WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) – Wake Forest’s once-sputtering offense has finally found its groove – just in time to face No. 7 Miami and perhaps the toughest defense on the schedule.
Gone are some of the option plays that at times looked force-fed to the Demon Deacons (4-3, 2-2 ACC) during their early-season stumbles.
Now that they’re letting quarterback Tanner Price get back to doing what he does best – picking defenses apart from a cozy perch in the pocket – they’ve had their two most complete performances of the season.
“It’s football, so everything’s about the quarterback,” left tackle Steven Chase saidTuesday. “He’s playing lights-out right now, and that’s been the catalyst of our offense.”
Price accounted for seven total touchdowns in a 34-10 rout of Maryland and a 28-13 victory over North Carolina State.
Now they want to keep it going against the second of three top-10 teams they’ll face in a seven-week span.
“We’ve got Tanner comfortable, which is the most important thing,” coach Jim Grobe said. “He’s a throw-first, run-second guy and he’s capable of running the football, but I don’t think we can make a staple out of running the football and throwing as a secondary option.
“We’re asking him to think more, but I think it’s more in his wheelhouse right now, what we’re asking him to think about.”
That surge in productivity has Wake Forest feeling confident heading into a matchup against the ACC’s No. 4 total defense and its third-best unit against the pass.
Miami (6-0, 4-0) allows 343 total yards per game but gave up a season-worst 500 in a come-from-behind victory at North Carolina last week.
Michael Campanaro – who set Wake Forest’s career receptions record last week against Maryland, caught a touchdown pass from Price and also threw a TD to the quarterback – says the Demon Deacons can feed off of what he calls “our best two games.
“If we can just carry this momentum and style of play and energy down to Miami, we’ll be where we want to be in the fourth quarter,” he said.
Simply being over .500 at this point of the season seemed like a longshot a few weeks ago when Wake Forest was stuck in neutral while trying to incorporate elements of the option into its offense.
The Demon Deacons were wary of becoming too one-dimensional and too reliant on the Price-to-Campanaro combination, but the move backfired. Price struggled with parts of that scheme, particularly pitches to the perimeter.
As a result, Wake Forest lost three of four against Bowl Subdivision opponents and didn’t manage more than 60 yards rushing in any of those defeats. A humiliating 56-7 loss at then-No. 3 Clemson last month is what prompted the soul-searching.
“You think, ‘It doesn’t matter what you do, (Price) will be OK.’ That isn’t always true,” Grobe said. “There isn’t a science to that. I just think a lot of things we thought we could do early that we felt we didn’t do very well, we just quit beating our head against the wall trying to make it work.”
The adjustments worked like a charm: Price threw for three touchdowns and rushed for another while passing for 268 yards against N.C. State.
He then followed that up against the Terps by becoming the first player in school history with touchdowns rushing, passing and receiving in the same game.
Now comes the real test: Doing it against a Miami defense that has allowed a league-fewest four touchdown passes all season – though two of them came against the Tar Heels.
“He’s a really smart quarterback – just let him make decisions,” Campanaro said. “Him throwing it more and slinging it around, I think that just benefits him and our offense more. I think it plays more to our strengths.”