Wake Forest at Syracuse
Location: Syracuse, NY
Stadium: Carrier Dome
Kickoff: 8:00 PM ET
Previous season's record
Wake Forest: 3-9, 1-7 ACC
Syracuse: 8-5, 4-3 Big East (Defeated Kansas State 36-34 in the Pinstripe Bowl)
Wake Forest: eight offense, nine defense
Syracuse: eight offense, five defense
Series record: Wake Forest leads 1-0 (20-10 in 2006 in Winston-Salem, NC).
Quotes of the week
-"It's big. It's real big. This is a big game not only because it's our first game, but that it's a home game, and dating back to last year we're 0-4 at home. We really want to get our fans into our team this year. The way we need to do it is come out Thursday and take care of business." - Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib
-"When you look at the offensive side it's probably the most experienced, biggest offensive line that we'll face. You're talking about four seniors and one junior. The quarterback has played before. What concerns me the most is obviously they have game-changing speed at running back and at wide receiver. On defense you look at a football team that is very multiple. They may say that they're 3-4, but they give you a lot of different looks, so again it's a great challenge for us. They run to the ball well. They hustle well. They hit, they tackle." - Syracuse head coach Doug Marrone
-"Right now we just to come out and play hard, and not worry about the future, or not worry about any game past Syracuse, but Syracuse right now. Syracuse had a great season last year. They're a very tough team. They're a powerhouse team. They're big, so we just need to go out there and play hard." - Wake Forest strong safety Cyhl Quarles
-"The thing with Syracuse is lot's made about their offense, but they're a top 10 defensive football team right now last year, and very physical on defense probably because they go against each other a lot. They're physical on both sides of the ball. Offensively they have a senior quarterback who throws the ball really well. It's not like you can get nine guys up there and crowd the box, and say okay we're going to stop the run, because now you've got some issues with the throw game." - Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe
10 keys to the game
1) Wake Forest's O-Line prevails
No one knows better than Jim Grobe that it is imperative for Wake Forest's veteran offensive line to outplay Syracuse in the trenches if the Demon Deacons want to steal one from the orange.
"I'm hopeful that our offensive line's improvement will be very dramatic," Grobe said. "It needs to be for us to be good offensively. I like what our offensive line has done in practice so far."
With four senior starters returning to this unit the Deacs definitely have the edge in the interior when it comes to experience, but will be challenged on the outside by athletic defensive ends Chandler Jones and Mikhail Marinovich.
Jones, an All-Big East caliber player recorded 57 tackles, four sacks, 5.5 tackles for loss and four pass breakups as a sophomore last season.
"Chandler Jones, he's a salty vet," Joe Looney said. "He is on my side of the line. He has a great frame. He has a nice body. He uses his hands really well. He uses his feet really well, and he's just an explosive player. We're going to have to keep our eye on him the whole game, and make sure somebody is blocking him."
If Wake protects its perimeter, and wins the battle in between the tackles it should be smooth sailing on offense.
2) Take care of the football
Wake Forest only turned the ball over 17 times last season, which is not bad for a team that went 3-9. It is still a cardinal rule, and even more so significant for Demon Deacons to take care of the pigskin. The last thing Wake wants to do is turn it over, and send a defense out that gave up 35.8 points per game last season.
"We like to blame it on the offense for not scoring, but when you can't stop anybody and you can't get the ball back to our offense we really have to take the blame for ourselves," Kyle Wilber said.
3) Defense needs to make plays
Clichés are annoying, because everyone uses them, but for Wake Forest there is an exception. "Carpe diem," which is Latin for seize the day. Grobe wants this unit to be more opportunistic. The Deacs made three consecutive bowl appearances from 2006-08. Those teams were known for forcing turnovers.
It is a dramatic difference from the 30+ turnovers, the 2006 ACC champion Deacs caused to less than 15 last season. If Wake Forest expects to slow down this veteran Syracuse offense it better take advantage of opportunities when they come their way, or it will be 'Orange Crush.'
"We've got to find a way to get more fumbles, more interceptions, take the ball away if we're going to be a good football team," Grobe said.
4) Plugging Bailey's holes
It is now Antwon Bailey's time to shine after playing second fiddle to Delone Carter the last few years. The diminutive running back (5-foot-7) carried 114 times for 554 yards and two touchdowns last season.
"He's a shorter back, but he's stout," Quarles said. "He's real, real strong, so he likes to bowl through holes and breakout. He has pretty good speed, and he's very strong. That's one thing we've got to keep in mind the way you approach tackling him, and forcing him to the other side of the defense depending on what coverage we're in. It's going to be a great challenge."
5) Whitlock winning
Slowing down Bailey arguably begins with Nikita Whitlock. The sophomore nose guard will be facing some fresh meat at center in first-year starter Macky MacPherson.
Whitlock (44 tackles, three sacks, 7.5 tackles for loss and three pass breakups in 2010) enters 2011 after an inaugural campaign that saw him earn Second Team Freshman All-America.
MacPherson will have his hands full with trying to stay in front of Whitlock's (5-foot-11) short and quick frame.
6) Rattling Nassib
Like Wake Forest, Syracuse also returns four starters to its offensive line, and a second year starter at quarterback in Ryan Nassib. Grobe has expressed concern that the Orange may be the most physical offensive team Wake faces this season. If that is the case the Deacs' undersized defensive line may struggle in putting pressure on Nassib.
In 2010 Nassib passed for 2,334 yards, 19 touchdowns to only eight interceptions. With a veteran corps of receivers as a part of his arsenal in facing a shaky Wake Forest secondary, Nassib should be poised to go for big numbers in the box score.
"Nassib is a great quarterback," Quarles said. "We've been watching film on him for a long time. It seems like years. These past couple of months have been a while. He's a veteran. He understands and knows where his targets are."
7) Covering the Cuse's corps
Wake Forest's secondary might talk a big game in practice in seven-on-seven drills, or during team scrimmages, but tonight against the Orange they are stepping into the gauntlet.
In 2010 the Demon Deacons allowed 238.2 yards per game through the air, and the Orange return their top three targets in Van Chew, Marcus Sales and Alec Lemon.
"Their receivers are older," Quarles said. "They have some shifty receivers. They have some big receivers. Alec Lemon the receiver, he's a pretty good receiver. He's an older receiver, and he has pretty good hands, so me playing DB that's one guy I've been studying a lot. I'm watching how he runs routes. He's going to be kind of hard to stop, so I think come out firing strong early, and hopefully we can get them off tilt."
The Deacs' defensive backs better hope their front seven can get to Nassib, or they will be left alone on an island that no ship is sailing to save them from Syracuse's receivers.
8) Hype for Harris
Josh Harris should be chomping at the bit right now. The sophomore has one of the most experienced offensive lines in college football, and one of the biggest in Grobe's tenure at Wake Forest. He is about to face a defense that had to replace both defensive tackles, and had a mass exodus at linebacker.
The sophomore is one year removed from a 241-yard rushing performance against Virginia Tech. This orchard is ripe for the picking. If Harris gets tired then the Deacs can call on Brandon Pendergrass, who pushed him for the starting spot.
Marrone said he is most concerned about the Demon Deacons game-changing speed at running back, as he should be. In the second scrimmage of training camp Harris loose one for a 96-yard touchdown run.
9)Paying the Price
Tanner Price laid it on the line last season when he was thrown into the fire as a true freshman. He threw more interceptions (eight) than touchdowns (seven). Grobe said three or four of those picks bounced off receivers' hands and were caught by opposing defenders, but Price still takes responsibility for the turnovers.
The sophomore quarterback has been on the money throughout training camp, but is short on proven receivers. Chris Givens who entered training camp as the go-to-guy has struggled with hamstring problems.
With Givens in and out Danny Dembry has answered the call though to lead a group of unknowns, pulling in 13 receptions for 176 yards and a touchdown in two scrimmages this training camp.
Dembry is not a typical number one receiver, meaning he is not one, so the Deacs need someone to step up and be that target for Price against a Syracuse secondary that has two All-Big East caliber safeties in Phillip Thomas and Shamarko Thomas.
The Carrier Dome will be a loud and hostile environment for Wake Forest. Syracuse will hit the Deacs in the mouth, and the going will get tough. The question Wake Forest players have to ask themselves is 'How bad do you want it?' Looney says refuse to lose.
"Coach Grobe has taught us to be mentally tough," Wilber said. "When you're tired make sure you execute calls. When you feel like your heart's going to burst just rush one more time. Just be mentally and physically tough out there, because these guys they're going to try to run it down your throat. If you're not ready they're just going to take you along for the ride."
Earlier this preseason Grobe challenged the toughness of his players saying that some of them were better suited for flag football. Syracuse is not coming to pull flags, but to trample. It is time for the Demon Deacons to answer the bell and knuckle up. The lights will be on.