As spring football season draws to a close across the country, BlueandGold.com will be providing a breakdown of how things wrapped up for each of Notre Dame’s 2012 opponents courtesy of the reporters that cover them on a regular basis.
Head coach Jim Grobe beings his 12th season with the Demon Deacons this fall.
Nov 17, 2012 — 3:30 p.m.
Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind.
Head coach: Jim Grobe (101-100-1 entering his 18th season as a head coach)
2011 record: 6-7
The wheels fell off during the second half of the year for Wake Forest in 2011. The Demon Deacons won only one of their last six games to finish with a losing record for the third straight season.
The first half of 2012 might be equally tough sledding while trying to break in four new offensive linemen and replace all-conference wide receiver Chris Givens. Although, few people have done more with less than head coach Jim Grobe. The 2006 AP Coach of the Year is starting his 12th season in Winston-Salem, and he’s made his program into one that few other coaches enjoy playing.
Junior quarterback Tanner Price will lead the Wake offense. He’s been a solid player since he took over a few games into his freshman season and is expected to make another jump this year. He loses Givens, who set school records for catches and yardage last year, but still has a good target in redshirt junior Michael Campanaro. There is also a pair of 6-foot-5 sophomores on the roster who could potentially make a splash in the fall, according to the Winston-Salem Journal’s Dan Collins.
Most of the defense returns with the exception of both starting safeties and outside linebacker Kyle Wilbur, who finished second on the team last year with 70 tackles. Nose guard Nikita Whitlock could be an all-conference caliber lineman despite checking in at only about 260 pounds.
“He’s a fighter, an absolute fighter,” Collins said. “He’s as quick as a hiccup. He gives them fits up front because you’ve got to get off the ball or he’s going to get by you.”
The Demon Deacons have enough pieces to put together a respectable record in 2012 if they can find some solution on the offensive line. They’re the type of team that has been a thorn in Notre Dame’s side during the past five years and could be a candidate to become the fourth first-time visitor to win in Notre Dame Stadium in the last four years.
Biggest Strength After Spring: Secondary
Fifth-year seniors Cyhl Quarles and Josh Bush leave two holes at the safety position, but Collins said Wake Forest thinks they have two guys who are just as athletic and worthy replacements in junior Duran Lowe and Daniel Mack. They’ll be joined by one of the country’s best young cornerbacks Merrill Noel.
“Noel is special. He is right up there already as one of the best that has ever played here,” Collins said.
The redshirt sophomore tied for the NCAA lead in passes defended with 21 last season to go along with two interceptions and a spot on the Freshman All-America team. He’s the biggest reason why the secondary is the strength of Wake’s team after the spring.
Biggest Question Mark After Spring: Offensive Line
Fifth-year senior Garrick Williams has 14 starts under his belt at center. Those are the only offensive line starts the Demon Deacons have on the roster. Grobe said his staff made some progress with replacing last year’s veteran group during the spring, but they’re nowhere near where they need to be at this point.
A few setbacks have made things more difficult along the way. Expected starter David Chase was dismissed from school earlier this year, and junior guard Dylan Heartsill might win the job if he can overcome a series of back injuries that have nagged him since he arrived on campus. There are at least two spots on the line still up for grabs heading into August.
Biggest Surprise of the Spring: DE Kris Redding
Redding made only three tackles in his nine appearances as a sophomore, but showed the potential to have a much bigger impact as a starter in 2012. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Georgia native is a little undersized for his position, but has good speed. He surprised the staff this spring by earning the starting job almost immediately.
“The fact that he just nailed it down right off the bat when he got out there in the spring was impressive,” Collins said.
Redding should see a boost on the stat sheets as he becomes the primary starter at his spot, and it won’t hurt lining up next to Whitlock.
Summer Storyline: Josh Harris’s health
Harris started 2011 on pace to be Wake Forest’s leading rusher and one of the better backs in the ACC. Hamstring problems slowed him down during the second half of the season and his consistency dipped during the month of November.
He didn’t miss any practice time this spring, which might mean he’s ready to take over as the No. 1 back in the fall. Wake Forest needs to replace Brandon Pendergrass and is trying to get Harris to run harder between the tackles to do that. He and speedy sophomore Orville Reynolds could make for a strong duo in the backfield if the offensive line can solve its problems and provide some holes.