Wake Forest at North Carolina
Location: Chapel Hill, NC
Stadium: Kenan Memorial Stadium
Kickoff: 3:30 PM ET
Wake Forest: 5-2, 4-1 ACC (Beat Duke 24-23)
North Carolina: 5-3, 1-3 ACC (Lost to Clemson 59-38)
Last meeting: The Demon Deacons won 37-10 Oct. 27, 2007 at BB&T Field. The Tar Heels have an overall series lead of 67-34-2.
Quotes of the week
"I'm a North Carolina guy. There's a lot of buzz in the locker room about the state championship. We won it a couple of years ago. Hopefully we can win it again this year, but our focus is getting this win Saturday, being bowl eligible, and then also looking down the road toward the ACC Championship. We know it doesn't just start with North Carolina. We take it one week at a time, and we're really relying on our scout team this week to prepare us for a great game on Saturday, because these guys they're full of talent. We have talent too; it's just that whoever executes the best game plan is going to win this game on Saturday." - Wake Forest left tackle Dennis Godfrey
"Carolina played them [Miami] nose to nose, and then the Clemson game was just turnovers. It's a pretty even football game if you take some of those turnovers out and that goes right to the wire, so this football team it'll be motivated I think to play better. They've lost to two really good football teams the past two weeks." - Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe
"Looking forward to this week against Wake Forest. I really have a lot of admiration for what Coach Grobe has done at Wake Forest over the years. This is a really good football team that we're playing. And again, another ACC opponent and an opponent that is in this state, so it's a big game for us. We want to try to have success against the teams in this state, so hopefully that helps us get motivated this week." - North Carolina interim head coach Everett Withers
Keys to the game
1) Exploiting UNC's weakness in the secondary
The 2011 graduation was painful for the Tar Heels, especially for its secondary, as starters Kendric Burney, Da'Norris Searcy and Deunta Williams departed. North Carolina is 11th in the ACC in pass defense (263.4 yards allowed per game), and now the Heels are without their senior leader, free safety Matt Merletti, who suffered a season-ending ACL and MCL sprain.
"Obviously, that's a big loss for us," Withers said. "Matt's been such an integral part of this program. We are going to try to do everything we can to help Matt through all of this. But really, really a hard blow for me, having coached him."
Look for offensive coordinator Steed Lobotzke to have Tanner Price challenge this unit early and often, especially with the success he has had with Chris Givens (886 yards and eight touchdowns).
Carolina cannot afford to exclusively key on Givens, because that will open it up for Michael Campanaro, Terence Davis and Danny Dembry, who are all proven threats. The Demon Deacons should be like sharks smelling blood Saturday.
2) Slowing down UNC's front four on defense
For a unit that has struggled to open holes for its running backs and has struggled to protect Price (20 sacks allowed) this weekend's task is a tall order for Wake Forest's offensive line.
Godfrey may have the most difficult matchup in facing Quinton Coples. Many NFL prognosticators projected him as a first round pick in the pre-season. At 6-foot-6 and 285 pounds he brings a unique combination of size and athleticism to defensive end.
"It's [his matchup with Coples] a mono versus mono come Saturday, and we're going to see who's going to have the best of the battle," Godfrey said. "He's a great football player. I watched film. He gets to the ball. His pass-rush techniques are phenomenal. He's great with his hands. He uses his arm-length too to the best of his abilities."
The senior from Kinston has recorded 31 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, but he is not Grobe's only concern across UNC's front four. Defensive tackles Tydreke Powell and Sylvester Williams will be a load in the middle, and Kareem Martin is a daunting bookend opposite Coples.
"They're able to play a couple of groups up front, and they're all very talented, big, physical, can run, all those things," Grobe said.
If Wake does not get any push and protection in the trenches it will be contributing to a celebratory Homecoming weekend for the Heels, making for a long bus ride back to Winston-Salem.
3) Bringing down Bernard
Wake has been strong in its run defense this season, giving up only 121.6 yards on the ground per game. In recent year's John Shoop's pro-style offense has struggled versus 3-4 schemes, but UNC's Giovani Bernard gashed Georgia Tech's for 155 yards and two touchdowns.
Bernard was hampered with a bruised hip last week at Clemson, but Withers said the redshirt freshman is fine. He only needs 189 more yards to be the school's first 1,000-yard rusher since Jonathan Linton in 1997.
"Gosh is he [Bernard] good, and [Ryan] Houston the big back, they've got a good one, two punch," Grobe said. "They've got the freshman running back who's really shifty and slick, and he's 205 pounds. He's not a small guy. He's really a nice running back, and then Houston is more physical, so they've got two good running backs."
Houston had the orange no-contact jersey on this week in practice, but if the senior tailback is at full strength Saturday expect him to complement Bernard as a battering ram. That could be devastating for an undersized Wake Forest front seven.
Penetration and plugging gaps are of the utmost importance for the Deacs if they hope to slow down Carolina's ground game.
4) Wake DB's vs. UNC WR's
At 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds Dwight Jones is an imposing specimen at wide receiver. The senior from Durham boxes out smaller defensive backs like a power forward going up for a rebound, and he usually comes down with the catch too. He is one of the ACC's leading receivers with 48 receptions for 703 yards and eight touchdowns.
"He's [Dwight Jones] a great player," Grobe said. "There's no question about it, and we got a bunch of great receivers in the ACC this year. He's certainly one of the top guys, but the thing that's so scary with these guys they got a bunch of them. There's not just a guy that you got to keep an eye on, so they have the ability."
Grobe is right, the Demon Deacons cannot fall asleep on the rest of Carolina's corps. Erik Highsmith is a solid possession receiver, Jheranie Boyd has the ability to be a dangerous deep threat and even Bernard has made plays catching passes out of the backfield.
The Deacs have already seen talent at receiver similar to UNC's in Florida State's Rashad Greene and Virginia Tech's Jarrett Boykin. Wake's secondary is a competitive and savvy group led by the ACC's leader in pass-breakups (15) in redshirt freshman Merrill Noel and senior safeties Josh Bush and Cyhl Quarles.
The success of this matchup largely depends on if Wake pressures North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner or not.
5) Bothering Bryn
Renner is the ACC's most efficient passer with a rating of 166.4. The redshirt sophomore has completed 147 of 203 passes for an impressive 1,857 yards and 16 touchdowns, but has a tendency to force throws. He has been intercepted nine times this season.
"I think he [Renner] looks very comfortable, looks like he's running their offense, understands it really well, and he throws a lot of nice catchable footballs," Grobe said. "A lot of times people have got the receivers covered pretty good, and he finds a way to get the ball in there. He's just a nice looking quarterback."
The Tar Heels have given up 17 sacks on the year, but Wake Forest has only brought down the opposition's quarterback behind the line of scrimmage eight times this season. Outside linebacker Kyle Wilber and nose guard Nikita Whitlock have combined for 6.5 of them.
Co-defensive coordinators Tim Billings and Brian Knorr have had a week to draw up schemes and blitz packages to stymie Renner, but the players have to execute them.
North Carolina has the clear advantage in size with its o-line, but the recent inability to protect Renner should be a concern for the boys in blue. Wilber and Whitlock have the potential to create havoc, and if they break through Renner's head may start spinning.