The re-tooled rushing attack promised by Demon Deacon coaches and players finally made an appearance in West Point, New York on Saturday as Wake Forest defeated Army 25-11. After a sloppy first half that saw the Deacs clinging to a 10-5 lead, the offensive line asserted itself down the stretch to roll over the Black Knights to the tune of 228 rushing yards.
The Army offense finished with 271 rushing yards of its own, but wasn't close to its offensive output from last year's contest. Let's take a look at the Deacon report card from Saturday's win:
Tanner Price didn't have his best game through the air, finishing 6-17 for 132 yards, 1 interception and 1 touchdown but was the Deacs' second leading rusher on the day. Price ran with confidence and authority en route to 66 yards on the day.
Running Back(s): A
The Wake Forest rushing attack was averaging less than 2 yards per carry before last Saturday. On Saturday, 6 Deacs carried the ball for an average of 5 yards per carry. Along with Price's output, a helmet sticker goes to redshirt senior Josh Harris, who finally had his breakout game of the season. Harris gained 96 yards on 19 carries and scored twice, putting the game out of reach. Dominique Gibson also acquitted himself well, bulling his way to 41 yards on the day.
It's hard to grade this position group when they spent most of their day blocking for Deacon running backs. Redshirt senior flanker Michael Campanaro hauled in 4 of Price's 6 completions for 91 yards and a touchdown. Tight end Spencer Bishop even made an appearance, with a beautiful 39-yard catch to put the Deacs in Army territory.
Offensive Line: A
45 rushes, 228 yards, 2 touchdowns, 5.1 yards a carry. The Deacon blockers finally wore down a game Army defense, paving the way for both Harris touchdowns. This was easily the offensive line's finest hour thus far.
Mike Olson was credited with 10 tackles on the day, along with 1 pass breakup. The real story from this unit, however, was redshirt sophomore Hunter Williams and his two fumble recoveries to go along with 8 tackles. Not bad for a walk-on, huh? Brandon Chubb was once again a major player, with 6 tackles of his own.
Defensive Line: A+
...and when I say, "Defensive Line" I mean Nikita Whitlock. Chances are the Army o-line is still seeing number 50 in their sleep. Whitlock accounted for 15 tackles and forced one of the aforementioned Black Knight fumbles. It seemed like the broadcast announce team said Whitlock's name almost every play- he was that good.
Defensive Backs: ummmmm...
With the ball being stopped by the first and second lines of defense, chances were scarce for Derrick Jackson's charges. However, Ryan Janvion stood out with 6 tackles along with the ever-present Kevin Johnson, who tallied 5 on the day.
Special Teams: C
I'm no special teams coach, but I'm guessing the coaches won't be happy with Chad Hedlund's missed chip shot, and punter Alex Kinal is probably better than 37 yards per kick. Not to be Debbie Downer, but he'll probably have plenty of chances to showcase his wares next week against the Clemson Tigers.
It's safe to say that this was not the grade as both teams entered their respective locker rooms at halftime. The Deacs looked sluggish, again, and it looked as if the defense were going to have to play lights-out for the Deacs to have a chance. To their credit, Jim Grobe and Co. adjusted the blocking scheme and the Harris trains started a-rollin'. I don't want to think about what could have happened if no adjustments were made, leaving the same script in place. To me, these adjustments are a positive as the Deacs move forward in their quest for bowl eligibility.
If the Deacons manage to keep the momentum going and get to a bowl game, they will no doubt point to the second half at Michie Stadium as the moment where the worm finally turned. For the first time, both defense and offense were playing at a high level and assuming complete control. In hindsight, it would be nice if the Army and ULM games were flip-flopped on the schedule, because it'll be hard to maintain momentum next week at Clemson.