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Grobe and Wake Forest Demon Deacons aim for back-to-back bowls

Posted Sunday, August 19, 2012

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Winston-Salem, NC - Of all of the teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference that dropped close games in 2011, Wake Forest probably played the "what-if" game the most. Coach Jim Grobe's Demon Deacons were just a missed field goal away from claiming a berth in the ACC Football Championship Game, but instead saw Clemson emerge with a 31-28 last-second victory and a trip to Charlotte. Wake dropped four games last fall by seven or fewer points, including an overtime defeat at Syracuse and late-season heartbreakers to Notre Dame (24-17) and Mississippi State (23-17). The latter loss to the Bulldogs occurred in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl-Wake's fifth bowl trip under Grobe--and dropped the Deacons' final record to 6-7 overall.

Despite the final losing record after a pair of bowl-less seasons, 2011 was a step back in the right direction for Grobe's program. Now, with 51 returning lettermen and 12 starters returning, Wake Forest hopes to keep the momentum going. The return of talented skill performers such as QB Tanner Price, wide receiver Michael Campanaro, running backs Josh Harris and Orville Reynolds, and a defense led by nose guard Nikita Whitlock figure to be the lynchpins for Grobe's 12th Black and Gold squad. But for Wake to return to the collegiate post-season, the Deacons will have to rebuild an offensive line that loses four of its five starters and find a way to win a few more of its close contests.

Price, an accurate thrower who has the mobility to be a running threat as well, leads an offense that - while not explosive in 2011 (eighth in the ACC in scoring) - didn't beat itself, finishing last in the ACC in turnovers by a sizeable margin (12, six ahead of Virginia Tech). Price, entering his junior year, threw for 3,017 yards, 20 touchdowns, and just six interceptions in 2011, finishing the season by throwing 173 consecutive passes without an interception. Chris Givens (83 catches for 1330 yards and nine TDs) is a big loss at wide receiver, but one lessened by the presence of junior Michael Campanaro (73 catches for 833 yards in 2011), Terrance Davis (20 catches) and promising redshirt freshman Sherman Ragland III. The running game will fall into the capable hands of Josh Harris (432 yards and three TDs in 2011) and Orville Reynolds (109 yards) following the departure of senior Brandon Pendergrass (823 yards and nine TDs). Four of the five starters along the offensive line graduated, but a capable cast has been assembled from a group that includes tackles Dylan Heartsill, Frank Souza, Hunter Goodwin, Colin Summers, and Devin Bolling at tackle and Antonio Ford, Gabe Irby, Daniel Blitch, and Dylan Intemann at guard flanking center Garrick Williams, the lone returnee of the group.

Second-team All-ACC nose guard Nikita Whitlock (14 tackles for loss) became a force as a sophomore and will lead Wake's defense, which returns seven starters in 2012. Junior Zach Thompson should handle one defensive end position with junior Kris Redding the likely starter at the other, but sophomore Jonny Garcia and redshirt freshman Johnny Floyd are competing for playing time. The rotation at linebacker is made up of grizzled veterans: senior Joey Ehrmann and junior Justin Jackson on the outside, and senior Riley Haynes and junior Mike Olsen on the inside. Bud Noel returns at one cornerback spot after leading the nation in passes deflected in 2011 (19), and he'll be joined in the secondary by sophomore Kevin Johnson at the other corner spot, with former starter Chibuikem (previously known as Kenny) Okoro also in the running for playing time. The Deacons will have a pair of first-time starters at safety in juniors Duran Lowe and Daniel Mack, but both have played well as reserves. Kicker Jimmy Neumann hit 17 field goals at a 77% clip in 2011, while punter Alex Wulfeck returns after averaging 39.7 yards per punt.

It is difficult to make a prediction on the middle of the pack in the ACC this season, and Wake Forest has both the capable coaching staff and veteran maturity on both sides of the ball to make a move toward the top of the ladder. If Price and the offense can continue to limit mistakes while moving the football and Whitlock can continue to wreak havoc on the line, don't be surprised to see Wake bowling again in 2012. - Charlie Sallwasser2011 In Review

The 2011 season was a tale of two separate seasons for Coach Jim Grobe and his Demon Deacons...Led by the passing tandem of QB Tanner Price and WRs Chris Givens and Michael Campanaro, and an improved defense led by NG Nikita Whitlock, OLB Kyle Wilber, CB Noel Merrill and S Josh Bush, Wake Forest bolted from the gate strongly, winning five of its first seven games and four of its first five ACC contests including an upset of 23rd-ranked Florida State... But the Deacons, who lost four games by seven or fewer points during the season, including an overtime contest to Syracuse, a home defeat to Notre Dame (24-17) and a Music City Bowl loss to Mississippi State (23-17), were unable to maintain that success, and lost five of the final six games to finish at 6-7, and 5-3 in the ACC...Wake did earn its first bowl bid in three years, and came within only a 31-28 fourth quarter loss to Clemson of claiming a berth in the ACC Football Championship game...Price completed 60 percent of his passes for 3,017 yards and 20 TDs with only six interceptions...Givens (83 catches, 1,330 yards and 9 TDs) led the ACC in receiving yards per game and was 2nd in receptions per game...Campanaro (73 catches, 833 yards, 2 TDs), was 4th in receptions and 9th in receiving yards...They combined to record the most pass receptions in a single season by two receivers in conference history (156)...Bush led the team with 6 interceptions and was named a 3rd-team All-America (AP), while Noel, who tied for the national lead in passes defended with 21, was an the ACC's Defensive Rookie of the Year and an Honorable Mention All-America ('s Gone

Wake Forest loses 12 starters, including eight on offense and four on defense. Offensively, the Deacons lose four of the five members of their starting offensive line including T's Dennis Godfrey and Doug Weaver and G's Joe Looney and Michael Hoag...Also gone are TE Cameron Ford, leading rusher RB Brandon Pendergrass (823 yds, 4.4 avg., 9 TDs) and WR's Danny Dembry and Givens, an NFL Draft early entry whose 1,330 receiving yards were a school record and the 4th-highest total in ACC history...Defensively, Wake only loses four starters, but all were quality defenders in Bush, Wilber, DE Tristan Dorty and SS Cyhl Quarles who combined for 128 career starts between them.Numbers & Notes

1.00 - Through the first two seasons of his Wake Forest career, junior NG Nikita Whitlock has averaged one tackle for loss per game. That average ties him for the 5th best average of any returning NCAA FBS player.

5 - Wake Forest QB Tanner Price is one of five returning ACC QBs who threw for 3,000 or more yards last fall, the most ever in ACC history. Price, who threw for 3,017 yards as a sophomore is joined by Clemson's Tajh Boyd (3,828), North Carolina's Bryn Renner (3,086), NC State's Mike Glennon (3,056) and Virginia Tech's Logan Thomas (3,013) as ACC returnees who threw for 3,000 or more yards in 2011. Duke QB Sean Renfree, who topped the 3,000-yard mark in 2010, also returns.

11 - Since Jim Grobe became the head coach at Wake Forest, the Demon Deacons have not lost a game to Duke, winning all 11 meetings. Wake has actually downed the Blue Devils 12 straight times, a streak which began the year before Grobe arrived in Winston-Salem. The last six games in the series, though, have been decided by an average of just 4.5 points per game.

21 - The number of passes defended by Wake Forest freshman CB Merrill "Bud" Noel. Noel, who had 2 pass interceptions and an NCAA-best 19 pass deflections, tied for the nation's lead, averaging 1.62 passes defended per game.

76.9 - The career field goal percentage for senior PK Jimmy Newman. Newman has made 40 of 52 career field goal attempts including a school-record 14 straight last year.

173 - Wake Forest QB Tanner Price will begin the 2012 season having thrown his last 173 passes without an interception. Price's skein is the 7th-longest such streak in ACC history and covers games against Notre Dame, Clemson, Maryland, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State.

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Grobe and Wake Forest Demon Deacons aim for back-to-back bowls
Wake Forest QB Tanner Price will begin the 2012 season having thrown his last 173 passes without an interception.
photo by Gene Galin