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November 4, 2011Wake Forest vs. Notre Dame
Location: Winston-Salem, NC
Stadium: BB&T Field
Kickoff: 8:00 PM ET
Wake Forest: 5-3, 4-2 ACC (Lost to North Carolina 49-24)
Notre Dame: 5-3 (Beat Navy 56-14)
Series history: First-ever meeting
Quotes of the week
"It's Notre Dame, all the history and things that come along with Notre Dame, but I'm really approaching it like it's any other game, and that's how we all are. We're playing Notre Dame this week, but we can't really get caught up in all of that stuff, because it can lead to a distraction." - Wake Forest wide receiver Chris Givens
"I think the nice thing about when you're playing a game like the Notre Dame game you really don't have to say much as far as motivation type stuff. Our big deal, especially after how poorly we played in Chapel Hill is to just coach our football team right now, try to give them a scheme, try to give them good practices, try to plan things so that when Saturday night at 8:00 rolls around if we've got them lined up in the right spots and playing good the emotion will take care of itself." - Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe
"I think it's still going to sound the same as playing in front of 80,000, 100,000 people. It's a huge game against Notre Dame, and I think they are going to be ready for us and the crowd is going to be ready and it's going to be an exciting environment." - Notre Dame wide receiver Michael Floyd
"Wake Forest is skilled, athletic, playing well, great win against Florida State, playing at their place, it should be a great atmosphere. From our standpoint, playing consistent football that's what really this is about." - Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly
Keys to the game
1) Winning the turnover battle
Grobe teaches his players to value the football, and not to be foolish with it. Wake Forest only had five turnovers this season before melting down in Chapel Hill with five more.
"Five turnovers, Tanner [Price] played so well taking care of the football, and our offense had done such a great job taking care of the football I'm not sure everybody doesn't have one of those games," Grobe said. "The problem is with the schedule we're playing if we turn it over a lot, [and] give up a bunch of big plays defensively we can't compete with any of the teams we're playing with. They'll beat us. We've got to play sound football every week to have a shot."
In Notre Dame's three losses it turned the ball over 13 times, and seven times in its five wins.
The Demon Deacons were plus five in turnover margin in their win against then No. 23 Florida State.
By valuing the football Wake cannot afford to give the Fighting Irish offense possessions with a short field to operate, and the Deacs must limit Notre Dame's time of possession.
2) Rushing Rees
Tommy Rees was not sacked for the entire month of October, that is 158 consecutive snaps without being taken down behind the line of scrimmage. The Irish sophomore quarterback has only been sacked five times this season.
Wake Forest's defense has only recorded 10 sacks this season, forcing the Deacs to be more creative defensively and blitz more, leaving the secondary vulnerable.
When given time Rees has shown an ability to pick teams a part, completing 179 of 270 passes for 1,930 yards and 15 touchdowns, but has been intercepted eight times. That goes back to the first key in winning the turnover battle. If given opportunities the Demon Deacons must take advantage of them.
If Wake is able to pressure Rees the Irish may put in the more mobile Andrew Hendrix for a change of pace and style. Hendrix led Notre Dame in rushing with six carries for 111 yards in its win over Air Force.
3) Rediscovering the ground game
Wake Forest's success at running the football has been reduced to mere flashes. Josh Harris torched the Seminoles for 136 yards, and last week against the Tar Heels Brandon Pendergrass carried 13 times for 99 yards and two touchdowns. However, the Demon Deacons rank 106th nationally with an average of 104 yards per game on the ground.
An ailing hamstring has sidelined Harris the last three weeks. The dismissal of little-used Nick Knott left the Deacs with only Pendergrass, forcing Grobe to think about lifting Orville Reynolds' redshirt, giving fullback Tommy Bohanon more touches or giving wide receiver Michael Campanaro reps at running back.
Harris is listed as available to play, but Wake has been unable to rely on its leading rusher (94 carries for 421 yards and two touchdowns) lately. Pendergrass gives the Demon Deacons more dependability and durability at running back, but Grobe needs insurance and a big-play threat. This is where Reynolds may come in.
"If something happens to Brandon that would be real bad, and I think Tommy Bohannon did a nice job the other night, but that hurts us a little bit, because now we lose a fullback," Grobe said. "If we bump Camp in to running back we would probably limit his opportunities at wideout. I'm not sure that that would be good for us."
Grobe added that it would be more likely for Reynolds to play than to move Bohannon and Campanaro to running back.
Wake needs the homerun-hitting speed the 5-foot-8 and 175-pound true freshman from Coral Springs, Fla. brings, because run defense is an area the Fighting Irish have struggled in at times this season (154.2 yards rushing allowed per game).
4) Covering Floyd
Defending the opposition's go-to-receiver has been a ceaseless challenge for the Demon Deacons secondary. This endless problem started with N.C. State's T.J. Graham (six receptions for 117 yards and a touchdown), continuing with Florida State's Rashad Greene (12 receptions for 163 yards and a touchdown), Virginia Tech's Jarrett Boykin (seven receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown) and most recently North Carolina's Dwight Jones (six receptions for 138 yards).
This week the Deacs face possibly their most daunting task in finding a way to cover Notre Dame's Michael Floyd. The 6-foot-3 and 225-pound senior receiver brings game-breaking speed with his imposing size, making for a lethal combination. Floyd has caught 63 passes for 788 yards and five touchdowns this season, and is the all-time leading receiver in most categories for the Fighting Irish.
"He gets all of the attention," Grobe said. "I think he's a jet, can really go, but they've got two or three other receivers that are really special."
Wake cannot afford to focus exclusively on Floyd, because tight end Tyler Eifert (40 receptions for 446 yards and three touchdowns) and wide receivers T.J. Jones (26 receptions for 280 yards and three touchdowns) and Theo Riddick (33 receptions for 350 yards and three touchdowns) have proved to be reliable pass-catchers and playmakers.
"Football is a simple game," Wake Forest nose guard Nikita Whitlock said. "I say that all the time. It's a simple game, and if you don't want them to score touchdowns you get to your gap, you occupy your man, you spill the ball."
The Deacs know what they have to do. It is just a matter of execution, and denying Floyd and Notre Dame's other playmakers opportunities.
5) Tanner Price meet Chris Givens
UNC's defense forced Price into maybe his worst performance as Wake Forest's quarterback, intercepting the sophomore three times and recovering a fumble by him
"I think he's going to react well," Grobe said. "I called him in and told him he needed to play better, so I've got it coached up [laughs]. I'm doing my job [laughs]. I think he was waiting for me to give him some really intelligent coaching point, and I said you need to play better. His response is typical Tanner, 'Yes sir, I do.' It's not just Tanner. We started the game bad. We had a poor protection. I thought Tanner had one just poor read where we didn't make the right decision."
Like Grobe said it is not all Price's fault, but as the quarterback it is imperative for him to find a way to make plays, or to get the ball in the hands of those who can.
Chris Givens caught six passes for 42 yards against the Heels. It did not cut it at Carolina, and will not cut it Saturday against the Fighting Irish.
The Tar Heels brought up the safety to support the cornerback in covering Givens. Regardless of the coverage combinations and matchups Notre Dame uses, Wake must make the necessary adjustments to put Givens in position to use his ability and speed.
"They're very physical," Givens said. "They're a sound secondary, and they're not going to make too many mistakes. They're handsy, they like to put their hands on you a little bit, and get physical with you. Mainly I'm just going to go out there, and play my game. I feel like if I go out there and play to the best of my ability then it should be a pretty good matchup all night."
This season Givens has 52 receptions for 928 yards and eight touchdowns, making him a primary concern for Notre Dame defensively.
"There's no question Givens is a playmaker," Kelly said. "Getting the ball to their playmakers is how they call the game. Each and every week we get different players and different skillsets, but this is a deep and talented group that we're going to be challenged with on the backend of our defense and with our linebacking corps. We're going to have to get the ball obviously out of their hands quickly."
Like Wake Forest in its responsibility to not overcompensate in defending Floyd, Notre Dame has a similar challenge in its task to slow Givens down. Look for opportunities to open up for Campanaro, Terence Davis and Danny Dembry. Seizing or missing those will make or break the Deacs chances for success offensively.