NCF Nation: Orville Reynolds

The opening week of the season always presents its share of problems, but there’s one area across the board that is in major need of work.

The offensive line.

Only a handful of teams escaped Week 1 without questions at the position. Wake Forest was abysmal. Miami was not much better. Syracuse and Virginia Tech had breakdowns in goal-line situations. Louisville struggled in pass protection. Clemson had zero yards rushing in the second half.

Not even Florida State was immune. The Seminoles returned four starters and were touted as the best offensive line in the country going into the season, but they sure did not look it last week.

[+] EnlargeGeorgia's Amarlo Herrera
AP Photo/David GoldmanThe Georgia defense had five sacks against Clemson, four in the second half.
So what gives? A combination of youth on the offensive line (Wake), injuries forcing new faces into the lineup (Virginia, Syracuse), suspension and graduated talent (Clemson), and a lack of physicality (Miami, Florida State) all contributed.

“On run blocking, I don’t think we were as physical as we needed to be, which was very rare,” coach Jimbo Fisher admitted during his press conference this week. Fisher singled out just one offensive lineman -- guard Tre' Jackson -- for his performance. The others? “We didn’t play up to our potential.”

Just how ugly did it get at times up front in a tight 37-31 win over Oklahoma State? According to ESPN Stats & Information, Florida State running back Karlos Williams was contacted at or behind the line of scrimmage on 52 percent of his rushes. Last season, he was hit at or behind the line on just 24 percent of his rushes.

Virginia’s running backs also failed to find much traction against UCLA last week. Kevin Parks and Taquan Mizzell combined to carry the ball 27 times. Thirteen of those carries went for 2 yards or less. Take away the longest run of the day, Parks’ 17-yarder to open the game, and the two averaged a combined 2.7 yards per carry.

The numbers weren’t any better for Clemson, which had just 88 yards rushing in a 45-21 loss to Georgia. In the second half, the Tigers racked up a measly 15 total yards of offense, but lost all their rushing yards thanks to four sacks (Clemson gave up five in all). The Tigers are thin at tackle but do get help back this week with the return of left guard David Beasley, who was suspended for the opener.

There weren’t any bright spots in run blocking or pass blocking at Wake Forest and Miami, either. The Deacs were completely overwhelmed in a loss to ULM, allowing six sacks and finishing with minus-3 yards rushing. Even if you take away the yards lost to the sacks, Orville Reynolds had 37 yards rushing.

Miami did not anticipate the total breakdown it saw on its offensive line against Louisville on Monday night. But there the Canes were, getting manhandled up front the way they did in the bowl game last year to the Cards.

Not only were there few running lanes for Duke Johnson, freshman quarterback Brad Kaaya was under constant pressure all night and four penalties were called on the line -- including a costly ineligible player downfield that negated a long pass down to the Louisville 3.

“We didn't play with great pad level ... sometimes we were looking around instead of attacking and executing,” Al Golden said Tuesday during a conference call with reporters. “There was a period in the third quarter we stared coming off the ball better, but we started to let negative plays wipe them out.”

Syracuse and Virginia Tech had problems ramming the ball in from the goal line. After recovering a fumble at the 2, it took the Hokies seven tries to score a touchdown. After the game, coach Frank Beamer joked, “Did that look as bad up there as it did from the sideline?”

The Orange were no better on the goal line in a double-overtime win over Villanova. They had five chances to score from the 1 in extra time and were denied all five times. It was easy to see how much the ejection of quarterback Terrel Hunt impacted the ground game. Take away Prince-Tyson Gulley’s 65 yard run and Syracuse averaged 2.2 yards per carry.

What we saw in Week 1 may end up being a minor blip. But it is pretty easy to see what many teams will be working on during practice over the next few days. Shoring up the offensive line should be a priority just about everywhere.
The Wake Forest coaches are big fans of receiver Michael Campanaro. The Deacs love their top receiver. They know what he can do.

Which is why they didn’t really miss him all too much this spring as Campanaro sat out to recover from ankle surgery.

[+] EnlargeOrville Reynolds
Jeremy Brevard/USA TODAY SportsWake Forest's Orville Reynolds says he's feeling more comfortable after a successful spring transitioning from running back to receiver.
It was the perfect opportunity for the program to find a complement to “Camp.”

With Campanaro sidelined, receiver Orville Reynolds emerged as a dependable second option for veteran quarterback Tanner Price -- so much so that Reynolds was voted by his teammates as the most improved offensive player this spring. In fact, Reynolds was impressive enough that he actually put the coaches in a bit of a predicament -- now they feel obligated to find a place for him on the field this fall.

“He took advantage of his opportunity,” offensive coordinator Steed Lobotzke said. “He made a lot of big plays for us. We’re trying to do more things in the run game with the receivers, kind of like we used to do with Kenny Moore back in the day. He’s really good at that, that’s really his forte, and he’s getting better at doing those slot receiver routes that we do, those balls that Camp catches over the middle and stuff, he’s getting better at those things.

“The biggest problem we have right now is, when Camp comes back, what do we do with Orville?” Lobotzke said. “We’re trying to figure out if we’re in a three receivers set, is Orville good enough to play one of the other positions and not just slot? Can he slide in outside, or put him in the boundary, or whatever? Because right now, he and Camp are overlapping. We want to have two of those guys, but we hate to have two of our faster, better players stacked up behind each other on the depth chart. We’re trying to figure out where Orville fits right now, but he’s got a bright future. After Camp graduates, I think the show will be his at slot.”

Reynolds, a converted running back, is so thrilled to be a part of the offense he’ll play just about anywhere they ask him to lineup.

“I’m just ready to do whatever the coaches want me to do, wherever I have to be on the field,” Reynolds said. “I know that a lot of eyes are going to be on Camp, so maybe I’ll free up somewhere else, but wherever the coaches want me to play, then that’s where I’ll play. I’m just excited that I can be used in the offense.”

Midway through last season, the staff decided to move Reynolds from running back to slot receiver. Lobotzke kindly described Reynolds as a “fish out of water,” getting limited playing time behind superstar Campanaro.

That clearly changed this spring.

“I was a lot more comfortable,” Reynolds said. “It was a lot of work to get the feel for everything. I just thank God I got a shot to show everybody what I have.”

As a former running back, one of Reynolds’ strengths is catching the ball in open space and gaining the yards after the catch. Reynolds said he and Campanaro are good friends, and that Campanaro has given him advice on the position. Despite missing two full games and most of a third last fall, Campanaro still set an ACC single-season record for per-game pass reception average (7.9), making 79 catches for 763 yards and six touchdowns. He had over 12 catches in a game on three different occasions, including an ACC record-tying 16 grabs in the Deacs’ win over Boston College.

This fall, he might be even more productive if Reynolds continues to be another option the defenses must be concerned about.

“He's kind of embraced the slot position,” head coach Jim Grobe said. “Going through spring, as much as we love Camp and we know he can play, I thought it was a perfect scenario for Orville to show whether he could play or not. He had a great spring -- did some good things running the football, catching it. Just a completely different kid from what we've had the past couple of years. So I do think we have a guy that can back-up Campanaro. But what he's done for us is he's probably made us look at having two slots on the field sometimes.”

Prediction: Notre Dame Week 10

November, 3, 2011
Jonas Gray said Brian Kelly told Notre Dame at the beginning of the week to go out and win the ACC. Foreshadowing? Let's not get even started ...

The Irish travel to Winston-Salem, N.C., this weekend for the first of three straight games against ACC opponents. Wake Forest is -- by far -- the most formidable of the bunch. Some people not too long ago even thought the Demon Deacons could knock off Notre Dame. (Though, to be fair, said writer did warn about a potential flip-flop.)

I would not expect the Irish to overlook their opposition this week, not with the loss to USC and the ensuing chaos that took place off-the-field having happened just two weeks earlier. But Wake Forest does have its strong points; namely, its passing attack, which ranks 30th nationally. The Deacs also made this a night game, and the atmosphere inside the 31,000-plus seat BB&T Field should be a hostile and intimate one.

But Notre Dame is too strong and too deep. Wake Forest, as ACC blogger Heather Dinich pointed out, has a small defensive line, one facing an Irish front that has not allowed a sack since September. On the other side, the Deacs may be down to just one healthy running back, possibly forcing coach Jim Grobe to burn the redshirt of freshman Orville Reynolds nine games into the season. Their rushing offense is only 106th in the nation to begin with.

The wear and tear has shown in the second half, during which Wake Forest has been outscored 141-101 this season. Taking that a step further, the Deacs have been outscored 93-37 in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Don't be surprised if this is close at halftime, but Notre Dame will simply overpower its hosts in the final 30 minutes.

Prediction: Notre Dame 38, Wake Forest 17