- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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The Deacs (6-6) are back in the postseason after a two-year hiatus and will face Mississippi State (6-6). Here's a quick preview of tonight's matchup:
WHO TO WATCH: Quarterback Tanner Price. There have been a lot of playmakers for the Deacs on both sides of the ball this season, but Price enters the bowl game on a hot streak. He needs only 103 yards to become the most prolific sophomore passer in school history, surpassing Riley Skinner, who had 4,255 yards in 2006-07. Despite the lackluster finish by the team, Price finished the regular season strong, with no interceptions and six touchdown passes in 127 attempts.
WHAT TO WATCH: Mississippi State’s defensive line against Wake Forest’s offensive line. While the Bulldogs’ offense has struggled and been inconsistent, their strength this year has been their defense, and tackles Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd have been the anchors. The Deacs’ offensive line is the biggest in school history, averaging 314 pounds per player, but they’ve allowed 2.42 sacks per game. The passing offense has been the difference for the Deacs this year. Cox had 7.5 tackles for loss over consecutive games against Kentucky and South Carolina. The Bulldogs have the nation’s No. 19 scoring defense, holding opponents to just 19.92 points per game.
WHY TO WATCH: Long time, no see. It’s Wake’s first bowl appearance since 2008. After a 3-9 season in 2010, the Deacs won five ACC games for just the fourth time in school history. Wake Forest exceeded expectations this season and added an interesting plot twist to the ACC race by playing Clemson for the Atlantic Division title. The Deacs came up short by a field goal, but they solidified their place in the postseason with a win over Maryland.
PREDICTION: Wake Forest 24, Mississippi State 21. The Demon Deacons have too many difference-makers on both sides of the ball for the Bulldogs to overcome. It’s been a record-setting year for Price and receiver Chris Givens, and freshman cornerback Merrill Noel leads the nation with 20 passes defended. The difference will be Wake Forest’s passing game and its ability to protect the ball.
4hMatt Fortuna and Andrea Adelson