NCF Nation: Nikita Whitlock

ACC predictions: Week 10

October, 31, 2013
10/31/13
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Week 9 was not kind to your ACC bloggers. We missed the same three games, going 4-3. AA keeps her two-game edge overall on HD at 59-13. Hopefully Week 10 will be kinder to us.

On to the picks!

Virginia Tech (6-2, 3-1) at Boston College (3-4, 1-3), noon ET, ABC/ESPN2. #VTvsBC. Well, this one ought to be fun. Two of the worst offenses in the entire country square off -- No. 110 Virginia Tech vs. No. 108 Boston College. Those offensive struggles cost both teams last week in losses. Logan Thomas threw four interceptions against Duke; Chase Rettig threw for 57 yards against North Carolina -- which has the worst statistical defense in the ACC. If Rettig struggled that badly against the Tar Heels, what will happen against the No. 3 defense in the nation? Nothing has come easily for the Hokies on offense, putting extra stress on the defense to play nearly perfectly to win. AA says bank on the Virginia Tech offense and Thomas to play better. Not like an offensive juggernaut, but efficient enough to win. AA picks: Virginia Tech 21, Boston College 13.

HD picks: Boston College 24, Virginia Tech 21: The Eagles have home-field advantage -- and the edge on the ground. In a game that will feature two embattled quarterbacks, the difference will be the Eagles’ ability to run the ball consistently. BC is averaging 176.6 rushing yards per game; the Hokies are No. 105 in the country in rushing offense at 124.5 yards. Andre Williams leads the ACC and is fifth in the nation in rushing. He’s not going to have a career day, but he’ll have a good enough performance -- and Virginia Tech will make enough mistakes -- for the Eagles to win.

North Carolina (2-5, 1-3) at NC State (3-4, 0-4), 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3. #UNCvsNCST. The Wolfpack have taken a bit of a nosedive in the month of October, losing three straight in some pretty disappointing performances. Their previous win? Sept. 28 against Central Michigan. Meanwhile, North Carolina seems reinvigorated after nearly upsetting Miami, then beating Boston College. The Tar Heels pulled out the win over NC State in one of the best ACC games last season. But AA is going with NC State in this one. The Wolfpack are going to be able to gain yards with their running game, and the NC State defensive front will do enough to keep Bryn Renner and Marquise Williams out of rhythm. North Carolina has not won in Raleigh since 2005. AA picks: NC State 30, North Carolina 27.

HD picks: North Carolina 35, NC State 21: The Tar Heels are simply the more talented of the two teams right now, they’ve got an NFL-caliber tight end in Eric Ebron, and they’ve got the edge at quarterback. UNC has started to play better on defense and has made fewer mistakes in each of the past two games. The 10 points allowed against Boston College on Saturday was its fewest allowed against an ACC opponent since a 44-10 win at Virginia on Oct. 16, 2010. North Carolina’s defense allowed just 59 passing yards, the fewest by an opponent since Clemson threw for 37 yards in a UNC win in Death Valley on Nov. 15, 1997. UNC will continue that progress against a Pack offense that is averaging just 23.6 points per game.

Wake Forest (4-4, 2-3) at Syracuse (3-4, 1-2), 12:30 p.m. ET, ESPN3. #WAKEvsCUSE. The Deacs might have lost last week but they sure did put a scare into the No. 7 Hurricanes, leading for all but a few minutes. Wake is playing much better at this point compared to the beginning of the season, and all eyes once again are going to be on Michael Campanaro, who has double-digit receptions in three straight games. He needs six receptions to move into second place on the ACC's career list. Syracuse has been depleted in the secondary, so Wake Forest gets the edge there. The Orange looked miserable offensively the last time out against Georgia Tech. We don't anticipate a similar performance, but Nikita Whitlock and his teammates up front will do enough to disrupt the run game to get the Deacs closer to bowl eligibility. AA picks: Wake Forest 24, Syracuse 23.

HD picks: Wake Forest 21, Syracuse 17

No. 8 Clemson (7-1, 5-1) at Virginia (2-6, 0-4), 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN. #CLEMvsUVA. The Tigers have been slow out of the gate in their past three games and have not wowed anybody with their defensive play in the past two. Perhaps that all changes against the worst team in the league. Though Virginia did show signs of life in a loss to Georgia Tech last week, the fact that the Cavaliers scored only once off five Jackets turnovers tells you where this offense -- and this program -- stands. They can make a few plays here and there but for the most part, Virginia has been unable to take advantage of opportunities to win, and killed itself with too many mistakes and penalties. Because of the ACC's unbalanced schedule moving forward, this is the last meeting between the programs until 2020. AA picks: Clemson 38, Virginia 17.

HD picks: Clemson 41, Virginia 27

Pitt (4-3, 2-2) at Georgia Tech (5-3, 4-2), 7 p.m., ESPNU. #PITTvsGT. The Panthers faced a similar offense last week against Navy, so they have some preparation under their belts. But they also lost the game, giving up two scores in the fourth quarter after taking a 21-14 lead. Meanwhile, the offense has struggled since putting up 58 points in a win over Duke in September. In the four games since, the Panthers are averaging 19.8 points a game. In two ACC games, they scored a total of 23 points. Georgia Tech has won two straight, and had three players go over 100 yards rushing last week against Virginia. The Jackets did have some defensive breakdowns and too many turnovers, but the previous time they played at home, they gave a near-flawless effort. AA picks: Georgia Tech 30, Pitt 24.

HD picks: Georgia Tech 31, Pitt 21

No. 7 Miami (7-0, 3-0) at No. 3 Florida State (7-0, 5-0), 8 p.m., ABC. #MIAvsFSU. Nobody is giving Miami a chance to win this game. Indeed, the oddsmakers are treating the Canes as if they are a middle-of-the-pack ACC team, installing them as 22-point underdogs. So does Miami have a shot? Only if the Canes can control the clock, play a power-run game and limit the big plays defensively. Easier said than done. The most concern for Miami has to be on defense, where the Canes lose every single matchup against Florida State. The Seminoles have the stronger offensive line; a talented and deep group of receivers; solid running backs; a Heisman Trophy contender in Jameis Winston; and a terrific tight end in Nick O'Leary. Given how UNC's Eric Ebron torched Miami, slowing down O'Leary has to be a top priority. He has the most red zone touchdown receptions (five) in the ACC. Miami might not be as good as its record indicates, but you can be assured the Canes will be amped for this game and keenly aware that they have been disrespected at every turn. That won't be enough to get them a win, but it will be enough for them to stay closer than everybody believes. AA picks: Florida State 40, Miami 24.

HD’s pick: Florida State 42, Miami 35

ACC weekend rewind: Week 4

September, 23, 2013
9/23/13
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Here is one last look back at the week that was in the ACC.

The good: Perhaps Clemson teams of the past would have faltered when adversity struck early Thursday in Raleigh, N.C. But the defensive line stood up, and the offense made plays when it needed to, turning a close contest into a more comfortable 26-14 win, allowing the Tigers to remain the ACC's most likely national title contender.

[+] EnlargeTravis Blanks
Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty ImagesThe Clemson defense played well in the win over North Carolina State.
The bad: Pitt's defense avoids this distinction only because Duke's was worse. The Panthers escaped Durham, N.C., with a 58-55 win Saturday for their first ACC victory. The Blue Devils surrendered 598 yards of offense and did not force a single turnover, while committing four themselves. Duke coach David Cutcliffe said Sunday that he had never been a part of any game like it before.

The ugly: Virginia Tech beat Marshall 29-21 in three overtimes to get to 3-1. The first two overtimes featured no scores. The game had five total turnovers. Marshall committed 11 penalties. Oh, and both kickers combined to go 0-for-5 on field goal attempts, with the Hokies' Ethan Keyserling going 0-for-3 while replacing Cody Journell, who was suspended for an unspecified violation of team rules. The one bright spot was Derrick Hopkins coming oh-so-close to a walk-off fat guy touchdown after a Rakeem Cato fumble in overtime No. 2.

The wake me when it's over: The fourth quarter of Miami's 77-7 win over Savannah State was shortened to 12 minutes, as mutually agreed upon by both coaches. What more needs to be said about this matchup?

The wake me when it's over, Parts 2 and 3: In case one FCS beatdown wasn't enough for you, Virginia beat VMI 49-0 and Florida State beat Bethune-Cookman 54-6. For those keeping count, that's a combined 180-13 margin for the three ACC squads against FCS foes this past weekend.

The rebound: Wake Forest needed a win in the worst way, and the Demon Deacons came through Saturday at Army. Josh Harris had two second-half touchdowns and Nikita Whitlock notched 14 tackles, giving the Deacs a 25-11 win before they prepare to head to Clemson this week.

The statement: Nice little stories don't force six turnovers and beat West Virginia 37-0. They don't hold the Mountaineers to six first downs and 175 total yards of offense. And they don't start 4-0. It may be time to take Maryland seriously after its rout of WVU, as the Terrapins are two wins shy of their previous two-year total under Randy Edsall, who refused to call the win a signature one but is surely pleased with his team's start this season.

The what-could-have-been: Hindsight is 20/20. We don't know how ready Terrel Hunt would have been to start for Syracuse in the season opener. And Wagner and Tulane are not as good as Penn State and Northwestern. That said, the loss to the Nittany Lions was a winnable game. And Hunt's two starts after the Orange's first two losses with Drew Allen under center have been great, as he completed 16 of 21 passes Saturday against the Green Wave for 181 yards and four touchdowns. He added 39 yards and another score on the ground, and he did not turn the ball over. Hunt, as Anish Shroff pointed out, has the highest Total QBR rating in the country, though he has not played enough yet to qualify for the top spot.

The stand: Georgia Tech improved to 2-0 in the conference with a 28-20 home win over North Carolina, and it did it with its defense. The Yellow Jackets trailed by 13 twice in the first half. But they held the Tar Heels without a point over the game's final 39-plus minutes and held UNC to just 319 total yards of offense.

ACC helmet stickers: Week 4

September, 22, 2013
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It was hardly the most exciting slate of games in Week 4, but the ACC provided plenty of big-time performances. Virginia had two tailbacks -- Kevin Parks and walk-on Daniel Hamm -- combine for 271 yards and four TDs. Nikita Whitlock tallied 14 tackles, including three for a loss, in Wake Forest's win over Army. Terrel Hunt continued to impress, accounting for five touchdowns in his first career start for Syracuse. And yet, none of them quite made the cut for helmet stickers this week.

Clemson DE Vic Beasley: The history of NC State pulling the upset over ranked teams was well documented in the lead-up to the game, and the Wolfpack might have done it again if it hadn't been for Beasley's dominant work on defense. The Clemson defensive end racked up five tackles, three sacks, broke up two passes and -- three plays after NC State had a potential go-ahead score called back -- forced a fumble from QB Pete Thomas that turned the tide of the game. Beasley now has five sacks on the season -- just three shy of his 2012 total.

Pittsburgh QB Tom Savage: Handing out just one helmet sticker to a member of the Pitt offense after Saturday's 58-55 win is a tough task, but it's impossible to argue with Savage's final numbers. The senior QB completed 22-of-33 passes for 424 yards and six touchdowns, tying an ACC record. The six-TD performance hadn't been done by an ACC quarterback since 1999. He had plenty of help though. Tailback James Conner ran for 173 yards, receiver Devin Street caught six passes for 166 and freshman sensation Tyler Boyd had eight catches for 154 yards and three touchdowns.

Maryland's defense: Defensive back A.J. Hendy was the star, recovering two fumbles and returning an interception for a touchdown in the 37-0 win, but there's plenty of credit to go around on the Terps' D. Maryland pitched a shutout against West Virginia -- the first time the Mountaineers had been held scoreless since 2001 -- while creating six turnovers. West Virginia had just 175 yards of offense, including a mere 62 from the passing game. Seven different Terrapins recorded a tackle in the backfield, three different players forced fumbles, and Maryland assured it will be undefeated for its Oct. 5 showdown with Florida State.

Georgia Tech running backs: North Carolina jumped out to a 13-0 lead early, but the Georgia Tech offense roared back with 324 rushing yards, 199 of which were delivered by Robert Godhigh and David Sims. Godhigh racked up a career-best 100 yards on just nine carries -- five of which went for first downs. Sims, meanwhile, tacked on 99 yards and two scores. The senior B-back scored on a 1-yard run for the Yellow Jackets' first touchdown, then rumbled in from 6 yards out to put the finishing touches on a 28-20 come-from-behind win that established Georgia Tech as a top contender in the Coastal Division.

Duke WR Jamison Crowder: Perhaps it's breaking an unwritten rule by giving a helmet sticker to a player whose team lost, but it's hard to fault Crowder for the outcome. The junior did all he could to keep Duke in the game, recording 279 all-purpose yards and scoring three touchdowns -- one rushing, one receiving and one on a punt return. He became the first Duke player to record a rushing, receiving and special-teams TD in a single game since 1999.

ACC media days primer

July, 12, 2013
7/12/13
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Andrea Adelson and I are gearing up for the 2013 ACC Football Kickoff, two days of interviews with players and coaches from every school in the conference. For us (and most members of the media), we consider this the unofficial start of the season. Vacations are over and the previews begin. Here’s a quick look at what you need to know:

When: July 21-22

Where: The Grandover Resort, Greensboro, N.C.

Who will be there: Two players and the head coach from every school, and ACC commissioner John Swofford. Highlights from this year’s player attendees include: Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd; North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner; Georgia Tech defensive end Jeremiah Attaochu; Miami quarterback Stephen Morris; Wake Forest receiver Michael Campanaro; Florida State DB Lamarcus Joyner; Virginia offensive tackle Morgan Moses; and Pitt defensive lineman Aaron Donald.

Who won’t be there: 2012 ACC Rookie of the Year Duke Johnson; Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins; FSU quarterback Jameis Winston (and understandably so, because he hasn’t played yet); Wake Forest DL Nikita Whitlock (he was there last year, along with quarterback Tanner Price); Maryland wide receiver Stefon Diggs and half the quarterbacks in the league (most of whom will be first-time starters).

Five storylines/things to watch:

1. The Clemson spotlight. Bring your shades. Not that FSU coach Jimbo Fisher won’t have a crowd at his table -- he will -- but expectations are even higher for Clemson. Many predict the Tigers will be chosen the preseason favorite to win the conference. Boyd could be a Heisman contender again, and the Tigers will be playing in the league’s marquee matchup of the nonconference season when they open the season at home against Georgia.

2. The addition of Pittsburgh and Syracuse in the room. This will be the first football kickoff that includes the entire conference with its two newest members, Pittsburgh and Syracuse, which officially joined July 1. It will be the first chance for those four players to interact with their new opponents, and for coaches Paul Chryst and Scott Shafer to talk to reporters about their expectations for Season 1 in the ACC.

3. The media circle around Virginia Tech. Quarterback Logan Thomas and coach Frank Beamer are sure to be a big story after such a disappointing 2012 season. Once a projected first-round draft pick, Thomas struggled last year to do it all, but he didn’t have the supporting cast or the accuracy to make another run at the Coastal Division title. Whether the Hokies can rebound this fall after Beamer made sweeping changes to his staff is sure to be a hot topic.

4. Miami’s questions. Many expect the Hurricanes to be very good this season, but nobody knows if they’ll even be eligible to win a title. The NCAA still hasn’t ruled on their highly publicized case, but those within the program keep plodding on. Coach Al Golden appears to have put this year’s roster in contention to win the division, but defensive improvement is a must -- and so is closure from the NCAA.

5. Three new head coaches. Shafer was promoted at Syracuse after spending the past four seasons as defensive coordinator, and this also will be the first ACC Football Kickoff for first-year NC State coach Dave Doeren and Boston College coach Steve Addazio. The three have inherited different challenges, and all are in the Atlantic Division with league heavyweights Clemson and Florida State. What are their plans for keeping their programs relevant in the ACC race?
Wake Forest offensive tackle Steven Chase is sitting out this spring with a torn ACL. He can’t do anything in the weight room. He can’t do anything on the field. But he can eat pizza -- which means he can still compete.

Chase fired down four big slices -- the equivalent to half a large pie (according to sources) -- to win the Deacs’ pizza eating contest on Wednesday, but that was only part of the afternoon team competitions. There was a belly flop contest between the linemen (congrats, veteran nose tackle Nikita Whitlock, for the most fabulous flop). There was a 3-point shooting contest. There was a sled push, dodgeball, tug-of-war, punting and a “sweatshirt swim” in which players swam the length of the pool in a hoodie and then had to take it off and get it onto a teammate quickly to win the race.

“The guys had a blast,” said offensive coordinator Steed Lobotzke, who helped organize the events with senior receiver Michael Campanaro, defensive back A.J. Marshall and co-defensive coordinator Brian Knorr.

Chase and his teammates were all #WakeForestSuperStars on Wednesday afternoon in what was one of the most light-hearted, entertaining sessions of the spring in the ACC. The Deacs took a break from the grind of the gridiron and the seniors drafted eight teams, with a full draft board in one of the team meeting rooms. (“Some people were saying people were drafting like Al Davis,” said offensive line coach Jonathan Himebauch, “they were just going for the flash.”) They then competed in four team events and four individual events, and the winning team (senior tight end Spencer Bishop’s team) got T-shirts that read: Wake Forest Superstars Champions.

“It’s a nice break, especially for us as coaches, too,” said Himebauch. “We’re around our guys all the time, just grinding and going hard with game plans, scheming and practice and workouts that to get the guys in an event like that where it’s fun and lighthearted, but also, you really find out who’s a competitor, and who by any means is going to try to find a way to win.

“We had guys playing dodgeball and they were on the team but acted like they were out, but had a ball behind their back,” he said. “Campanaro came flying out of nowhere and tagged a couple of guys. It’s pretty fun.”

There were also some sleepers in the competition. Ryan Bauder -- a walk-on long snapper and the last man drafted -- won the 3-point shooting contest.

“That was awesome,” Lobotzke said.

“He was the darkhorse surprise,” Himebauch said with a laugh. “He definitely wasn’t a first-round draft pick, but he was a guy who held his own and was a nice surprise.”

The event started around 2:30 p.m. and ended about four hours later with a barbeque for the entire team. Make no mistake, the Deacs are working hard this spring to improve upon last year’s 5-7 finish. Wednesday’s competitions, though, were part of the plan, as a little time for team building now can go a long way later.

“This breaks things up for the fall,” Himebauch said. “Spring can be a bit of a grind, but I know the guys like being out there. It’s changed their focus and preparation in the offseason, that it’s not just same old grind in the weight room. We’re doing some things to make it fun, but you also want to see guys compete and you want to see them get after each other.”

Steven Chase included.

Q&A: Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe

March, 19, 2013
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Wake Forest opens spring practice today after a disappointing 5-7 season marked by injuries and off-the-field issues. I had a chance to catch up with coach Jim Grobe to review what happened last season and take a quick preview of how spring ball looks for his team. Here is a little of what he had to say.

After the season ended, there were some players who described the negativity that surrounded the team toward the end of the year. What do you make of their frustrations?

JG: I’ve never been on a team that didn’t have a winning record that didn’t have negativity. If anybody’s happy that you’re not winning then you’ve got the wrong guys on your football team. It’s overblown that a football team that doesn’t win has negativity because I think disappointment is maybe a better word than negativity. This is a team last year, I told our athletic director, Ron Wellman, that was a bowl-caliber team. A couple things affected that. We had more injuries than I’ve ever had in my coaching career. Not an excuse, but a fact. And we had some behavior problems that hurt our chances of winning a game, so we just were one of those teams that was real, real close. We won five games, played three top-10 teams. It’s a broken record here about how tough our schedule is. I felt like last year was an underachieving year for us and I was as disappointed as the rest of our players were.

[+] EnlargeJim Grobe
Jeremy Brevard/US PresswireCoach Jim Grobe expects his team to improve upon last season's disappointing 5-7 record.
You return a lot of guys off that team so how do you feel they will be able to channel the disappointment of last season as you get ready for the spring?

JG: Every team, every coach, every player wants to feel like every year you’re capable of making a run at a championship. Last year, I really felt like we had the talent to be a bowl team and I was very disappointed that didn’t work out, but I also told our athletic director I thought this year was a year we would have an opportunity to maybe have an opportunity to play for an ACC championship again. Those pieces are still in place. The biggest problem we have, aside from playing other good teams, is we had so many injuries last year, so we’ve had so many offseason surgeries. A big key for us is can we get all these guys healthy and back on the field and not just get them back on the field, but get them playing at a high level? That’s going to be huge for us. Getting a guy like Steven Chase, our left tackle, to recover from his knee surgery and come back full speed. Get Antonio Ford back from serious surgery to repair a broken leg. Those are things that will be really important to us. A lot of our guys have missed winter workouts with surgeries. Some of our guys will miss spring practice with surgeries. If you look at our depth chart, we feel good about our starting 22 if all the guys we have penciled in are healthy.

We know about some of the offensive guys who are going to be limited during spring. How about some of the defensive guys who were hurt last year. Will they be back for spring?

JG: Two of the guys we counted on that were mentioned preseason last year for All-ACC honors stayed hurt most of the year -- Merrill Noel stayed banged up most of the year and had shoulder surgery in the offseason. I don’t think they’ll let him go for spring practice. He’s healing nicely and should be fine for the fall. With Nikita Whitlock, he got hurt in the North Carolina game and came back and had good games but stayed banged-up most of the year. I think getting him healthy is going to be really important. He’s pretty healthy right now. He broke his hand during winter workouts, but we’ll pull him out of the cast, so I think he’s going to be in spring practice. That will be important. Zach Thompson, he’s back full speed and ready to go, so for the most part we’re going to be fairly healthy. Zach Allen is not going to be in spring practice; he had shoulder surgery after Christmas. We will have a chance to plug some young guys in that need more work than Zach does. Defensively, we’re probably a little bit like the offense. We have a chance with the talent we’ve got coming back to improve defensively, I don’t think there’s any question.

When you have guys you are counting on who aren’t going to be out there, how do you view the spring?

JG: One of the issues we have to deal with is that there are probably 15 or 20 guys on our football team that we know hands down are good enough to play and win in this league. Now they’ve got to do it. We just know they can, we know they’re capable of it. Several of those are injured guys that we probably don’t need to beat them to death in spring practice, but we probably do need to work out the young guys more than the old guys. We redshirted a lot of our kids last year. There were five or six true freshmen we kept on the shelf that we should have played. Down at the end of the year we were just a terrible football team because we had all these freshmen redshirting, we had so many injuries, we just couldn’t go back and pull a shirt off all these freshmen. But some of them we felt were very capable of going out and helping us win games. Those are the kids we have to push this spring, we’ve got to get a lot of reps for a bunch of young players. The key for us is developing these young guys as quickly as possible to try and find out where our depth is going to come from next fall. That’s what caught us last year. The depth really got us late last season. When we needed a win late, we couldn’t come up with one.

Who are some of those freshmen you’re looking at?

JG: Josh Banks is a defensive end; he’s put on some weight and looked really good this spring. Depth up front is important for us, so he’s a guy we have to look at pretty hard. Kevis Jones is an outside linebacker, and Stevie Donatell is a guy that we have to look at, two young outside linebackers that I think are guys we have to look pretty hard at. Ryan Janvion, a safety, we thought could have been on the field last year. Dominique Gibson is another safety, he had some knee surgery early in the year last year and that precipitated a redshirt year for him, but he’s another safety we probably need to take a good look at. On the offensive side, we’ve got a couple young offensive linemen we weren’t able to get on the field, a guy like Ty Hayworth is a kid we need to take a look at. Probably at running back, we had Josh Harris who had a pretty healthy year last year. He pulled a hamstring running indoor track. I don’t know if he’s going to be able to go for us. We have to find some of those young running backs that might be able to help us in the spring. As you go through our lineup, there’s so many of these kids that we kept on the shelf last year that may have to jump up and be good players for us this spring.
Wake Forest stood one win away from bowl eligibility last November but turned in a nightmare finish, losing three straight to end the year.

The truth is, the season began unraveling well before then. Injuries cost the Deacs heavily, and multiple suspensions embarrassed coach Jim Grobe, who publicly apologized for the incidents.

Thrown into the mix were negative attitudes that permeated the program, a toxic mix that ended up spilling over once the year ended. Players vented their frustrations to the media. Some former players questioned whether Grobe was the right man for the job.

[+] EnlargeTanner Price
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Tanner Price threw for 2,300 yards and 12 touchdowns last season.
But the page has turned to a new year, and with that has come new attitudes and new expectations. Wake Forest returns 16 starters and just about all of its key contributors from a year ago. The question now is whether so many returning starters off a dysfunctional team can find a way to function together.

"The biggest lesson I probably learned from last year is just the importance of staying positive and making sure there’s not any negativity within the team," Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price said, "because as soon as that negativity creeps in, it’s like a cancer and it’s easy for everybody to become negative. It hurts the team and affects the outcome on Saturdays."

Did that happen last season?

"At times we struggled with that," Price said.

How did he feel about players venting publicly about Grobe and the final outcome of the season?

"At the end of the day, guys were just frustrated with the outcome of the season for a number of reasons," Price said. "What we had was coaches blaming players and players blaming coaches, and at the end of the day, we’re all at fault. What happened requires us to all come together to do some self-evaluation. That’s what we’re doing right now in the offseason.

"I’m excited about where we’re headed. I think this is a close group of guys, and we’ve built a solid relationship with the coaching staff. I really do believe it will be a much different season, and I’m really excited to see how turns out."

Price returns his No. 1 target, Michael Campanaro, one of the top receivers in the ACC. The young offensive line, decimated by injuries last season, will be better and much more experienced. Leading rusher Josh Harris is back, and so are leading tackler Justin Jackson, noseguard Nikita Whitlock and cornerback Merrill "Bud" Noel, just to name a few.

With so many experienced returning starters, expectations will grow. Price, for one, is embracing them.

"I’m very optimistic about this upcoming season," Price said. "We have an unbelievable amount of talent on offense and defense. I really do believe this team will be back in a bowl next year and I think we can have seven-plus wins. I’m excited and I think this is going to be a fun offseason to get working with these guys and start building momentum to carry into the season."

The senior class, Price says, "Since we got here as freshmen, we’ve been talking about how this senior season is going to be our year to make an impression and leave our legacy here so we’ve come together as a group of seniors and said, 'Let’s take advantage of this opportunity we have in front of us.'"

So far, he has noticed results.

"There already is a different energy within the team and the entire program," Price said. "It’s for the better. Everybody is really committed and really ready to create some change and leave an impact."

Wake Forest holds on to beat UVa

October, 20, 2012
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Wake Forest did not have to do much on offense against Virginia, not with the way the defense played on Saturday.

The Deacs got three field goals from Chad Hedlund in his first career start and held on to win 16-10, handing the Hoos their sixth straight loss. Virginia hit a new low point on the season, scoring a season low for points while turning the ball over way too much once again.

Anybody who tuned in knows this game was unwatchable at times. Virginia had plenty of opportunities to win, but Wake Forest came up big time and again. Down 16-10, Phillip Sims had the Hoos driving early in the fourth quarter. But he threw an ill-advised pass down the field that was intercepted by Kevin Johnson near the goal line.

Later in the period, Virginia (2-6, 0-4) had the ball down to the Wake 36, but the Deacs defense came up with back-to-back plays behind the line of scrimmage. The first was a tackle on Clifton Richardson for a 6-yard loss. Nikita Whitlock was forced out of the game because he lost his helmet. His replacement, Tylor Harris, came up with a huge sack on Sims on third down.

Virginia nearly had one final attempt to win, but Khalek Shepherd fumbled a punt with two minutes to go, and Wake Forest recovered.

So on the day, the Hoos had three turnovers and finished minus-3 in turnover ratio, with just 301 yards of total offense.

They actually outgained Wake Forest (4-3, 2-3), which had 215 yards of total offense and only converted one of 14 third-down opportunities. Tanner Price only had 102 yards passing (7-of-19). Its only touchdown of the day was set up because of a terrific return on special teams by Lovell Jackson. But that is a fine formula to win: solid special teams, solid defense and limit your own mistakes.

ACC predictions: Week 8

October, 18, 2012
10/18/12
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Undefeated. That’s right, you heard me: undefeated last week at 4-0. With that stellar performance, my overall record is now 48-11 (81.3 percent). Things get a little more difficult this week, with every team playing again:

Georgia Tech 45, Boston College 34: Defense? What defense? Neither team has much of it these days. This will be Georgia Tech’s first game this year without defensive coordinator Al Groh on the sidelines, so there will be some adjustments, but the bigger concern will be the Eagles’ inability to stop one of the nation’s most productive offenses.

Clemson 35, Virginia Tech 31: Clemson has had a bye week to prepare for this game, and it is going to get the Hokies’ best shot. Virginia Tech played its best and most complete three quarters of the season in last week’s 41-20 win over Duke, but it still isn’t going to be able to keep pace with the Tigers’ numerous playmakers.

Florida State 38, Miami 21: Al Golden said it best this week: The defense is still “light years” away from where it needs to be, although it has made some strides in recent weeks, particularly within the linebackers. Its inability to stop the run, though, is going to be the difference against a Florida State team that’s racking up 233.14 yards per game.

NC State 17, Maryland 14: Odds are we won’t see much of a running game from either team, as Maryland’s has been nonexistent this year and the Terps’ defense is good enough to stifle whatever attempt the Wolfpack will make. The difference will be at quarterback, where Mike Glennon has the edge, but the Pack will have to find a way to limit freshman phenom Stefon Diggs at receiver and in the return game.

North Carolina 45, Duke 28: This is less an indictment of Duke and more a vote of confidence in the Tar Heels as the best team in the division. UNC is rolling, and its offensive line is a major reason. Giovani Bernard will go up and down the field on the Blue Devils as UNC wins the battle up front.

Wake Forest 24, Virginia 17: The Cavaliers’ quarterbacks have struggled, and so has the defense. The Deacs have had plenty of their own problems with injuries and suspensions, but they’ll get back on track this weekend because they’ll win the turnover battle and have the edge at quarterback with veteran Tanner Price. Having noseguard Nikita Whitlock back in the lineup will also help.

What to make of ACC defenses so far?

September, 19, 2012
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The ACC has featured some pretty terrific defenses over the past several years, and has another outstanding one this season in No. 1 ranked Florida State.

But beyond the Noles, there have been several bumpy defensive performances through the first three weeks of the season. Last week alone, four ACC teams gave up 35 or more points. Wake Forest and Virginia gave up more than 50, in league play no less. In all, four different teams have given up 50 or more points in the first three weeks of the season. Is this a growing trend or just happenstance?

Though it is early in the season, four teams are allowing 30 or more points per game, and three are giving up 400 or more yards a game. Last season, only Duke and Wake Forest gave up more than 30 points and 400 yards a game.

Let us look at the happenstance argument, which seems to apply in the cases of Wake Forest and Virginia. One week after limiting up-tempo North Carolina to 27 points, the Deacs allowed Florida State to score 52. Coach Jim Grobe said he was extremely disappointed in his team's performance and that he thought injuries played a key role. Wake was without starting noseguard Nikita Whitlock and used several other players who either did not practice or were limited in the week leading up to the game, including starting defensive end Zach Thompson.

Still, his team ran into what is looking like a pretty powerful Noles squad, one Grobe called "a pretty special football team."

"As good as Florida State is, we saw some things in the game that we could have done better," Grobe said Wednesday. "I think we saw where some of our weaknesses are. We’ve got some things we can work on. I think we have the potential to be a good football team, but I don’t feel like we’re there, so it exposed us on Saturday. We have thoughts personnel-wise, guys that need to go up on the depth chart, but overall we came away feeling we played a very good team."

Grobe said it would be a stretch to think that Whitlock would be able to play this week against Army.

[+] EnlargeTyler Lockett
Scott Sewell/US PresswireThe Hurricanes are the only team in the ACC that has given up 30 or more points twice already this season.
At Virginia, the Hoos played pretty well in their first two games, but things snowballed on this team against Georgia Tech in a 56-20 loss. A key point to remember is that they only had a week to prepare for the Georgia Tech offense and have young players who have not seen extensive action previously against the Jackets.

"Defensively, guys have played well, but you get into a special type of offense that requires details ... you can’t play cautious, you can’t play intimidated, you can’t guess on reads," London said Wednesday. "They got on us early and they stayed on us. You’ve got young guys back there in the back end ... we didn’t play as well as we needed to. So you move forward with that mindset that you don’t dwell on what they didn’t do and you start focusing on the style of offenses we’ll play from this point on."

TCU presents a huge challenge for a young Virginia secondary because it has athletic receivers and a quarterback in Casey Pachall who has gone 33-of-39 for 536 yards, five touchdowns and no interceptions. We will have a better idea about this Virginia defense after its trip to Fort Worth.

Miami, on the other hand, may be in for a long season. The Hurricanes are the only team in the ACC that has given up 30 or more points twice in three games, including that ugly 52-13 loss at Kansas State. Injuries and youth have really impacted this team, which seems to have the furthest to go at improving. Miami currently ranks No. 100 in total defense and will have its hands full against Georgia Tech on Saturday.

The defenses across the ACC may end up being just fine, but there is no question several teams need much better performances this weekend to make up for some early missteps.



TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- A year ago, Florida State limped off the field against Wake Forest, having lost its third straight game. Chris Thompson was lost as well, out for the season with a broken back.

A lot has changed in a year.

Thompson racked up 220 yards of offense and broke off two long touchdown runs as Florida State crushed Wake Forest 52-0 to open the season 3-0 for the first time since 2005.

The Seminoles have won 10 of 11 games since last year's loss to Wake Forest, and they look like a much improved team from the one that coughed up five turnovers in that game.

Thompson led an offensive onslaught, Bjoern Werner and the defense held Wake Forest to just 126 yards of offense, and for the third straight game, the starters were resting comfortably on the sideline by the fourth quarter.

Through three games, Florida State has outscored its opponents 176-3, but the task gets much tougher next week with Clemson coming to Doak Campbell Stadium.

It was over when: Thompson broke his second long touchdown run, an 80-yarder down the sideline to give Florida State a 28-0 lead. Wake Forest's rush had stunted FSU's passing game, but the Deacons had no answer for Thompson. His first touchdown took the wind out of Wake's sails. The second one effectively ended any hopes it had of recovering.

Game ball goes to: Thompson. The senior tailback didn't need this game to prove he was fully recovered from the injury he suffered a year ago, but he needed to prove something to himself. His 220 yards of offense represented a career high, and he turned in the 10th-best rushing performance in school history despite not taking a single handoff in the second half.

Stat of the game: 197. That's Thompson's rushing total for the game, all coming in the first half. In school history, only Greg Allen's 238-yard second half against Western Carolina in 1981 was a more productive 30 minutes. Thompson's runs of 74 and 80 yards were his fourth and fifth career touchdown runs of at least 70 yards, and the game marked his first 100-yard performance since the 2010 Chick-fil-A Bowl.

Unsung hero: The Florida State secondary. Xavier Rhodes and Lamarcus Joyner were exceptional against Wake Forest's passing attack. Just a week after Tanner Price won the ACC's quarterback of the week award and Michael Campanaro hauled in 13 catches for 163 yards, the Deacons were utterly helpless trying to find yardage downfield. Price finished the game 8-of-22 passing for 82 yards and Campanaro had just two catches for eight yards.

What we learned: For the third straight week, we might not have learned very much about Florida State. The running game picked up big yardage, the defense was dominant, but the opponent was also completely overmatched and FSU's starters were on the bench by the start of the fourth quarter. Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the performance was the offensive line's struggles in pass protection. EJ Manuel was sacked three times and was under pressure for much of the game, despite Wake's best defensive lineman, Nikita Whitlock, sitting out with an injury.

Wake gives FSU first big test

September, 15, 2012
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida State has opened the year with big expectations before, but for the past six seasons, that early hype has worn off by Week 3.

The Seminoles haven't opened a season 3-0 since 2005, and to snap that streak this year they'll need to get by a Wake Forest team that has won four of its last six meetings with Florida State.

"They’re much more athletic that people think," FSU coach Jimbo Fisher said. "Wake’s got good players."

Despite the history and Fisher's words of warning, Florida State remains a four-touchdown favorite for the game.

Perhaps a bigger concern for the Seminoles is the fact that their starters have only played about three quarters through two games, both blowout wins over FCS opponents. Wake Forest represents both the opening of conference play and by far Florida State's biggest test thus far.

"I don't think the fact that we haven't played a whole lot will bother us at all," quarterback EJ Manuel said. "I think if I still played, I'd have had the same focus and mentality. I don't think it's going to affect us. If anything, it's going to help us because we're more rested. Those guys have had two dog fights."

Florida State right tackle Menelik Watson missed several practices this week with an ankle injury, but he was on the field for warm-ups and Fisher said he expects the junior to be available for the game. Still, fellow junior college transfer Daniel Glauser will get the start at right tackle.

Wake Forest, on the other hand, will be without starting nose guard Nikita Whitlock, who had seven tackles and a sack in last year's win over the Seminoles.

Nikita Whitlock out vs. Florida State

September, 13, 2012
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Wake Forest starting noseguard Nikita Whitlock has been ruled out for Saturday's game against Florida State with a sprained ankle.

Whitlock was hurt last week against North Carolina and has been unable to practice. On the ACC coaches call earlier this week, Grobe talked about the prospect of playing without his top defensive lineman.

"I like Tylor Harris," Grobe said. "He's a true freshman, but he's a big guy, he's very athletic, he's a pretty physical kid. I really like the things that he's doing right now. Some of our other guys that have been very productive, I thought the nice thing was when we didn't have Zach Thompson last week that Hasan Hazime came in and played absolutely great, and now he'll be starting at defensive end. That might give us a chance to move Zach down inside.

"It's really hard to replace Nikita, but I think the thing we've got is we've got about five guys in that defensive front for those three positions where we've kind of through practice in August rotated those guys around, and most of those guys have played either noseguard or defensive end.

"We've got enough athletes that we can move those guys around. We'd hate to miss Nikita, but I think Tylor Harris will be the guy starting out, but we'll have to roll some of those guys in behind him to try to keep him fresh."

ACC predictions: Week 3

September, 13, 2012
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Who knew Maryland would go on the road last week and beat Temple? Not I. The Demon Deacons put me in my place, too, but it was still a respectable 9-2 finish last week for an overall record of 17-4 heading into Week 3. The Terps have gotten my attention:

Maryland 21, Connecticut 17: Randy Edsall has to come out a winner in the Edsall Bowl, right? Maryland’s coach has downplayed the storyline about facing his old team all week, but the bottom line is that he should have some insight into the competition considering he recruited half of it. The Terps have home-field advantage and should have some confidence after a 2-0 start.

ANDREA ADELSON'S TAKE: UConn at Maryland, 12:30 p.m., Big East Network. The long-anticipated Edsall Bowl is finally here. Both sides have downplayed the emotions going into this game, but you have to think UConn players left in the dust by Edsall are going to have a little something extra in their tanks. I picked UConn to beat NC State last week because of its defense and lost on that pick. I am sticking with the UConn defense again in this one, because I think the Huskies will confound and frustrate true freshman quarterback Perry Hills. How is UConn going to score, you ask? Chandler Whitmer will find a way. UConn 17, Maryland 13.

Northwestern 24, Boston College 21: The Wildcats’ defense will make just enough stops in this game, but it will come down to the fourth quarter. Northwestern has had dramatic wins over Syracuse and Vanderbilt thanks to quarterback Venric Mark, who will have the edge in this game.

Clemson 52, Furman 10: The Sammy Show begins again, but expect this to be another game in which Clemson spreads the wealth. Furman hasn’t won a game in this series since 1936. As long as the Tigers aren’t looking ahead to Florida State, that shouldn’t change this year.

NC State 35, South Alabama 7: The Wolfpack will be without left tackle Rob Crisp, and the offensive line will need all the help it can get right now after allowing six sacks last week against UConn. Still, South Alabama should be overmatched in this game, and the Pack will get a better performance from Mike Glennon and the offense.

Duke 49, NC Central 21: The Blue Devils will rebound from an anemic offensive performance in the loss at Stanford and get right back in the bowl picture with another win. The team will be inspired by the presence of injured receiver Blair Holliday, who has made a miraculous recovery from his summer boating accident.

Georgia Tech 28, Virginia 21: Both defenses will be the story in this game, but Al Groh’s group showed significant improvement against the Hokies and will do so again against the Cavaliers. The Jackets will play with a sense of urgency, trying to avoid an 0-2 start in conference play.

Miami 48, Bethune-Cookman 10: The Canes are 114th in the country in total defense, allowing 517 yards per game, and they are No. 109 in the country in scoring defense, allowing 42 points per game. Yeah, I’m predicting Bethune-Cookman gets on the board.

Louisville 28, North Carolina 24: This will be the best game in the lineup as far as entertainment factor goes, but Louisville’s defense and quarterback Teddy Bridgewater will be the difference. Bryn Renner will be flushed out of the pocket, where his completion percentage drops dramatically. Louisville will force him to scramble, and Carolina’s defense will struggle against Bridgewater just like it did against Wake Forest QB Tanner Price.

AA's TAKE: North Carolina at No. 19 Louisville, 3:30 p.m., ABC/ESPN2. This is a huge game for the Cardinals, because they have a chance to show their 2-0 start and No. 19 ranking are completely legitimate against a pretty good team from the ACC. North Carolina won this matchup last year, but the Tar Heels now feature a spread hurry-up that can cause some major problems for a defense. But the way Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price dominated the UNC defense leads me to believe Teddy Bridgewater will be able to do the same. Louisville 33, North Carolina 28.

Virginia Tech 21, Pittsburgh 17: Consider this a vote of confidence that Pitt is better than it has played so far this season. Virginia Tech’s defense, though, is too good, and the Hokies will force a turnover or make a play on special teams (remember Beamerball?) that changes the game.

AA's TAKE: No. 13 Virginia Tech at Pitt, noon, ESPNU. A sneak peek at a future ACC Coastal Division matchup is here. Before the season started, I thought this would be a good game. Now? Not so much. Pitt has done little to get me to believe it can beat a team ranked No. 13 in the nation. Virginia Tech has had some slow starts on offense, but I don't see how a Pitt defense that has gotten no push up front will be able to contain the highly versatile Logan Thomas. Pitt better keep an eye on Virginia Tech linebacker Jack Tyler, a tackling machine. Virginia Tech 35, Pitt 17.

Florida State 35, Wake Forest 28: Ahh, the big one. With or without injured starting noseguard Nikita Whitlock in the lineup, the Deacs will be overmatched up front against the Noles’ rapidly improved offensive line. Wake will struggle to put pressure on quarterback EJ Manuel, and Florida State’s speed on the perimeter will be too much for the Deacs to overcome.

What we learned in the ACC: Week 2

September, 9, 2012
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What did we learn in the ACC in Week 2?

1. The Clemson offense is rolling. Clemson has now rolled up more than 500 yards in total offense in back-to-back games to open the season, the first time that has happened since at least 1980. Clemson scored 45 points in the first half on Saturday, its highest first-half output since scoring 49 against Wake Forest in 1981. Tajh Boyd and DeAndre Hopkins have been playing pitch and catch like they are in their backyard -- they connected for three touchdowns against Ball State. The rebuilt offensive line looks way, way ahead of schedule. Andre Ellington has proved his worth. Now imagine what happens when Sammy Watkins returns this week.

[+] EnlargeClemson's Andre Ellington and Tajh Boyd
Joshua S. Kelly/US PRESSWIREAndre Ellington (23) and Tajh Boyd (10) have the Clemson offense humming.
2. Watch out for Wake. If there is one thing folks in the ACC have come to realize, it is that Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe continually does more with less. After a lackluster win over Liberty last week, not many people gave Wake a chance to beat North Carolina, which racked up 62 points in a win over Elon in Week 1. Wake Forest went into the game as double-digit underdogs at home. But Tanner Price and Michael Campanaro carved up the North Carolina secondary, and the Tar Heels failed to capitalize on several red zone chances. Consider Wake lost another offensive lineman and nose guard Nikita Whitlock in the game and still won. What does this say about North Carolina? Well, it's a reminder once again not to put too much stock into eye-popping stats against FCS teams.

3. Not quite ready for prime time. Duke and Miami each posted impressive-looking wins in Week 1. The Blue Devils made plays in all three phases in a convincing win over FIU; Miami showed moxie in a comeback win over Boston College. But they came crashing right back to Earth in Week 2, as they suffered major road losses that did nothing to improve their image. Miami was essentially out of the game at No. 21 Kansas State after the first quarter; and Duke was essentially out of the game at No. 25 Stanford after the first quarter. While they were both road underdogs, there is no excuse for each team giving up 50 points and never being competitive. These were the only two nonconference losses for the ACC on the weekend.

4. Maryland is 2-0. I repeat: Maryland is 2-0. Give yourself a helmet sticker if you had Maryland equaling its win total from a year ago after TWO GAMES. What is astounding, aside from the fact that Maryland is playing in the neighborhood of 14 freshmen, is this team has committed eight turnovers in two games and is still undefeated. The Terps survived a furious Temple comeback to win for the first time on the road since November 2010. All of a sudden, next week's game against UConn in the "Edsall Bowl" looks winnable, and Maryland could be sitting at 3-0 in what would be the most improbable storyline in the early ACC season.

5. What do we really know about Virginia, NC State and Florida State? Virginia and NC State won ugly on Saturday without any help at all from their running games. NC State had 54 yards on the ground in a 10-7 win over UConn that even had Wolfpack fans grumbling about a lack of offense; and Virginia averaged 1.3 yards on the ground to barely beat a Penn State team that lost to Ohio at home in Week 1. Both have left much to be desired through two weeks. As for Florida State, the Seminoles have beaten up on two FCS opponents and haven't been tested. Their highly talked about game against Savannah State was called at 55-0 because of bad weather. Jimbo Fisher pulled his starters after a quarter. Virginia and Florida State each play ACC games in Week 3, so we should definitely know more about them at this time next week.

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