligible, while another (NC State) needs an unlikely two wins to get it done.

Discover Orange Bowl: Virginia Tech Hokies (9-1)

Allstate Sugar Bowl: Clemson Tigers (9-1)

Chick-fil-A BowlFlorida State Seminoles (7-3)

Champs Sports BowlGeorgia Tech Yellow Jackets (7-3)

Hyundai Sun BowlVirginia Cavaliers (7-3)

Belk BowlNorth Carolina Tar Heels (6-4)

Franklin American Mortgage Music City BowlMiami (FL) Hurricanes (5-5)

Advocare V100 Independence BowlWake Forest Demon Deacons (5-5)

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman: If the ACC lands two teams in the BCS, it’s likely the Military Bowl takes an at-large school from the Big East or Conference USA.

Syracuse Orange (5-5): And this may not even be rock-bottom. Once 5-2, the Orange could now very likely finish 5-7, killing the program’s momentum and making everyone forget why they were invited to the ACC to begin with (beside basketball, the appearance of a football upswing had to have helped). If you’re an SU fan (like your author), just pray.

Pittsburgh Panthers (5-5): Pitt may be able to attribute last week’s win to the release of “Call of Duty 3,” but it’s unlikely they’ll have the same luck to end their season. If both SU and the Panthers lose their next game, it’ll set up a playoff-style regular season finale — winner gets the “honor” of playing in a minor bowl game, loser gets to hand their head in shame and belabor a season that could have been so much more.