When writing a prediction story for an opponent N.C. State is favored to beat--and the Pack is an eight to 10-point favorite Saturday, depending on the source--the culmination of decades of painful memories conspires, inevitably causing me to rationalize a path to doom. If A happens, followed by B, and you mix in a little of that classic Pack bad luck, then we could lose this one guys. We really could.
This week, I've got nothing. We gon' win; they gon' lose.
I hope Jim Grobe doesn't pause long enough from polishing his 2006 ACC Championship trophy to read this and post it on a bulletin board, but Wake Forest is not going to win Saturday. Yes, the Pack have been favored to win in Winston before. No, the Pack have not won a single game in their last five trips west on I-40. But this is going to be different. And this isn't just unbridled fandom talking; I've got facts. Lots and lots of facts. And, for once, they all spell doom for the other guys.
The Deacons (2-3) are on their way to a fifth consecutive losing season. They do have a reasonably respectable win over an Army team that played Stanford tough, but the Black Nights, like Wake Forest, only have one win over an FBS opponent (the raging dumpster fire Skip Holtz is fueling at Louisiana Tech). Aside from Army, Wake's other win came over an even lowlier opponent in Presbyterian. The Blue Hose have one win all season, against D-II Brevard College, but they held the Deacs to just 3.5 yards per carry.
Wake cannot run the ball, and that's why it cannot win Saturday. The Deacs had 15 total yards rushing in an embarrassing loss to something called Louisiana Monroe. The Warhawks lost their two other games against opponents from BCS conferences by a combined total of 97 points, and their only non-Wake win came against Grambling State. AND THEY HELD WAKE TO 15 YARDS RUSHING.
Michael Campanaro will get his on Saturday--he is 16th in the FBS, averaging 107.3 yards a game receiving--and he can have those yards, throw for yet another annual rite of passage trickeration touchdown, and it won't be enough. BECAUSE WAKE FOREST CANNOT RUN THE BALL.
The Deacons are 117th among FBS schools, averaging 2.97 yards per carry. So it's all on the shoulders of Tanner Price, and Tanner Price does not have broad shoulders. His 126.14 passer rating is 85th in the FBS. Remember last year when Price was benched during an 18-for-33 performance that included a pick? Wake rushed for 16 yards on 23 attempts. The Pack pinned their ears back for five sacks. It's going to be more of the same on Saturday.
These programs are headed in opposite directions, as evidenced by their respective performances against their one like opponent, Clemson. All caveats about the tenuousness of comparing like opponents are duly noted; and, I recognize that State played Clemson at home on a Thursday night while Wake played the Tigers on the road. But still. The Deacs managed just seven points on 222 total yards (3.6 per play); they gave up 56 points on 573 yards (6.9 per play) even though Tajh Boyd spent most of the second half on the sidelines. Clemson's backup quarterback completed 10-of-11 passes! Wake could not stop Clemson even when Clemson quit trying. Conversely, N.C. State lost two touchdowns to ill-timed whistles and missed a field goal in its 26-14 loss against Clemson. The third-ranked Tigers held just a 5.4-5.2 advantage in yards per play in game that could have turned out very differently.
N.C. State ≠ Clemson, but it's a helluva lot closer to Clemson than it is to Louisiana Monroe. As evidenced by the Clemson game, this is a very good defense (28th against the pass in terms of yards per attempt, 30th against the run, 32nd in total defense, and 32nd in scoring defense). The Tigers are averaging 48.7 points against teams not named N.C. State. The Pack are allowing just a shade over 16 points per game against teams not named Clemson.
In a game pitting a good defense against the ACC's second-to-last offense in terms of yards per play and worst offense in terms of points per game, Wake Forest won't even get to 16. Even if home field is worth a two-touchdown swing from last year's 27-point Pack blowout, this isn't a very close game. Final score: N.C. State 23, Wake Forest 10.
Don't cancel your Saturday night plans. That'll be drunkin' glee you're riding, not drunken rage.
Bonus Stuff (because research is a terrible thing to waste):
- N.C. State has 10 rushing touchdowns through four games after having just 12 in 13 games a year ago.
- The 2013 Pack are averaging 207.3 yards per game on the ground (4.48 per carry) after managing just 111.08 (3.07) last season. Having a competent coaching staff that understands the importance of the running game (and has the creativity to make it work) is another reason why the Pack will not lose this one.
- Coach Dave Doeren has been singing the praises of Wake linemen Nikita Whitlock and Zach Thompson, and rightfully so. The two have combined for seven sacks. The rest of the team has combined for one.
- Despite Whitlock and Thompson, the Deacs are managing just 4.2 tackles for a loss per game; that's dead last in the league and 112th nationally. The Pack should be able to stay on schedule against this defense.
- Conversely, the Pack are getting 9.25 tackles for a loss per game, a mark that ties Clemson for tops in the conference (and second in the nation). Wake will find itself off schedule a lot if this trend continues, and that does not bode well for the Deacs with Price at the helm.
- Whether advertently or not, Doeren dropped a classic in his Wednesday presser when asked about the importance of beating Wake: "I just think we run into guys a lot in this state in recruiting. We cross paths a lot on higher academic kids in particular with Wake and Duke. To be able to say you beat them helps you." I probably don't need to point out that UNC did not make it into the discussion regarding recruiting "higher academic kids." Day = made.