As the clock wound down on a 24-21 Miami Hurricanes victory at Sun Life Stadium on Saturday, Wake Forest fans perhaps wondered whether a) they had just witnessed another nerve-twisting gut-punch or b) the Wake Forest Demon Deacon football team might just be pretty darn good.
The answer, if we're honest, is c) probably a little bit of both.
The simple math tells us that the difference-maker was Mr. Duke Johnson, he of the 169 yards in 30 attempts. He also of the two fourth quarter touchdowns, the last of which staked the ‘Canes to a 7-0 record and tightened their grip on a lofty No. 7 ranking in the Bowl Championship Series.
The Deacs needed stops down the stretch and didn't get them. That's football, and that's life.
"You want to put it behind you, but only to a point," Coach Jim Grobe said during his weekly fried chicken and football press conference. "I think if you don't look at the things you did poorly, you won't improve. We obviously did a lot of good things, but we did a few things that we didn't like, that we've got to get better with. You want to move forward, you don't want to let that one get you twice, but you've got to learn from your mistakes, too."
The loss evened the Deacs' record at 4-4 on the season (2-3 ACC) but the overall performance from the boys in Old Gold and Black showed a football team that, for all it's warts, is starting to come together.
Senior quarterback Tanner Price was once again sensational, going 25-45 for 302 yards and 2 touchdowns. The only blight on his afternoon was an interception thrown on the final drive of the game, on a ball thrown behind Jared Crump.
Redshirt senior flanker Michael Campanaro continued his ‘Scorched Earth' tour of the ACC, burning the ‘Canes for 88 yards and a touchdown on the afternoon. He was not alone, however. Freshman Tyree Harris was en route to a record-setting day of his own, catching 6 balls for 95 yards, before exiting with what was later deemed a chest injury.
In the end, 7 different Demon Deacons caught passes as Price manned a relentless passing attack against a stiff Miami front determined to stop the run. The Deacons of Saturday bore no resemblance to the plodding, confused lot that started the season. But just how good are they?
"I think if we play really, really hard we're okay," Grobe said. "I think we've really had a lot of emotion in the last three games. Our guys have come out of the locker room really ready to play football, and I think that's a big key for us. We're obviously not good enough to win without making plays, especially down the stretch, and that's what we needed to do against Miami. You have to be a pretty good team to beat Miami, so you know, we're close. We're close to being a good football team."
So what does that mean as the Deacs head to New York on Saturday to meet the Syracuse Orange (12:30 P.M., RSN)?
It seems like I've typed these words more than a few times already this year, but the Deacs are once again faced with a "must-win" situation. One might expect that Grobe and company might be tired of living on the bowl-eligibility edge (and you'd be correct), but that's where they are as we come to the final four weeks of the season.
Simply put, the Deacs need to find 2 wins in 4 games- and one of those games is against Jameis Winston and the No. 3 Florida State Seminoles. Before the ‘Noles get to Winston-Salem, however, the Deacs have to take care of business in upstate New York.
The Syracuse Orange (3-4, 1-2 ACC) entered the ACC season with a lot of uncertainty, what with a new coach in Scott Shafer and the departure of senior quarterback Ryan Nassib to the NFL. Their most impressive wins on the season thus far are a 52-17 dismantling of Tulane (currently 6-2 and in the C-USA championship hunt) and a 24-10 win over listless N.C. State in Raleigh. Grobe said that Wake could expect the Orange's best shot on Saturday.
"They're a big pressure defense, they come and get you," Grobe said. "They bring a lot of guys from a lot of different spots, and really make it tough. Offensively they want to run the football. They've got a quarterback who runs the ball really well. They want to run at you and throw play-action passes."
Odds and Ends
The Deacs will be without the services of safety A.J. Marshall, who fractured his fibula but will not require surgery. Marshall could possibly be back in time if the Deacons were to make a bowl game, but not before. Grobe lamented the loss of his "quarterback" in the secondary but managed to find some humor in the situation.
"The bad thing is that Stevie Donatell has the motorized cart. It's a shame that a senior can't even get a cart to ride around in."
I would expect Anthony Wooding, Jr. to step in for Marshall.
"It's nice having kids that have gone through basic training and survival training that have lived off bugs and bark and that kind of stuff: you get a special toughness out of those guys."
On Tanner Price:
"He's been playing really good for us. I think he's probably taken more of a leadership role. He's kind of stepped forward a little bit. We've just got to press him to play better. No matter how good he plays, we're going to press him to play better. We're putting a lot on him right now. He's making a lot of checks, trying to get us in the right plays. He wasn't 100 percent Saturday with that, but I don't know that that's possible to expect. But we're pushing him to be that way. It's impossible to be perfect but he's playing really good right now."
On Tyree Harris' injury (version 1):
"He was dressed out yesterday, and he looked good sitting on the wall down there. We'll see how he responds. My expectations usually are not quite as high for freshmen bouncing back. He basically from what I understand, can't breathe, and that's not a good deal. I was impressed that he was at practice when he can't breathe."
On Tyree Harris' injury (version 2):
"My feeling Saturday was that he was not hurt seriously. So I don't think there's anything major there. It's a shame, because he had such a good first half. He made a couple of big-time plays for us Saturday. You just don't expect a true freshman in that environment against those guys to go do that. He really made a couple of huge plays for us in the first half."