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October 5, 2013

Game breakdown: Wake Forest





Keys To The Game


Shut down Michael Campanaro: NC State did a phenomenal job of limiting the ACC's leading pass catcher, Michael Campanaro, last year. The dynamic but diminutive weapon was followed around for much of the day by cornerback Dontae Johnson, who held the Wake wideout to just five catches for 14 yards. With its main playmaker corralled, the Demon Deacons were able to muster only 185 yards of offense in a 37-6 loss.

Campanaro enters the contest leading the ACC this season with an average of eight catches per game and ranking second with an average of 107.2 receiving yards per contest. Since 2011, Wake Forest has won just two games when Campanaro has been limited to less than 60 receiving yards, and NCSU knows the key to stopping the Wake Forest offense is shutting down No. 3. Keeping him under wraps makes the Demon Deacon offense, which is already ranked last in the ACC with an average of just 316.0 yards per game, anemic.

Get the juice flowing away from home: It remains to be seen if the road woes that have plagued the Pack in recent years continue. Winston-Salem has been especially unkind to the Pack, which has dropped seven of its last eight at Wake Forest.

There's no debating that NC State is the better team on paper heading into this one, and the location of the game should not play a role. If State can jump out to an early lead — the Pack has outscored opponents 24-10 in the opening quarter and 79-41 in the first half — it should be able to take the home crowd out of it, but the players will have to rely on themselves to get pumped up, whereas they had the home crowd in the season's first four games. As head coach Dave Doeren said, "You've got to bring the juice to a road game."

Dominate up front: Much like the Wake Forest offense, the Demon Deacons' defense has one undersized star player they rely heavily on — 5-11, 250-pound nose tackle Nikita Whitlock. The senior leads all active ACC players with 40 career tackles for loss, but he also ranks among the league's active top 10 in career sacks (fifth, 13.5) and career tackles (eighth, 193).

He has 34 tackles, including four sacks and an ACC-best 10 tackles for loss, so far this year. This will be a huge test for Pack sophomore center Quinton Schooley, a junior college transfer who has played every snap this year but has probably never gone up against a player like Whitlock.

On the other side of the ball, it's simple — NC State's outstanding defensive line should overpower their opponents, much like they have done most of the year.

Win the turnover battle: One thing that the Wake defense does well is force turnovers. The Deacons have forced 11 in five games so far, thanks to six interceptions and five fumble recoveries. The Deacs are tied for 12th nationally in turnovers gained.

The NCSU offense, and quarterback Pete Thomas in particular, must protect the ball. He has thrown five interceptions in four games. Despite the talent gap between the two squads, losing the turnover battle is never good news — fans don't need to look any further than the scare State had against Richmond when it lost the turnover battle 4-2, including some costly ones deep in opposing territory.

Wake is also prone to turning the ball over, having lost 10 possessions due to fumble or interception, which is tied for the most in the ACC. NCSU finally got on the board with its first three interceptions of the year last week, but the cornerbacks are still sitting on a goose egg in that category. Changing that could go a long way toward leading the Pack to victory.

Game outlook: This is an important game for NC State, which is looking for its first conference win under Doeren and a chance to exorcise the ghosts of Winston-Salem that have haunted Wolfpack teams recently. Although Wake Forest is overmatched on paper, winning away from home could be a huge confidence booster for State, and that's exactly what should happen in this one.

Five Wake Forest Players To Watch


Fifth-year senior wide receiver Michael Campanaro — The 5-11, 190-pound Campanaro has caught 32 passes for 429 yards and two touchdowns this year. He also handles the punt return duties and is a threat on reverses, running and possibly throwing a pass downfield. Campanaro is 23 receptions away from breaking Wake all-time leader Desmond Clark's school record. He enters the NCSU game with 194 career receptions, 2,132 receiving yards and 10 receiving touchdowns, plus 3,325 all-purpose yards.

Senior free safety A.J. Marshall — The 6-0, 195-pound Marshall is a former teammate and good friend of NCSU running back Tony Creecy while at Southern Durham High. Marshall has 31 tackles, two tackles for loss and one pass broken up this season. He had a career-high 10 tackles against NC State last year, and he has started the last 17 games for the Demon Deacons. Marshall has 141 career tackles and two interceptions.

Senior quarterback Tanner Price — The 6-2, 205-pound Price has completed 80 of 141 passes for 977 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions, and has rushed 48 times for 76 yards and a score this season. Price is second in school history behind Riley Skinner with 698 completions and 45 passing touchdowns, third with 7,643 passing yards, and sixth in career completion percentage (.575).

Fifth-year senior defensive end Zach Thompson — The 6-5, 265-pound Thompson has 24 tackles, six tackles for loss, three sacks and one pass broken up through five games this season. Thompson has started 33 of 35 games played for the Demon Deacons, including the last 15. Thompson has 120 career tackles, 13.5 tackles for loss, eight sacks and two interceptions.

Fifth-year senior nose guard Nikita Whitlock — The 5-11, 250-pound Whitlock leads the Demon Deacons with 10 tackles for loss, four sacks and two forced fumbles, and he's third on the squad with 34 tackles. He was able to notch two sacks and block a punt against Boston College, and he had 15 tackles and four tackles for loss against Army. He has 150 career tackles, and is tied for fifth in school history in tackles for loss (40) and sixth in career sacks (13.5) in 38 starts.

Three Matchups To Watch


1. Wake Forest fifth-year senior wide receiver Michael Campanaro is one of the few opponents where it's easy to remember something from all three previous meetings against NC State.

Campanaro actually played running back his freshman year, and did well (19 carries for 67 yards), but will always be remembered for former Wolfpack star linebacker Nate Irving pile driving him into the ground during a 38-3 victory.

Campanaro threw for a 40-yard touchdown and caught five passes for 93 yards and a score in Wake Forest's 34-27 home victory in 2011, but departed prematurely with a hamstring injury.

The Wolfpack was on red alert last year because Campanaro had 16 receptions for 123 yards and three touchdowns the week prior against Boston College. NCSU cornerback Dontae Johnson helped shut him down, holding him to 14 yards on five receptions in a 37-6 win.

Johnson returns for the Wolfpack, and perhaps he will lock horns with Campanaro one more time Saturday.

2. NC State's rebuilt offensive line didn't get challenged too much against Central Michigan, but Wake Forest fifth-year senior defensive linemen Nikita Whitlock and Zach Thompson have been causing havoc this season. The duo has combined for 71 career starts and provide Wake Forest's best shot at a productive pass rush.

NC State started the five-man group of right tackle Tyson Chandler, right guard Alex Barr, center Quinton Schooley, left guard Duran Christophe and left tackle Joe Thuney together for the second straight week, after injuries struck senior left tackle Rob Crisp.

The inside trio led by Schooley will be battling the undersized Whitlock, who continues to produce despite being 5-11 and 250 pounds. Thompson had a sack in each of WFU's two ACC games — at Boston College and at Clemson. He'll likely test Thuney at left tackle with Crisp out.

3. Wake Forest hasn't had a running back rush for 100 yards in a game since two of them achieved it at the same time. Josh Harris rushed for 129 yards and Deandre Martin 117 against Army on Sept. 22, 2012. Both backs are back this season, but NC State's defense will aim to make that streak longer.

Wake Forest is dedicated to running the football, but seems to be at its best when quarterback Tanner Price is slinging the ball around. The run-pass ratio this season has been 184-to-151.

Harris is a physical back with good speed, but doesn't often get enough room to make things happen. He leads the team with 158 yards on 48 carries. The Demon Deacons are averaging a modest 3.0 yards per carry on their 184 attempts.

Three Questions With Wake Forest Head Coach Jim Grobe


What kind of team is NC State this season under first-year head coach Dave Doeren?

"[They are] very talented. They remind me a lot of Clemson. They are very athletic defensively and they really run the ball well. Offensively, they give you a lot of things to look at — a lot of different formations, different plays, some wildcats and some different things.

"A real challenge for us and [they have] some return guys [Rashard Smith] that are pretty special."

What is the rivalry like between the two schools?

"It's especially a rivalry to the North Carolina kids with kids they've played against and with in some cases, some of the kids on their team. Anytime you play a team every year, especially when they beat you the year before, I think it gives you a little motivation.

"All the teams in your division that you play every year, you get to know pretty well and so it becomes a rivalry because you play every year."

What do you think is the team's mindset, and are they facing must-win pressure playing at home?

"We're really focused on getting back to doing what we do. In all phases of the game — special teams, offense, defense — we've got to get back on the same page and put two good halves of football together.

"We just work hard every week and try to beat each opponent. We have seven more games. We can't let a loss to a good Clemson team put us out for the rest of the season. So we're just working hard this week and looking forward to putting together two good halves of football.

"I know the crowd will be pretty stoked being that we are coming back home. We need all the energy we can get. It's a great advantage because the last time NC State came here we beat them."

Three Questions With NC State Head Coach Dave Doeren


What are your impressions of Wake Forest's offense?

"Watching them on film, [wide receiver] Michael Campanaro is a very good player for them on offense. A lot was said about him in the offseason and I can see why. He plays hard. They do a lot of different things with him. They have struggled at times to find their rhythm offensively, but he is a player we have to know where he is at all times.

"Their offensive line, I know their coaches. Coach [Jim] Grobe has said 'We're struggling.' Everybody is going to struggle against Clemson's defense. They've got three redshirt seniors playing up front, their tight end, right guard and right tackle."

What are your thoughts on Wake Forest's front seven?

"Defensively, they're very stout. They have two very good defensive linemen, two guys I would love to have — No. 50 [Nikita] Whitlock and No. 98 [Zach] Thompson. I think both of them combined have 16 tackles for loss and seven sacks. They're very disruptive, they're very good with their hands, they have high motors, they play with their shoulders square, and their knees bent and they play hard.

"Their two linebackers, No. 41 [Mike Olson] and No. 48 [Brandon Chubb] are tied on for the team lead in tackles. We are going to have our work cut out for us watching those guys up front."

Do you have any prior history in knowing coach Jim Grobe?

"I know he was the chair of the head coaches in some of our meetings, and he obviously carries a lot of weight.

"I have a great amount of respect for him, not just how he handles himself, but how he treats other guys. He is a breath of fresh air to meet in the way he treats people. He is a first-class man.

"I have never competed against him on the field, but I have in recruiting multiple times. They recruit Florida really hard and that was my area."


N.C. State NEWS

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