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 Runnin' 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.
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. Last week Beatty completed 15-31 passes for 125 yards and an interception against Furman.
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. Last week, Blount carried the ball 16 times for 63 yards, and also caught 4 balls for 25 yards.
The defense's first tall task of the season will be to overcome the loss of Shaquille Riddick, a defensive end who was an FCS All-American last year. Following the season Riddick announced that he would be transferring to complete his final year and after a series of visits decided to make the move to West Virginia. It remains to be seen how Riddick, an aggressive end who has a pretty good shot at getting drafted, will adjust to the fast-paced FBS level, but it is almost certain that the Bulldogs will feel the loss. Riddick played in 11 games last season, racking up 8.5 sacks, 19 tackles for loss, and 17 quarterback hurries. Additionally he is rated a top 15 defensive end for the 2015 draft and will be expected to contribute right away for the Mountaineers.
While the loss of Riddick on the outside will be a big gap for Gardner-Webb, they will be able to take some consolation in their 3-4 defense (after a switch from the 4-3 last season when Carroll McCray came in) which will be rooted by 2014 Athlon FCS Preseason All-American O.J. Le'iatua Mau at the nose tackle position. At 6'2", 310 lbs, Mau is a beast to handle for opposing offensive linemen and he was named to the Big South Conference team last season, as well as snagging a couple of All-American accolades. Mau had 54 tackles, 9 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks in a very productive sophomore season. Last week he had one sack and three tackles for loss.
With Mau and Riddick on the defensive line together last year, the Bulldogs ranked first in the Big South in rushing defense (122.5 ypg), pass defense (174.2 ypg), pass efficiency defense (114.0 rating), opponent first downs (185), opponent third down conversion rate (32.2%), sacks (27), and opponent fourth down conversion rate (25%). The defense finished the year ranked 5th in total defense in the FCS, allowing just under 300 yards per game.
Behind Mau on the defensive line, linebackers Tanner Burch (inside) and Chad Geter (outside) have earned pre-season honors as well, both being named to the FCS Linebacker Watch List to start the season. Burch, a rising senior, has recorded over 100 tackles in two consecutive seasons and dominated in big-time games, recording a total of 33 tackles in three wins over ranked opponents last season. Geter, a junior, had 82 tackles, nine tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles over the course of the season. A converted safety, Geter still weighs in at 6'2", 235 lbs, and will be able to use the skills he acquired while playing in the secondary to not only rush the quarterback, but drop into coverage to potentially disguise some schemes for the 3-4 defense.
I would expect the Runnin' Bulldogs to struggle on special teams. Last week new placekicker Paul Schumacher made just 1 of 2 field goals (long of 19 yards), and kickoff specialist Grayson Gregory averaged just 52.5 yards per kickoff (including one that went out of bounds.)
Wake's defense should dominate this one. I'll take Wake to win 24-3.
Additionally, if you would like tickets to this game please leave a comment and let us know. We have up to four that we can give away. Go Deacs!