WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The Old Gold and Black are in town, the last remaining hurdle between Notre Dame and USC.
Martin Rickman, editor at Blogger So Dear, a Wake Forest sports blog, was on tap this week to talk about quarterback Tanner Price, a talented-but-struggling defense and how rough the 2012 campaign has been for the Demon Deacons.
Rickman isn’t optimistic about Wake Forest’s chances against the Irish, but strange things have happened inside Notre Dame Stadium this season. Here’s what he had to say:
Q: Glancing at the schedule, it looks like it’s been a rough season for Wake Forest. Despite blowout losses to Florida State, Clemson and North Carolina State, the Demon Deacons are only one win away from a bowl bid. Do you see them hitting that mark?
Martin Rickman: Honestly, I really don’t. It would take an outright miracle for Wake to win against Notre Dame in South Bend, and based just on the eye test alone, Vanderbilt appears better coached and more talented this year than the Demon Deacons. This year has been a rough one; between injuries, suspensions, let down games, flat play and questionable playcalling and coaching decisions, there haven’t been a lot of positives to this season.
All that said, the team is a handful of plays away from being anywhere between 3-7 and 7-3. If the team can steal one of the next two games, you never want to back into a bowl game, but the fanbase would be thrilled as long as it doesn’t close the curtains on the larger issues in the program.
Q: Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly was very complimentary of quarterback Tanner Price, calling him “elusive in the pocket.” Price had a pretty good game against the Irish last year. How far has he come in terms of development this season?
MR: He’s regressed from this time a year ago. Price has had happy feet in the pocket and isn’t trusting his throws. A lot of that stems from no reliable No. 2 receiver (and a No. 1 receiver when target fiend Michael Campanaro was out earlier this year) and a patchwork offensive line.
Price still has a strong arm and can get out of the pocket and run a little bit, but with no flow to the offense and increased attention from opposing defenses, he’s really struggled. Hopefully the offseason will give him time to refocus and find his game again.
Q: Speaking of compliments, Kelly also mentioned the strength of Wake Forest’s secondary. The Deacs are just below average in passing and rushing defense, so what kind of talent is back there?
MR: There’s a lot of talent, which is why it is so frustrating to see how much the secondary (and defense as a whole) has struggled. The team is allowing almost 29 points per game and if you take out the two-game stretch against Maryland and Virginia, that number climbs to an astounding 32.5.
If we’re trying to trace back to any one particular reason why the secondary fell apart this season, it might stem from the lack of pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Wake has had to go into a lot of one-on-one coverage or zone to bring a corner/safety blitz or add an extra backer to try and rush the QB, but it’s been unsuccessful.
As a result, as long as that extra defender is blocked, the quarterback can take an extra second and make a throw to a largely uncovered receiver. That happened a few times in the Clemson game.
Plus, with the offense stalling on so many drives, the defense can’t get off the field and tires out in the second half even when it is playing well.
Q: Receiver Michael Campanaro had a handful of big-number performance before he broke his hand and sat out for two games. How has he recovered and reintegrated back into the offense? Are there any other targets that the Irish defense should be concerned with? Wake Forest’s rushing attack looks pretty timid.
MR: As Camp goes, Wake Forest goes. Josh Harris and DeAndre Martin have potential in the running game, but should be in for a long day against the stout Fighting Irish front seven. There are some athletic receivers out there for the Demon Deacons, but they’ve had a case of the drops all season long.
Keep an eye on fullback Tommy Bohanon out of the backfield. He’s sure-handed and has been more involved in the offense in recent weeks as Wake tries to find some other weapon for Tanner Price.
Q: Everyone thought Notre Dame would beat Pitt by a couple touchdowns a couple weeks ago, and the game went into triple overtime. Do you see Wake Forest putting up a similar fight? What will it take for the Deacons to pull off the upset?
MR: This should be a long night. At least Wake fans making the trip will have a good time in South Bend, as Notre Dame fans are welcoming and nice to opposing visitors. And playing under the lights on national TV is always good exposure, even when the score is 42-10. It would take an outright perfect game from the Demon Deacons or a disaster of a game from Notre Dame for the Deacs to pull the upset.
Wake has to hope Golson gets discombobulated, Rees comes in and makes a big mistake, Wake capitalizes and hits a couple homeruns whether through a pick-six, kickoff return for a TD, blown coverage or missed tackles or otherwise. If the Demon Deacons come out flat and go down 10-0, it’s over.