In what is fast becoming one of the more intriguing non-conference rivalries in the country, the Mids and the Demon Deacons will meet for the third time in the past two seasons. Last season, Navy shocked then 16th ranked Wake Forest in Winston-Salem 24-17 during the two teams' regular season matchup, but dropped the Eagle Bank Bowl 29-19 to the Demon Deacons in postseason play. This year's Wake team has been difficult to figure out, with Jim Gorbe's club going 0-2 on the road despite their winning record. With both teams so familiar with each other and their respective schemes, the personnel matchups in this game will be all the more important in determining the final outcome. Here are three to keep an eye on for Saturday.
If there is one thing Wake Forest's defense specializes in, it's pursuit to the football. The Demon Deacons have done an outstanding job of keeping Navy's offense confined between the tackles over the past three seasons, in large part due to the speed of the safeties and linebackers. While the Deacs have lost a lot of playmakers with Alphonso Smith, Chip Vaughn, and Aaron Curry moving on to the NFL, they remain well coached and athletic in the backend. For Navy to be successful on offense against Wake, the Mids will have to take what Wake gives them, and that means running between the tackles. Establishing Vince Murray (who is coming off of his first 100+ yard game in the ground) will be huge, but I am particularly interested to see the battle which develops between Navy quarterback Ricky Dobbs and Wake's two monster DT's – John Russell and Boo Robinson. Both are experienced and athletic, and gave Jarod Bryant fits during last year's game. It'll be tough for the interior of Navy's offensive line to control both these players, but as we've seen this year, Dobbs is more than capable of taking on linemen head to head. If Dobbs can power through Robinson and Russell in key 3rd and 4th down conversion attempts, expect Navy to carry the day.
Prior to last Saturday's game at Clemson, Riley Skinner could do no wrong. Not only did he lead the ACC in terms of passing efficiency, but he was coming off of a record setting day after connecting for 360 yards and four scores in Wake's win over Maryland. Against Clemson, however, Skinner imploded with two interceptions, and was sacked five times while going just 11 of 24 for 82 yards in the loss. The last time Navy beat Wake Forest, Skinner had another uncharacteristic day, and was picked off four times – including once by Navy linebacker Ross Pospisil. Pospisil is the kind of player who excels in underneath coverage, yet also has the quickness and discipline to keep contain should Skinner get flushed from the pocket and attempt to scramble. This will be key against Wake on Saturday, as Wake's offensive line has proved to be inconsistent at best this year, and struggled against Navy's pass rush last year (3 sacks allowed.) Despite these struggles, Skinner remains one of the top signal callers in the ACC, and won't need any reminder of how he played against Navy last year to boost his effectiveness in this game. If he can get in a rhythm early the Mids could be in for a long day on defense.
As we've mentioned, Wake's offense has ground to a virtual halt this season when the Deacons have been unable to provide consistent protection for Riley Skinner, and once more the Deac offensive line has failed to pave the way for the team's talented running back combination of Brandon Pendergrass and Josh Adams. Last weekend Wake tackle Chris DeGeare struggled against Clemson's vaunted pas rush, and this week he'll be tested by Navy DE Jabaree Tuani, who had a monster game against Wake last season. In addition to fending off Tuani, DeGeare will likely have to work to keep Navy's blitzing outside linebackers from getting to Skinner, which means neutralizing Clint Sovie off the edge. Navy's senior linebacker is arguably one of the fastest on the defense, and has recorded a sack and 3.5 tackles for a loss on the season. If Sovie can beat DeGeare coming off the edge, expect Wake's offense to have a similar performance to last year's game.