This is the second part of a twelve-part series that will preview every team that Wake Forest faces during the 2014 season. The Deacs start their home schedule against FCS Gardner-Webb on September 6th at 6:30 P.M. on ESPN3.
Opponent: Gardner-Webb Bulldogs
Time: 6:30 P.M.
Location: BB&T Field (Capacity: 31,500)
Head Coach: Carroll McCray (2nd season; 7-5 overall)
Series History: Wake leads 1-0 (last meeting in 2011)
2013 Record: 7-5 (2-3 Big South; no FCS playoffs)
The Gardner-Webb Bulldogs will be the opponent for Wake Forest in the second week of the season, as the Demon Deacons play their first home game of the 2014 season. These two teams last faced off in 2011 as the Deacs throttled the Bulldogs by a score of 48-5 in a contest where Tanner Price threw for nearly 300 yards to go with two touchdowns. The Bulldogs were mercurial in 2013, going an impressive 3-1 against ranked FCS opponents, but fell to Marshall in their only game against an FBS squad by an imbalanced score of 55-0 in West Virginia.
I will caveat this entire article by disclosing that the amount of information available even on the internet about Gardner-Webb football is minimal. If there are players in this preview who are no longer with the team or will not be expected to be major contributors, I would encourage someone in the know to inform us so that we can make sure this preview is as good as it can possibly be. So without further ado here is what I believe to be the most up-to-date information on the 2014 version of the Gardner-Webb Bulldogs.
The 2013 team went 7-5 (2-3 in conference play) and pulled off a handful of upsets of FCS teams. Back-to-back wins early in the season against Richmond (12-10) and Wofford (3-0) made the Bulldogs the first team in Big South history to win two games in a row against nationally ranked FCS teams. The key to these early season games were a stout defense, a driving rainstorm (at least in the case of the Wofford game), and kicker Jordan Day's consistency to provide them with all their points over the two games. Day graduated last year, but the Bulldogs return a large number of starters and will look to build upon their 2013 winning season.
The Bulldogs will be led on offense by senior quarterback Lucas Beatty who went 229-377 last year while throwing for 2,497 yards and 12 touchdowns. He also threw 13 interceptions and appeared to struggle at times against faster defenses when he did not have enough time to get settled down in the pocket. He appears to be primarily a pocket as he averaged negative yards on the ground over the course of the season and only rushed the ball 78 times. Beatty best game was in a 53-51 loss to Charlotte where he threw the ball 52 times, completing 35 passes and recording four touchdowns with a lone interception.
Beatty will likely look a lot towards senior Kenny Cook throughout the season as Cook was one of his favorite targets in the 2013 season. Cook caught the ball 76 times last season for over 1000 yards and hauled in 9 touchdowns. At 6-4, 210", Cook could provide some matchup problems for the Demon Deacons despite the fact that the secondary is likely to be the best unit on the team and one of the top secondaries in the conference. In the sole game against an FBS team, Cook caught four passes for 47 yards against Marshall but was not able to find the end zone in the contest.
Alongside Beatty in the backfield, rising senior Juanne Blount will likely get the bulk of the carries as he rushed the ball 257 times for 1,040 yards and 9 touchdowns. Blount is listed as as senior on the Gardner-Webb website despite playing four seasons already, but he only appeared in one game in 2012 and was likely granted a redshirt (probably for medical reasons). Against Marshall he ran the ball 15 times for 53 yards (3.5 yard per carry) and despite going over 100 yards in three of the first six games, was unable to reach the century mark again in the second half of the season.
Beatty, Blount, and Cook make up a solid core on the offensive side of the ball and will likely be one of the better skilled units in the Big South in the 2014 season. The team boasted a relatively high-powered offense at times last season, but was predominantly kept in check as they only recorded more than 30 points in three games - two of which were against Warner and Point which appear to be NAIA-level schools.
It's not clear what type of scheme the Bulldogs run, but solely based upon the number of carries Blount got in comparison to the passes that Beatty threw the McCray-led squad appears to have a relatively balanced attack. If Wake doesn't get some pressure in the backfield and try to out-muscle and overcome the Gardner-Webb offensive front, Beatty and Blount could really make the Demon Deacons pay when the offense is on the field.
Head Coach Carroll McCray is in his second season leading his alma mater. He went 7-5 last season in an impressive debut season and previously was the head coach for one season at Division-II North Greenville. McCray has a relatively impressive resume, having served as the offensive line and H-backs coach at South Carolina for four years in the lat 80's and early 90's, as well as taking Austin Peay from a non-scholarship program into the Ohio Valley Conference as the head coach. He spent four years with Austin Peay in the mid-2000's.
McCray played football at Gardner-Webb and graduated in 1983 with a degree in social science. While with the Bulldogs he played on the offensive line and received three letters, including the 1982 season where Gardner-Webb went 7-3, their first winning season since 1977.
Part two will be out tomorrow, where the 2014 Gardner-Webb defense and special teams is broken down and a way-too-early prediction is given on the game.