A very special Q&A this week as we brought in pop culture nut, blogger extraordinaire and creator of #AllRussellWilsonEverything, Michael Felder. You can find him at In The Bleachers. If it's not on your radar already, his podcast is a must-listen for college football fans.
We talk Wake-UNC, including how to stop the big play ability of Chris Givens and Dwight Jones, after the jump...
BSD: Let's get it started...we've been talking about it a lot on the site, and I was curious to get your take as well--how do you view the WF-UNC series? Did the splitting of divisions hurt the "rivalry"? Can it even appropriately be called a rivalry anymore?
ITB: I think it hurt in-state for the "sweep" sake some. I know when I was there Coach Bunting put a lot of pride in beating Wake, State and Duke in a given year. As for a rivalry, Wake is the odd team that no one actually actively hates.
That's probably a function of the program being down for so long, but even as Wake has risen in the last decade, there isn't a palpable hate there.
BSD: I've definitely noticed that. You travel around, especially in ACC country, and Wake is just...there. I was down in Myrtle awhile back and finally just equated the Demon Deacons to Tiny Tim. No one hates Tiny Tim. They just shake their heads and give us a little pat on the head. It rolled right into the LOWF (lowly ole' Wake Forest) Syndrome that so many fans have.
So I guess it's a self-fulfilling prophecy in some regards too. It just hurts because Grobe has dominated in-state teams for years, but as Wake has trended upward, State and Chapel Hill have trended downward somewhat. And Duke, well, Duke is still Duke.
ITB: I totally agree. For my money Grobe's the most underrated coach in the league and one of the most underrated on the national scene. His kids ball. They do everything right, play sound football and they can run. Not the biggest kids but they can run with almost anybody.
Speaking to LOWF, is there a team that you guys have a hate for? Because I think that side is important to grow a rivalry and an atmosphere to a game beyond just on the field beatings.
BSD: It's split, honestly. Wake fans from North Carolina hate UNC, period. It stemmed from having to hear about them constantly, the sheer mass of Tar Heel fans, being overshadowed in football and basketball, etc. Kids from outside of the area hated Duke (with regards to basketball). The football players that we have from Florida tend to despise Florida State. We've played some really good games in basketball and football against BC, and the schools are really similar. For whatever reason, State doesn't draw much ire.
I think you're really onto something...there needs to be a team to fight against and stick with it. With regards to the Atlantic/Coastal thing, that's where BC has come in, but they haven't played enough to really have a historical precedent.
ITB: Haha, that sentence about State makes you guys beating them even better.
BSD: Seriously, State has really pulled a Wake the last few years. I just feel bad for Wolpfack fans.
ITB: I feel bad but that's what happens when you don't recruit well and stock the cupboards.
BSD: Well, and you let the best QB in the ACC transfer.
ITB: I was on TOB's side there. Saw it coming from Spring Ball when Glennon was still in school and was taking the reps. At some point you can't keep hanging in limbo. If Wilson went out and hit .350 this summer they'd be in the same boat, ya know?
BSD: That's a good point. I mean, it pretty much was damned if you do, damned if you don't with them because you know if they committed all-in to Wilson, as luck would have it, he would just go play baseball.
Let's change it up a bit and get back to the game itself...UNC had a pretty good shot it seemed like against Clemson. Is it a matter of Clemson being THAT good this year, or was it anything in particular last week?
ITB: Personally I wasn't exactly gung ho about our shot at Clemson. I saw a 44-27 type ball game with the Tigers pulling away. The UNC secondary has had a rough go of it all year and this past Saturday, with all of Clemson's weapons, exasperated the situation in the back end.
Whether it was Rutgers and Mohammad Sanu getting open or Miami going over the top against them, this secondary just is not understanding the defense and/or capable of making the plays to get stops when the ball goes up.
BSD: What you're saying is....Tanner Price should have a pretty good day.
ITB: There are areas of opportunity absolutely. Price has got the ability and whether it is a heavy diet of underneath to tear at the zone coverages or shots deep there will be chances.
BSD: As a former DB, how do you approach Price, as well as Givens, who is having a hell of a year? Is it a matter of picking up plays at the line, jumping routes, shifting coverage over to Givens, or playing a blanket zone?
ITB: Where Price is concerned, I think you've got to disrupt timing and close throwing lanes. Starts at the line with defensive linemen trying to get to the quarterback, and if they can't, getting hands and arms into his throwing windows. In the secondary it boils down to taking away the short, quick throws. Linebackers getting their drops quickly and in the cover-2 zone corners re-routing receivers to make Price hold the ball a bit longer.
I'm not a huge fan of rolling zones to a player but Givens is having a monster year. I'd like someone to bracket him or have safeties clearly aware of where the kid is lined up. He's a terror down the field, great body control and he gets into and out of his breaks very well. In a zone he finds the open space and since UNC is so zone-heavy they have to be prepared to break on that ball.
BSD: Do you see him coming out after this year? No way his draft stock could get any higher, could it?
ITB: He should go but then again this year's receiving crop; with Blackmon, Floyd, Jeffrey, Randle, Jones, Jenkins and others is pretty stocked. In keeping with the idea of playing for free vs. playing for money, my mind says go; especially after seeing guys go down with injuries recently.
BSD: I'm with you. But I guess it does all come down to getting a feel for the draft class.
On the other side of the ball, UNC has two incredible weapons in Bernard and Jones. What makes them so dangerous?
ITB: Bernard's a hell of a running back and he has the uncanny ability to make something out of nothing. His early explosion plays were a product of him creating something out of nothing. Now the offensive line is starting to come together and open some holes for the redshirt freshman.
As for Dwight Jones, this has been a long time coming. He exploded for 946 yards a season ago and this year and he's already at 703 through eight games. The kid is one of those prototypical, big-bodied wide receivers who can catch most anything, is a match up problem for defensive backs at 6'4" 225 and has some dynamic ability after the catch.
BSD: Those guys at 6'3"-6'4" are just so hard to cover, especially if they run crisp routes. You play them in and bump them to take away the slant, they'll just get you over the top. You take away the outside shoulder, and a good QB checks right into a drag or a quick slant, and it often takes another body or two to bring the guy down, so he'll pick up 12-15 even on 7-8 yard play.
ITB: Yeah and the biggest problem that goes unmentioned with big guys is once the ball is in their hands. 6'4" 225 is still a load for a corner to tackle 1 on 1 or a safety that is out of position.
BSD: You see it all the time in the NFL--those are the plays that dynamic TEs or a guy like Calvin Johnson will break a simple drag for 50 or 60 yards because the corner biffs it, and the safety takes a terrible pursuit angle. Regardless, I see Merrill Noel (who is the Deacs' best DB, even as a RS-FR) trying to lock Jones down, maybe even all game regardless of which side of the field he is on, and Wake doing what they always do--giving big-time receivers a big cushion. Something like 8 for 130 is not out of the question.
ITB: Teams have tried a lot of things on DJ and quite honestly the best defense against him is a good pass rush. Whether it was TJ last year or Bryn now, get to the quarterback and Dwight Jones and the rest of UNC's wideouts can't get the football.
BSD: I've eaten up enough of your day, and I'm sure you've got some DVR to catch up on...prediction time. How do you see it playing out on Saturday?
ITB: I think this game is almost too close to call. Wake is the more disciplined, better-coached team. UNC has a bit more big play ability. It is homecoming, and I'll be in the stands full of barbecue and hopped up on bourbon. I think I'll get killed for this, but my gut says Wake gets right as my Heels are really coming apart behind the scenes. I'll go Wake on the strength of discipline, 27-23.
BSD: I just can't get past Wake's inability to stomp on anyone's throat. They've all but blown a halftime lead in every single game they've played this year, aside from VT, in which they still blew a 10-0 lead. The Deacs just can't put anyone away. Maybe it's youth, maybe it's playcalling, maybe it's a little bit of both. But something tells me it will come back to bite the Deacs on Saturday. I see Wake with a three point lead they let slip away--probably on a straight dive play where Wake gambles and Bernard busts through to the second level. Your score, reversed, 27-23 Heels.
ITB: Hey man, I'll take it. That'd make for a sweet homecoming. The number one thing I hope for is no injuries. A guy I'm proud to be friends with, Matt Merletti, a starting safety and special teams ace, went down with an ACL and MCL a week ago. Hate to see that happen to anyone out there on the field.
BSD: Agreed. Thanks again for doing this--you're one of the best ACC dudes out there.
ITB: Much appreciated. I'm gonna charge my phone at tailgate so there should be in-game tweets!