SEC: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Vandy rolls to sixth straight win

November, 24, 2012
Vanderbilt 55 Wake Forest 21: Remember back to Oct. 13, when Florida had just dropped Vanderbilt to 2-4 and bowl eligibility seemed like a fantasy?

Neither do the Commodores. Don't look now, but since they were left for dead in mid-October, the 'Dores have reeled off six straight wins and have just finished the regular season at 8-4 -- their best regular season record since 1982.

The latest victim on Vanderbilt's roll through November was an overmatched Wake Forest squad hoping to reach bowl eligibility in its own right. The Commodores cruised to a 28-7 halftime lead behind a 14-of-17, 211-yard first half performance from quarterback Jordan Rodgers, who threw two touchdowns on the day. When Rodgers wasn't winging it around, senior tailback Zac Stacy put in a workmanlike 89 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. That would have been a solid outing on its own, but Stacy put an exclamation point on his career with a 90-yard fourth quarter touchdown scamper to give him 180 yards and two scores on the day.

The Demon Deacons entered the game determined to move the ball on the ground, but they found no such luck. Wake Forest rushed 44 times for a mere 128 yards

The final nail went into Wake Forest's coffin just one minute into the third quarter, when Vanderbilt blocked a punt on the first series of the half and recovered it for a Commodore touchdown. The win was a cap to what has been a stunning run through the final six weeks of the regular season. The 'Dores have blown through November in every kind of fashion -- whether it was a close stand to hold off Auburn in October, a furious comeback to stun Ole Miss two weeks ago or any number of blowouts against the likes of Massachusetts, Kentucky or Tennessee.
Mississippi State Bulldogs (6-6) vs. Wake Forest Demon Deacons (6-6)

Dec. 30, 6:40 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Mississippi State take from SEC blogger Edward Aschoff: After the 2010 season, in which the Bulldogs had their first nine-win season since 1999, the expectations in Starkville skyrocketed.

Third-year coach Dan Mullen appeared to have enough returning on offense to continue riding that momentum. Losing a couple of key members to the front seven on defense was worrisome, but the offense was always supposed to lead the way.

After the first two weeks, the Bulldogs were averaging 588 yards and 46.5 points, but a goal-line stop of quarterback Chris Relf might have changed everything for the Bulldogs. Mississippi State came up less than a foot short of going to overtime against Auburn when Relf was stopped as time expired in a 41-34 heartbreaker.

The Bulldogs were never the same after that, as injuries hurt the offensive line and they lost three of their next five.

Mullen entered the season with only two wins against Western Division opponents, with both coming against Ole Miss. Nothing changed in 2011, as the Bulldogs’ only SEC wins came against Kentucky and the Rebels.

While the offense struggled throughout the season, Mississippi’s defense kept the Bulldogs in games for most of the year. By sweeping the nonconference schedule and blowing out Ole Miss at the end of the year, Mississippi State became bowl eligible for the second straight year under Mullen and will look to win its fifth straight bowl game.

Wake Forest take by ACC blogger Heather Dinich: The Deacs had a disappointing finish to the season, losing four of their final five games. Considering they made it to the postseason following last season's 3-9 campaign, 2011 was a success.

Wake Forest was a much-improved team, and put itself in position to win the Atlantic Division title. Even more surprising was the fact that it came down to a last-second, game-winning field goal against Clemson, which clinched the division with the 31-28 win over the Deacs on Nov. 12. Wake Forest beat Maryland the following week to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2008, and will be making the program’s fifth bowl appearance in 11 years under coach Jim Grobe.

Much of Wake’s success this year can be attributed to the maturation of quarterback Tanner Price, and the development of several key players around him like receiver Chris Givens. Cornerback Merrill Noel was named the ACC’s defensive rookie of the year and he has 20 passes defended.

The Deacons have compiled a 6-3 (.667) record in their nine previous bowl appearances and are 3-1 in bowl games under Grobe. The Deacs have won five of their last six bowl games. Wake Forest and Mississippi State will be meeting for the first time.
Jimbo Fisher, Will MuschampAP PhotoJimbo Fisher's Seminoles and Will Muschamp's Gators are one of four ACC vs. SEC matchups Saturday.
The final weekend of the regular season features four ACC versus SEC battles, which means SEC blogger Chris Low and ACC blogger Heather Dinich can't be in the same room together this week.

Instead of trading blows, though, they hash it out in a blogger debate.

Chris Low: Heather, forget the chaos in the BCS right now and all the talk about how we need a playoff. We have our own little SEC versus ACC playoff this weekend to close the regular season. It was a 2-2 split last season. I’m on record that the ACC will be lucky to win one this season. Two of the matchups are between nationally-ranked teams. No. 17 Clemson travels to No. 12 South Carolina, and No. 13 Georgia visits No. 23 Georgia Tech. Also, Vanderbilt pays a visit to Wake Forest, while Florida State plays at Florida. All right, Heather, here’s your chance to convince me that the ACC can win at least two games again this year.

Heather Dinich: Lucky to win ONE? Last I checked the ACC wasn't playing the only three teams in the SEC anyone has paid attention to this year. I will admit, that before the season began, I said the ACC would have a winning record against the SEC this season, but I wasn't predicting Georgia's SEC East title, nor Vanderbilt's bowl hopes in the first season under James Franklin, or South Carolina's defense leading the way. I think we could all see what was in store for Florida. I can, however, argue that the ACC will win at least TWO games against the SEC this weekend: against Vanderbilt and Florida. Jimbo Fisher is a step ahead of his friend Will Muschamp when it comes to getting their programs in order, but clearly this will be a defensive game and FSU's defense is better. So is its special teams. As for Wake-Vandy, Jim Grobe has beaten that team before, and quarterback Tanner Price is on a hot streak. What makes you so confident the SEC will come out on top this weekend?

CL: Well, since I wound up picking two ACC teams this weekend, maybe we should revisit my original proclamation. I like Georgia simply because the Bulldogs have been on such a hot streak and their defense has been terrific under second-year coordinator Todd Grantham. That said, it's a whole different game when you're facing that option offense. I also like Vanderbilt. This game means more to the Commodores than it does to the Deacons. Vanderbilt needs one more win to qualify for a bowl game, and Franklin has brought a different mindset to that program. The Commodores are also very good on defense with a lot of veterans who understand what this game means to their season. I had a hard time with Florida and Florida State, but the Gators simply haven't been able to score against anybody that counts. I also picked Clemson over South Carolina. I just don't see the Tigers losing three in a row in this series. How well do you think Clemson will fare against a South Carolina defense that has been rock-solid for most of the season?

HD: I almost picked Clemson. Almost. The one thing that held me back was during my conversation with offensive coordinator Chad Morris earlier this week, he talked about confidence. Because of 11 turnovers in the past three games, Clemson has lost some of its swagger, and I'm not sure they can get it back in time to beat that South Carolina D. I honestly have a hard time believing they will lose three straight in this series, too, but I can't get over how the offense has bumbled its way through the past three games. The timing just doesn't add up in favor of Clemson. Quarterback Tajh Boyd needs to make better decisions, and they need to win the turnover battle. With Sammy Watkins back in the lineup, their biggest advantage might be in the kicking game. What's interesting to me is that Clemson has to be more concerned about South Carolina's defense than its offense. But SEC defenses are having a great year, at least from where I sit. Both FSU and Florida have had their share of struggles offensively. How do you think the Gators will fare against EJ Manuel? The Noles' passing game hasn't been in sync lately. Low-scoring game in the Swamp?

CL: Well, the Gators' offense hasn't been in sync -- period. This is a very big game for Muschamp and the Gators. They need something out of this season they can hang their hat on, and right now, there's nothing. As you might imagine, 6-6 seasons don't go over too well in Gainesville, and they're even worse when two of the losses are to Georgia and Florida State. Now, I'm one of those who thinks Muschamp walked into a bigger mess than anyone will ever know there. He needs a chance to get his players in there, so he can play the way he wants to. But you still need to generate a little momentum going into the offseason. Again, that's why this is such a big game for Florida, which believe it or not, has only lost once at home this season ... to No. 2 Alabama.

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