Winston-Salem, N.C. - Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe could not have asked for a better scenario than for his defense to force five turnovers and for his offense to not have any, but that is exactly how it went down, as the Demon Deacons (4-1, 3-0 ACC) defeated No. 23 Florida State (2-3, 0-2 ACC) 35-30.
"Without those [five turnovers] we're not there at the end, so a lot of pats on the back for our defense for forcing turnovers," Grobe said.
Grobe is right, the Deacs needed every one of those five turnovers. Tanner Price connected with Terence Davis for an eight-yard touchdown pass and Jimmy Newman made the PAT with 14:50 left in the game, giving Wake a 32-17 advantage. Price finished 21-35-0 for 233 yards and three touchdowns.
That score marked the fifth time this season Wake has had a 15-point lead or better in the second half.
After squandering the first one in its season-opening 36-29 overtime loss at Syracuse Wake Forest nearly gave a 21-point lead away against N.C. State, a 15-point advantage at Boston College and at home today too. Needless to say the Deacs could just as easily be 1-4 and 0-3 in the ACC, but good teams find a way to wind be it good, bad or ugly.
"We're a football team that's good enough to beat to you, but we're not good enough to get away from you," Grobe said. "I think that's the situation that we're going to continue to be in."
It is not a bad situation for Wake to be in as long as it gets the victory.
For Florida State it all comes back to discipline, or lack thereof. The Seminoles committed 13 penalties for 109 yards, which is not much worse than the Demon Deacons 10 penalties for 87 yards, but that is where turnovers made the difference.
In just less than a half's worth of playing time FSU quarterback Clint Trickett accounted for three of the five giveaways. His first mistake almost never happened, because Wake Forest outside linebacker Joey Ehrmann was out of position on the left side of the field. Ehrmann sprinted to the right side in time read and intercepted Trickett, returning it 50 yards to the Seminoles 30.
Florida State head coach Jimbo Fisher had seen enough a Trickett fumble and interception later, as E.J. Manuel reassumed his duties as the starting quarterback.
"It's three 'Is': Immediacy, Intensity, Intelligence," Fisher said. "You have to play intelligent. We have to teach them that way. We're not playing with intelligence in the right situations to be able to convert the things we need to convert to win the football games. That's my opinion on it."
The tide instantly turned in FSU's favor when Manuel stepped in under center with 1:48 before halftime. The Virginia native led the Seminoles straight down the field in less than a minute, throwing a 46-yard scoring bomb to true freshman Rashad Greene. A Hopkins extra point cut it to a 16-14 score at the intermission.
The tendency was to think that is all the Seminoles needed to spark a demolition of the Deacs in the second half, but from the outset of it Wake stood firm. Nikita Whitlock took charge, sacking Manuel for a 15-yard loss. Ehrmann followed that with a safety when he tackled FSU running back Jermaine Thomas in the endzone for a three-yard loss, giving Wake Forest an 18-14 lead at the 14:14 mark of the third quarter.
"[Ehrmann] loves to play, and it was great to see him make some big plays today," Grobe said. "He was finally on fire today making those plays."
Offensively the Demon Deacons were on fire, but got a spark from an unlikely source, their ground game. After being in the negative as a team at halftime (13 carries for -1 yard) things changed in the second half when Josh Harris exploded for 111 yards on seven carries before injuring his hamstring.
He finished with 13 carries for 136 yards, marking the first time a Wake Forest player broke the 100-yard barrier in rushing.
"We had the two big runs in the second half, there wasn't anything better than that today," Grobe said. "We had a lot bright spots and that was certainly one of them. They were trying to play coverages against us to take the throw away, and we just kept banging our heads and getting nothing on the ground in the first half. Those runs from Josh in the second half were really nice."
What made them nice was the Demon Deacons were finally able to use the run to open up their passing attack. Price completed two of his three touchdown passes in the second half, with the last one coming on that eight yard strike to Davis.