I lied on Monday when I said that I wouldn't write anything else about the Syracuse game. Other than the immediate recapitulation that Martin threw up right after the game, we didn't really discuss the game at all. It made me really sick to my stomach to think about. Now I can fathom writing a bit about it, so here goes my 3 Thumbs Up and 3 Thumbs Down.
This will likely become a weekly article.
Click through the jump for my list!
Three Thumbs Up
1. Tanner Price- In his 3 1/2 quarters, Tanner Price was the best player on the field by far. He was 18-31, but as I noted on Monday, the majority of those incompletions were throwaways, or put in a place where only his receivers could catch the ball. He managed the game well and made a couple of on-the-money throws when he needed to. He actually had a couple of underthrows on passes to Chris Givens that were completed anyway, but overall I was very, very impressed with Tanner. I have said it before, but I believe that Tanner Price is a lot more gifted as a QB than Riley Skinner. It's just a matter of whether he has the other intangibles to lead the team to multiple wins.
2. Receiving Corps- I was extremely impressed with the receiving corps, especially Michael Campanaro and Chris Givens. Givens is showing why we recruited him, and why he will likely break a few records before he is done at Wake Forest. It seems like Coach Grobe's motivating tactics in the media payed off for Chris. 7 receptions for 170 yards (with 2 TDs) is nothing to scoff at. Michael Campanaro chipped in 7 catches for 79 yards and a touchdown. Camp showed his potency on special teams when he almost took a kickoff back.
I would like to see Matt James and Brandon Terry get more time, but with Danny Dembry and Terence Davis in those spots right now, their time will likely come later on.
3. Nikita Whitlock- Make no mistake about Nikita, he is undersized only by height and the perception of people that do not know what they are talking about. His strength is simply phenomenal for a person of his stature, and he poses a constant problem to the opposing center. Nikita played every single defensive snap, had a sack, a forced fumble and was constantly in the Syracuse backfield. If you do not double team Nikita Whitlock on a passing play, you will either get sacked or hurried every single time.
The fact that Nikita played every single snap at NT is obviously a big problem for our defense, but that is another article for another day. We need to get healthy and have better depth there if we want to be serious about our run defense (which will be discussed in the thumbs down section).
3 Thumbs Down
1. Conservative Coaching- Overall, I thought the coaches did a pretty good job of playcalling. There weren't as many counter draws and runs out of the shotgun that consistently get blown up in the backfield. We game-planned well for the Syracuse defense and let Tanner pick them apart. Things fell apart at the end of the first half and the 4th quarter though.
We all know that Jim Grobe has a proclivity (a kind word) to be conservative almost to a fault, and I really think that came back to bite us against Cuse on Thursday. I understand why we let time run out at the end of the game. We had Ted Stachitas in (who had already thrown a pick), it was 3rd and 16, and Syracuse had all of the momentum. I do understand all of those things, BUT you play to win the game, and we didn't do that. We played for overtime, and that cost us the game.
Our defense was winded because of how many snaps they faced in the 4th quarter (and the lack of rotation in the front 7). The odds of Syracuse getting the ball back and driving the length of the field in 30 seconds was extremely unlikely. They had no timeouts, and would likely have kneeled it if we didn't convert the 3rd and 16, or even threw an interception deep into their territory. Like I said, I understand why Coach Grobe chose to let time run out, but I completely disagree with him.
The other facet of conservative coaching is the play sets that we had in place for Ted Stachitas. I know that he is the backup quarterback and has been repping with the 2nd team for most of the fall, but it seemed like we didn't adjust to the QB that was in the game. Ted Stachitas is a very good runner with the ball, and we seemingly didn't utilize that at all. On the last two plays in OT (3rd and 4, 4th and 4), I thought the option read would be the best play call. It is not necessarily conservative to throw the ball "deep" (to the end zone) on both of those plays, but it isn't what Ted Stachitas is good at.
We also shelled up after taking the 29-14 lead and went into "prevent" mode, which as we know all too well, only prevents us from winning.
2. Kicking Game- I don't want to pile too much on Jimmy Newman, but it is the white elephant in the room. If he makes the extra point, or makes one of the two short field goals in the first half (two chances because of a penalty on Syracuse), then we win the game. I'm not going to harp on this, because he no doubt understands what he needs to do to fix it. The two misses snapped his PAT streak, as well as his 13 FG's in a row. I have complete faith that Jimmy will start a new streak on Saturday, and will make the game-winning field goal if we call on him.
Punting is a bit of a different story. Alex Wulfeck won the starting punter job the week before the Syracuse game over Alex Kinal. It was claimed to be because of inconsistency on the part of Kinal. I tend to agree with that based on what I saw in practice, but 34.5 yards over 4 punts is completely unacceptable for a team that relies on defense and special teams. We lost the field position game all night, and that inevitably wore down our defense and gave the Orange several more chances than they should have had. I am not necessarily calling for a change right now, but that average has to go up, and I have not seen anything at practice that would indicate it is going to.
3. Conditioning and the Killer Instinct- Excuse the cop-out, but this is a bit of a hybrid. I think most rational people that watched the game agree that Wake Forest was the better team on Thursday night. If you don't then I don't really know what to tell you. We can harp on Jimmy Newman missing kicks, or Tanner Price getting injured, or the coaching staff being too conservative, or our conditioning being pretty poor (O-line and defense)...BUT none of that matters if we could have scored touchdowns when we got into Syracuse's side of the field.
We converted 4-6 (66%) in the red zone, and managed only one touchdown out of that. Just out of the 4, that is leaving 12 points on the board (assuming we make the XP on all 3 touchdowns). Not to mention we failed to score in two red zone trips. In a game that went into overtime, obviously any point would have made the difference. The game should have been over at the half, and we should be 1-0 right now.
I have a ton of faith in this team because of what I saw on Thursday night. I think it was the perfect storm that Syracuse won the game, and if they played it 100 times, Wake would win about 75% of the time. Feel free to disagree with me on that, but I thought the Deacs were the much better team. They seem to have the same problem that has lingered from years past: too conservative when the game needs to be put out of reach. A lot of it has to do with knowing and learning how to win. Wake Forest won 3 games last year. A team with nothing to lose should go for the jugular, and it seemed like the entire team was a bit timid (including the coaching staff, well, especially the coaching staff).
All-in-all, I was very, very pleased with what I saw on Thursday night from the team. I think they have turned a corner in the off-season and will surprise some people this year. That said, the Deacs can go two directions from the loss... "play like your hair is on fire", or mail it in because of that loss. It will be pretty evident in the first few minutes against N.C State which it will be.
It is the home opener so we should be jacked up and ready to go. Get out there and support this team at 3:30. I don't think you will regret it, and you might even have a good time!