September 22, 2012

Wake Forest exploits Army's youth on defense

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- The future built with strong recruiting classes can't arrive soon enough for Army, but the Black Knights were forced to commit to youth earlier than they wanted in a 49-37 loss Saturday at Wake Forest.

In Army's third straight loss to open the season, the youth movement included three freshmen defensive starters and a sophomore cornerback playing his first game.

The three freshmen were cornerback Chris Carnegie, free safety Brandon Fusilier-Jeffires and rover Alex Meier. The sophomore added to the rotation was Marques Avery as a backup when senior cornerback Josh Jackson was scratched with a groin injury suffered Tuesday in practice. Jackson was replaced in the starting lineup by senior Waverly Washington.

The flurry of changes left a defense allowing 41.5 points and 479.0 yards a game susceptible to a veteran quarterback. Wake Forest (3-1) possessed just such a player in third-year starter Tanner Price. Demon Deacons coach Jim Grobe identified the youthful hole early and pounced.

On the third offensive play of the game, Price connected with Brandon Terry for a 47-yard completion to the Army 29. Wake Forest scored six plays later and an offensive game of holding serve was underway.

"The defensive backs tried to step up, but you could tell we were missing a third-year starter in Josh," said senior defensive end Jarrett Mackey, the Black Knights' Legacy Captain.  "Missing a third-year starter is always detrimental."

The defensive backs tried to step up, but you could tell we were missing a third-year starter in Josh (Jackson).

- Captain & DE, Jarrett Mackey

Mackey played his first game of the year in a comeback from last year's knee injury, but Army's defense couldn't slow Wake Forest's offense on the ground or through the air. The Demon Deacons totaled 517 yards with 296 rushing and 221 passing.

"We've got a long way to go," Mackey said. "Our offense is picking it up, but as a defense we have to get better. We have to step up our game."

Army's success or lack of it will be determined by how much the young defense improves over the next nine games. The offense churned out yards and points for the second straight week after a 41-40 loss to Northern Illinois with 429 yards rushing. Raymond Maples carried 15 times for 140 yards and Larry Dixon 21 times for 112 yards and one touchdown.

Injuries forced the Black Knights' offense into lineup changes, too. The game started with Army moving senior Larry Dixon Malcolm Brown back from wide receiver to running back with sophomore Terry Baggett out with a knee injury suffered last week. Brown gained 79 yards on 12 carries and caught one ball for 19 yards.

Injury Bug Hits

More offensive changes, though, would come later with injuries to quarterback Trent Steelman, center Ryan Powis and offensive left tackle Ben Jebb. Their injuries came midway through the fourth quarter when the Black Knights were trailing 42-37 and driving for a go-ahead touchdown.

On first-and-10 at Army's 35-yard line, both Powis and Jebb were injured. Will Wilson and Steelman practiced snaps before play resumed, but two plays later Steelman was knocked out of the game with a rib injury.

Sophomore Angel Santiago came on for two plays before Steelman returned on fourth-and-1 at Wake Forest's 40. He got a first down with a 3-yard run, but he was knocked out of the game for good this time.

Santiago returned once again before Army's chances to win came down to a fourth-and-3 at Wake Forest's 31-yard line. Santiago rolled right for a pass, but Wake Forest's defense forced him to turn up the middle and run for a first down. He was stopped for a 1-yard loss.

"Every quarterback wants to be in that situation," Santiago said. "We had some people hurt, but everybody is just as ready to play as anyone else. We're doing the right things and playing the right people. We just have to put it all together."

Both teams opened the game scoring on their first two possessions, and it was clear this was a game of holding serve. Army, though, was playing a game of catchup since it only took a 6-0 lead when the extra-point was blocked after the first touchdown by Steelman on a 2-yard run.

Army was the first team to force a punt with 10:10 left in the second quarter, but the Black Knights failed to capitalize before punting the ball back. Wake Forest responded with a touchdown, but not before Army missed a chance to break serve with a turnover.

Price put up a floating fly ball deep down the middle of the field. Carnegie left the receiver to try and run down the ball. He looked like a baseball center fielder trying to make an over-the-shoulder catch as he tumbled to the turf with the ball. The play was ruled an interception on the field, but it was overturned on the replay as a dropped ball and incomplete pass.

Five plays after Price's awkward toss, he threw a perfectly lofted ball into the left corner of the end zone. Michael Companaro caught it over-the-shoulder despite close coverage by Washington for a 7-yard touchdown pass and a 21-20 lead with 4:29 left in the half. Wake Forest was thus leading 21-20 instead of trailing 20-14.

Wake Forest opened the third quarter with a seven-play, 75-yard drive to score on a 19-yard run by Josh Harris for a 28-23 lead.

"We thought we could throw the football a little because of their youth," Grobe said. "We saw how Northern Illinois threw the ball against them, but we also saw that four or five of those passes were with blanket coverage. They were great throws and catches.

"So we were worried about their coverage and if we could do that. But the thing that helped us more than anything was running the ball. We're not a good one-dimensional football team."

Price finished the game 15-of-24 for 221 yards and two touchdowns with one sack. Harris carried 12 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns and Deandre Martin 13 rushes for 115 yards and two TDs.

After Santiago was stopped in the fourth quarter, Army had one last chance to get the ball back. But Wake Forest converted a 3rd-and-12 when Martin gained 19 yards to the Wake Forest 49. Martin subsequently scored on a third-and-6 on a 37-yard run.

"It was a big sigh of relief when Deandre Martin got that touchdown," Price said. "That sealed the deal and got us the win. It really felt good when he brought that one to the house for us."

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