Top 5 to watch: Wake Forest Offense
1. QB Tanner Price (6-2, 205, Jr.): With so many new faces lining up around him, it's been imperative that returning starter Tanner Price remain steady and mistake free for Wake Forest. So far, so good. Price came into the season with 173 straight pass attempts without an interception and extended that streak to 181 passes (a school record) before being picked off against Liberty. Since that interception, Price has been picked just once more in 104 pass attempts. Factoring in the more than 3,000 yards Price threw for a year ago, it's easy to see why the Grobe offense has a reputation for taking care of the football.
Price is not only a reliable passer (he's thrown for more than 5100 yards and completed 400 passes in three years), he's also a capable runner when necessary. He proved that against North Carolina in game two when he ran for a pair of scores in addition to throwing for 327 yards.
This year Price's completion percentage has dipped a bit to 59 percent (66-of-112), as he works to learn his new targets throughout the offense. However, he's been able to keep defenses honest and move the ball pretty regularly. He's also showed some better poise in the pocket this year, and when pressured is more likely to throw the ball away than trying to force the ball down field.
2011 v. Duke: 15-of-25 for 215 yards and two TDs
2. WR Michael Campanaro (5-11, 195, R-Jr.): Campanaro has been productive in his first two seasons in Winston Salem, and now that he's the primary target for Price his numbers have shot up even more. A season ago as the secondary threat behind Chris Givens, Campanaro recorded 73 catches for more than 830 yards. This year he's already caught half as many passes (36) for 421 yards and three touchdowns. The 36 catches rank him second in the nation.
Perhaps it's the improvement in the off-season, or perhaps it's the fact that Price seems to zero in on a familiar face, as the passing game evolves and continues to strengthen. Either way, head coach Jim Grobe isn't' complaining about his junior's production.
"He had a good year last year but I think a lot of credit went to Chris Givens who was a great player for us. I think Camp got overshadowed a bit; he's a good football player. I think it helped him last Saturday to have the running game go as good as it did. Camp can't do it by himself. Hopefully he'll continue to have good games. I think if he does that means everyone else is doing pretty good."
2011 v. Duke: Four catches for 46 yards
3. RB Josh Harris (5-11, 210, R-Jr.): played well a season ago before injuries caught up with him. He appeared in nine games and earned five starts while posting 432 yards on 101 carries in limited action. Despite the injury, it was good enough production to rank second on the team for all of 2011.
A year later and Harris is rounding back into form, though he's having to do it behind an offensive line that replaced four starters from a season ago. It makes it tough for a guy who can run between the tackles, but likes to bounce outside when possible.
Before hurting himself against Florida State, Harris had accumulated 136 yards on the ground. He didn't top 100 yards again until this past week against Army when it seemed that each team was running unopposed for much of the game. Against the Black Knights Harris recorded 129 yards on 12 carries and found the end zone twice. For Grobe, it was the product of Harris' offensive line meshing with the scheme.
"We simplified things a little bit, so I thought our offensive staff did a good job by giving our kids stuff they could handle. Certainly the running backs ran (well) but they needed some blocking up front. We really haven't had that early in the season, so it was nice to have that come around."
Against Duke it'll be imperative that the Deacons block well enough to allow Harris and understudy Deandre Martin enough holes to grind up the clock. The Blue Devil defense has held three of four opponents under 100 yards on the ground this season, but the Deacons will likely represent a big step up from Memphis, Florida International, and NC Central.
2011 v. Duke: DNP
4. The Offensive Line: Know that four starters would be gone was tough enough for Grobe and company. However, when projected starting tackle Stephen Chase was dismissed from school earlier this year, the situation became even more precarious. Still, through four games the line has held up well enough to allow just seven sacks in four games. The real issue for the Deacons prior to the Army game had been on the ground, but the Deacons feel better after rolling up 296 yards on the ground in that game.
But does that huge performance makeup for the three previous games in which Wake managed just 68.3 yards per contest - much of it due to an inability to open holes in the defense? That'll be a big question against a largely unproven (at least against big time competition) Blue Devil defense.
5. K Jimmy Newman (6-2, 195, Sr.): Had a season that will seem familiar to Blue Devil faithful in that he was automatic for the first half of the year before falling apart and missing four of his final six attempts in 2011.
Newman finished 2011 17-of-22 and was 3-of-5 from beyond 40 yards. His long on the year was from 46 yards out and his 90 points scored was the fifth highest total in school history. Still, he was haunted by the end of the year and there's reason to believe those ghosts have haunted him into 2012. So far this season he's missed both attempts - one from 40 yards and the other from 47.