ACC: Merrill "Bud" Noel

2012 report cards: Wake Forest

February, 1, 2013
We wrap up our report cards series today!


OFFENSE: Wake Forest slipped on offense in 2012, thanks in large part to a number of injuries along the offensive line and receiver. The numbers are pretty bad (look away if you must!). Wake Forest ranked No. 114 in the nation in scoring, averaging 18.5 points per game. That is a whopping 7.5 fewer points than 2011, when Wake averaged 26 points per game. Not exactly great shakes there, either, but that is a scoring bonanza compared to this past season. In other NCAA rankings, Wake Forest finished No. 113 in rushing offense (100.5 ypg), No. 91 in passing offense (200.8 ypg) and No. 117 in total offense (301.3 ypg). The Deacs were shut out twice on the season, and scored 20 points or fewer seven times. You get the point. The biggest issue was no consistency on the offensive line, where injuries decimated the roster. Wake Forest ended up playing more young, inexperienced players than it wanted. The lone bright spot was ACC second-team receiver Michael Campanaro, but even he missed time with a broken hand. In the end, this was a season to forget for this offense. GRADE: F

DEFENSE: Injuries piled up on the defense as well, costing players like Nikita Whitlock and Merrill "Bud" Noel playing time. They happened to be two of the best players returning to the group. Though Whitlock did earn second-team coaches' honors and safety AJ Marshall and cornerback Kevin Johnson got honorable mention, there was simply no consistency out of this group. The stats were nearly as bad on defense as they were on offense. Wake Forest ranked in the bottom third of the ACC in all four major statistical categories (rushing, total, scoring, passing). In passing defense, total defense and scoring defense, Wake was No. 88 or worse in the NCAA stats. Hard to ignore the final three games of the season, when the Deacs gave up a total of 130 points GRADE: D

OVERALL: This was a tough year for Wake in more ways than one. Coach Jim Grobe had to deal with more injuries than he has had to in quite some time, and that impacted the overall performance of his team. But off-the-field issues were a major distraction as well, as Grobe suspended eight players for violations of team rules. Four were starters at the time. When the season ended, there was finger pointing and negative chatter on various social media sites, wondering whether a change was needed in Winston-Salem. Losing seasons will do that. Grobe has been incredibly successful in his time at the program, and has an experienced team returning for 2013. But there is no doubt the results in 2012 fell far below expectations. GRADE: D

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Opening camp: Wake Forest

August, 7, 2012
We have come to the end of our preview of every ACC team headed into fall camp. Last, but never least ...

School: Wake Forest.

Started: Monday.

Predicted finish at media days: Fourth, Atlantic Division.

Biggest storyline: Can this team have a winning season? Coach Jim Grobe was asked during ACC media day whether any luster was taken off making a bowl game last season because the team finished 6-7. He answered the right way, saying it is always an accomplishment to make it to a bowl. That is particularly true when your last previous bowl appearance came in 2008. Still, there may have been a sense of falling short of their own expectations, particularly after a 4-1 start gave way to a 2-5 finish. Close losses to Syracuse, Notre Dame and Clemson -- with the Atlantic Division in the balance -- still sting. This year, Wake Forest is going to have to rely on an entirely new set of playmakers on offense, with the departures of leading rusher Brandon Pendergrass and receiver Chris Givens. Plus, only one starter returns on the offensive line. Defensively, Wake will have to do better than allowing an average of 170 yards rushing per game, and the pass rush has got to get better (only 11 sacks the entire season). The defense does return some All-ACC players in Nikita Whitlock and a rising star in Merrill "Bud" Noel, but there is no question this team has to get better everywhere.

Biggest position battle: Offensive line. This is the unit that has the biggest question mark by far is this group, with four starters gone from a year ago. Center Garrick Williams is the only returner, but there could be some good news with the replacements who are coming in. Remember, the offensive line did give up 35 sacks last year to rank No. 100 in the nation. Frank Souza moved over from the defensive line and impressed the coaches right from the outset and is competing for a starting job. Grobe seems happy with Colin Summers, Antonio Ford and Steven Chase. But right guard seems to be up for grabs. Daniel Blitch played there with the first team in the spring, but the competition is open this fall. Grobe has not ruled out moving Souza to the position, if necessary.

Who needs to step up: Michael Campanaro. Givens was a star for the Deacs last season, leading the ACC with 1,330 yards and catching nine touchdown passes. Campanaro did well himself, with 883 yards receiving but he was not really the big-play threat that Givens was. Now all eyes are going to be on him to see whether he will be the hands-down go-to player for quarterback Tanner Price, and whether he has the ability to stretch the field more than he did a year ago.
This summer you'll hear plenty about NC State cornerback David Amerson and safety Earl Wolff, about Florida State's secondary, about Kyle Fuller at Virginia Tech, and Georgia Tech's veteran defensive backs.

Odds are you won't hear much, though, about a cornerback named Kevin Johnson.

That should change this fall.

Johnson, a redshirt sophomore, was one of three true freshmen to play for coach Jim Grobe in 2010. For those of you who unfamiliar with Grobe's philosophy on redshirting, playing as a true freshman at Wake Forest is a rarity. Johnson was good enough to start in five games in 2010, but he was declared academically ineligible last fall. Now he's back, and he's one of several hidden gems on the Deacs' roster that could make their secondary sneaky-good this year.

Merrill "Bud" Noel, the ACC's 2011 Defensive Rookie of the Year, will be the face of the group, but don't be surprised to see Johnson push past three-year starter Kenny Okoro on the depth chart. Johnson is that good. With Noel, Johnson and Okoro as the starting nickel back, few if any teams in the ACC have three corners as capable as Wake Forest.

The dependability of the safeties remains a question heading into summer camp, but the talent at cornerback could help ease that transition. So might the hiring of secondary coach Tim Duffie, who made significant strides with the group this spring.

This is how Wake Forest rolls -- it lures some unheralded talent, develops it, and suddenly you're watching a guy like Noel. Keep an eye on Johnson. He could be next.

One good reason: Wake Forest

July, 17, 2012

We’ve reached the end. If you don’t know by now what this series is, pay better attention. Last but not least, I present the Deacs:

The series concludes today with one good reason why …

Wake Forest will win the Atlantic Division. Gems on defense. Wake Forest has several talented players on defense who don’t get a lot of ink, but are legitimate all-conference candidates who can make game-changing plays. Cornerback Merrill “Bud” Noel is coming off a season in which he was named the ACC’s Defensive Rookie of the Year and led the country in pass deflections with 19. Noseguard Nikita Whitlock had a breakout season last year in which he led the Deacons in tackles for loss (14.0) and tied for the team lead in quarterback sacks (3.5). He also had 64 tackles. Whitlock is a little bit undersized for his position, but he compensates for it with his quickness. Three of four starters return at linebacker, including Scott Betros, who led the group with 59 tackles last year.

Why it won’t: Eight starters must be replaced on offense. Most importantly, the Deacs have to replace four starters on the offensive line -- questions that didn’t entirely get answered this spring. Center Garrick Williams is the lone returning starter up front. In addition, Wake Forest also must replace its leading rusher and four of its top six receivers. Coach Jim Grobe has said he wants to improve the ground game this year, and that could be difficult considering the offensive overhaul. Tailback Josh Harris enters the fall as the likely starter, but his durability has been a question and he has suffered from a nagging hamstring injury throughout his career.

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