2011 Wake Forest Preview
Wake Forest OG Joe Looney
Wake Forest OG Joe Looney
Posted May 19, 2011

CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Preview 2011

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Jim Grobe
11th year: 62-60
Returning Lettermen
Off. 25, Def. 30, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 19
Ten Best Wake Forest Players
1. OLB Kyle Wilber, Sr.
2. RB Josh Harris, Soph.
3. OG Joe Looney, Sr.
4. S Cyhl Quarles, Sr.
5. WR Chris Givens, Jr.
6. NG Nikita Whitlock, Soph.
7. DE Tristan Dorty, Sr.
8. CB Kenny Okoro, Jr.
9. QB Tanner Price, Soph.
10. PK/P Jimmy Newman, Jr.
2011 Schedule

Sept. 3 at Syracuse
Sept. 10 NC State
Sept. 17 Gardner-Webb
Sept. 24 OPEN DATE
Oct. 1 at Boston College
Oct. 8 Florida State
Oct. 15 Virginia Tech
Oct. 22 at Duke
Oct. 29 at North Carolina
Nov. 5 Notre Dame
Nov. 12 at Clemson
Nov. 19 Maryland
Nov. 26 Vanderbilt

There was a wake in Winston-Salem last season. Can the funeral be avoided?

The clock might be approaching midnight on the ACC's Cinderella following back-to-back losing seasons and a decade-worst nine losses a year ago. Now, no one seriously believed a school of this size, a basketball school in the state of North Carolina, was going to compete for league supremacy on an annual basis. However, after winning 28 games between 2006-08 and sending a handful of players to the NFL, fans were getting a little spoiled. And rebuilding was the kind of thing reserved for Groves Stadium, not the Demon Deacons.

The hope at Wake Forest is that the program located rock bottom last fall, going 3-9 and rarely putting up a fight during a nasty nine-game losing streak. Using a menagerie of young players, especially when they had the ball, the Deacons ranked lower than 100th nationally in both total offense and total defense. A season-ending road win at Vanderbilt aside, there was little to cheer about at a school that played in the Orange Bowl not long ago.

The encouraging news around Wake is that it went with youth at key positions last season, like an all-freshman backfield of QB Tanner Price and RB Josh Harris. Plus, the offensive line returns four starters and a bunch of lettermen, lending slivers of hope for an attack that was utterly toothless in 2010. On defense, Kyle Wilber is going to be a perfect fit for the new 3-4 defense. A defensive end to start his career, the senior is moving to outside linebacker, where he'll make a slew of big plays in space and improve his pro draft grade.

These are trying times for the Demon Deacons and head coach Jim Grobe, who's lost some of his luster over the past couple of seasons. Wake Forest still possesses the work-ethic, sound fundamentals, and can-do attitude that fueled the recent three-year boon. However, the light has started to shine on the gap in talent versus the ACC's mightier programs. At a school like this, where football isn't king, momentum is gold and another losing year could bury it another foot deeper.

What to look for on offense: The Price is right? Although veteran Ted Stachitas is going away without a fight, sophomore Tanner Price has held on to the starting quarterback job until the summer. He won't be easy to unseat, though, he'll still have to make a quantum leap from his rookie season. There's raw and then there was last season, when the lefty looked overwhelmed for much of the fall. The staff is focusing on the fact that he throws an accurate ball and is more poised than most teenagers thrust into this kind of a situation. The Deacons need to see considerable progress for the good of the entire program.

What to look for on defense: Nikita's encore. At this time last year, Wake Forest was in dire need of help on the interior of the defensive line. Who would've known that an answer would come from a 5-11, 260-pound freshman nose guard? The Deacons' Nikita Whitlock was a very pleasant surprise for the program, making 44 tackles, 10.5 stops for loss, and three sacks. A year older and every bit as explosive off the snap as he was in his debut, there's no telling how disruptive he can be in his second season as a starter in the middle.

The team will be far better if … the offense displays a pulse this year. If not the worst, Wake Forest certainly harbored one of the worst attacks from an FBS conference a year ago. The passing game and the overall efficiency of the unit were particularly feeble, throwing just five touchdown passes over the final 10 games and ranking 103rd on third down conversions. Unless the defense is ready to impersonate the '86 Chicago Bears, the Deacons will continue to be easy fodder for opponents if the offense doesn't start controlling the clock and scoring more points.

The Schedule: The Demon Deacons have their one cupcake in Gardner-Webb, but that's about it for the layups. Even the most winnable of ACC games - Duke - is at home. Beating Vanderbilt at home in the regular season finale is a must, and coming up with a good start to the year is desperately needed with a run of four home games in fine before late October. Getting Duke, though, from the Coastal is a plus, but going to North Carolina and getting Virginia Tech on the slate will hurt.

Best Offensive Player: Sophomore RB Josh Harris. It's both a concern and cause for excitement that a second-year player is Wake Forest's most potent offensive weapon. Emerging from a sea of veterans, the 5-10, 205-pounder ran for a team-high 720 yards and seven touchdowns on 126 carries. In one October eruption, he shed some anonymity by shredding Virginia Tech in Blacksburg for 241 yards and two touchdowns on just 20 carries. He hits the hole in an instant and has the speed to get into the secondary with a little bit of daylight.

Best Defensive Player: Senior LB Kyle Wilber. The leading man of the new 3-4 defense, Wilber is moving from end to outside linebacker where his length and quickness will be in full bloom. Despite giving away a lot of weight a year ago, the 6-5, 240-pounder made a triumphant return from a broken leg, collecting 65 tackles, 14.5 stops for loss, six sacks, and three forced fumbles. Now able to roam more freely, he's liable to become a force on the Deacon D and one of the ACC's most exciting defensive playmakers.

Key players to a successful season: The offensive linemen. Sure, the skill position players have to carry their weight this season, but it certainly would help if the blockers opened a few more holes. It's a veteran group that could start four seniors and a junior, but that doesn't guarantee much. While Joe Looney is the closest thing to a sure-thing at left guard, his linemates, Dennis Godfrey, Garrick Williams, Michael Hoag, and Doug Weaver, need to control the line of scrimmage and give the playmakers a better chance to actually go out and make things happen.

The season will be a success if ... the Demon Deacons claw their way to the .500 mark. As modest as the goal sounds, even that might be a bit of a reach versus a schedule that has only one gimme, the Sept. 17 visit from Gardner-Webb. More realistically, this could be another three or possibly four-win campaign, considering all of the work that needs to be done on both sides of the ball. Wake Forest will have to set the bar high because even a second-rate bowl invitation would be a big achievement for this group.

Key game: Oct. 22 at Duke. This is one of those games that could end up being a tell-tale sign of how far Wake Forest might be able to go in 2011. The program has won just two of its last 12 games away from home, so even a road win in Durham is going to be an achievement. Plus, the Deacons have owned the Devils on the gridiron, winning 11 in-a-row in the series, meaning they'll have to keep that streak alive in order to avoid slipping into a deeper funk.

2010 Fun Stats:
- Rushing touchdowns: Wake Forest 23 – Opponents 24
- Passing touchdowns: Wake Forest 9 – Opponents 29
- Third down %: Wake Forest 34% - Opponents 47%
- 2011 Wake Forest Preview | 2011 Wake Forest Offense
- 2011 Wake Forest Defense | 2011 Wake Forest Depth Chart
- Wake Forest Previews  2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006