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November 26, 2011

Five keys: Wake Forest vs. Vanderbilt

Wake Forest vs. Vanderbilt
Location: Winston-Salem, NC
Stadium: BB&T Field
Kickoff: 3:30 PM ET
TV: ESPNU
Current record:
Wake Forest: 6-5, 5-3 ACC (Beat Maryland 31-10)
Vanderbilt: 5-6, 2-6 SEC (Lost to Tennessee 27-21)

Series history: Wake Forest defeated Vanderbilt 34-13 in Nashville last season. The Commodores have an all-time series lead of 7-6, but the Demon Deacons have won three games in a row.

What is on the line with this game? Both schools could have been competing for a 10-win season Saturday. Four of Vandy's six losses were decided by six points or fewer, while three of Wake's five losses were decided by a touchdown or less. The Deacs will be playing in the postseason for the first time since 2008, while the Dores need a win Saturday to become bowl-eligible. Wake Forest will clinch a winning season if it defeats Vanderbilt.

Quotes of the week
"We're playing against an SEC team, which is one of the toughest conferences in the NCAA, so we just got to buck down there and be focused this weekend. We're still not satisfied, because we know that we're a better team than just six wins, so we're just working harder to get another win before we go bowling. We know that we still haven't made it to the bowl yet, and we still want to have a successful record this year. We're going to give it our all to come out on top." - Wake Forest cornerback Merrill Noel

"Be prepared for craziness, be prepared for a surprise onside kick, be prepared for things like that, because they're a team that wants to get in a bowl game and rightfully so. We did too. Be prepared for things like that, and execute from your standpoint. If you execute from your standpoint you take the emotion out of it. If you come and start from the get-go, doing what you're supposed to do and executing obviously they're going to try things, but it's less likely they can get the emotion rolling to their side. It's not about the bowl game. You hear guys talking in the locker room, and we've got to try to quiet that down a little bit, like which bowl game are we going to go to? That doesn't matter yet. The fact of the matter is we win this week we go to a better bowl more than likely. Going to a bowl game is nice, but getting eight wins is a lot better than getting seven wins or going to bowl game and finishing with a losing record. That's miserable. Nobody wants to do that. I'd rather have eight wins, and this week is the first step to getting there." - Wake Forest right guard Michael Hoag

"You know that they're going to be probably as motivated as they've been all year to come in here and get a win, and the concern for our guys is are you satisfied now that you've qualified for a bowl? Will you come out and play your best football? We won't know till we kick it off. We're so similar. We're great academic schools playing in big-time football leagues and I think that should make in itself a rivalry. I would guess not as much as us and Duke, but I would think that some of our kids probably played against some of their kids. I think that as much as anything it's one league against the other, ACC-SEC, so that also contributes a little bit to the rivalry." - Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe

"This week, I'm probably a little bit more familiar with this program than others just because of my background in the ACC. Tremendous respect for Coach Grobe, I see their team and their program with a lot of parallels to ours. I think he does a really good job at maximizing the talent that they have. His plan is redshirting guys, they usually have a bunch of fifth year seniors. Tremendous respect for him and their program. They just beat Maryland 31-10. Last year the Maryland team beat Wake Forest 62-14, so obviously you can see they've improved dramatically. Interesting number that I'm going to talk to my staff about, we've already talked about it a bit, is 24. The Deacons are 56-22 when scoring 24 points or more, so that's been their magic number. Turnover battle, they have the advantage right now. Penalties, they have the advantage there. Their defense, they run a 3-4 defense, very active, keep them on the move a lot. A lot of different looks." - Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin

Keys to the game

1) Run-defense
Ex-Maryland offensive coordinator, now the head man at Vanderbilt, James Franklin reenergized the Commodores. He has given play-calling duties to John Donovan, who was on staff with him in College Park.

"It's the offense that scored 62 on us last year," Grobe said. "When we were up at Maryland they flat wore us out, and I'm sure they're licking their chops offensively to get back at our defense. I'm sure Coach Franklin after what he did to us last year is fired up to get here Saturday."

Under their direction Vandy has flourished offensively. The Dores are led by running back Zac Stacy, who is third in the SEC in rushing behind Alabama's Trent Richardson and Auburn's Michael Dyer with 952 yards and 10 touchdowns.

"They have a great running back, so we're definitely going to have to buckle down," Noel said.

Noel is right on point. Wake Forest will have to buckle down against the run, which is an area of concern. The Demon Deacons allow 192.5 yards rushing per game.

It is paramount to the success of the Deacs for them to clog the lanes and provide containment on the perimeter to limit Stacy's room to move.

2) Value the football
Bob Shoop has the Vanderbilt defense in position to make plays. The Commodores are No. 19 nationally in total defense (324.2 yards allowed per game).

What is most impressive about this unit is its ability to create turnovers. Vandy has intercepted 17 passes, four of which were returned for touchdowns.

The Demon Deacons are +0 in turnover-margin, so they have done a relatively solid job of taking care of the football minus its five turnovers against the Tar Heels.

Wake will have to continue to be diligent in this area Saturday, as it faces a very opportunistic defense.

3) Stay balanced
In a close loss at Clemson the Deacs gained 179 yards on the ground, and in their win over the Terrapins they rushed for 194 yards, making for a more balanced attack offensively.

"I was scared to death to put him [Orville Reynolds] (11 carries for 63 yards against the Terps) in with Brandon [Pendergrass] playing good (46 carries for 259 yards and three touchdowns in the last two games)," Grobe said. "You hate to put a freshman on the field, knowing that one turnover could be the difference in the game. When you're not very big that's what you worry about with Orville, but he played great. He had three really nice runs. A couple of times they had a good angle on him, and he kind of put it in another gear. It's fun to watch him run."

Tanner Price was only six yards short of his career-best 326 yards passing when he completed 20-32 attempts for 320 yards and three touchdowns through the air against the Terps.

Chris Givens caught eight passes for 191 yards and a touchdown in the win over Maryland.

Wake Forest's offense is operating like a well-oiled engine, flowing and working according to plan. The Deacs do not need to change anything. They just need to keep doing what they are doing, what made them bowl-eligible.

4) Keeping up with the Jordans
To keep from hearing Jordan announced all day the Demon Deacons must corral and confine Vanderbilt's dual-threat quarterback Jordan Rodgers and wide receiver Jordan Matthews. They are marked men Saturday.

Rodgers has only been the Dores starting quarterback since mid-October, since then the redshirt junior has thrown seven touchdown passes and has rushed for four scores.

"The thing that bothers us is their ability to run the option similar to what we saw in Maryland last week," Grobe said. "Their quarterback is very athletic. He runs and throws. If you get in there and try to stack up against the running back then the quarterback's got the ball pulled and running with it. He throws the ball very well, so some of the same issues scheme-wise we've got this week that we had last week with Maryland."

Wake Forest's secondary has struggled significantly this season in defending big receivers. Virginia Tech's Jarrett Boykin (6-foot-2 and 218 pounds) reeled in seven receptions for 149 yards and a touchdown, and North Carolina's Dwight Jones (6-foot-4 and 225 pounds) caught six passes for 138 yards.

Saturday the Demon Deacons will face a tall task in covering Matthews (6-foot-3 and 202 pounds), who has 35 catches for 643 yards and four touchdowns.

"Matthews, he's going to be a problem," Noel said. "Both corners, we just got to be ready to play and buck our helmets up and go against him, because he's a big physical receiver."

Noel, who leads the nation in passes defended with 19 will likely find himself matched up with him most of the game, but defending Matthews will have to be a team effort if it is to be done successfully.

5) Don't fall for the tricks
Franklin is not afraid to roll the dice. Stacy has thrown the ball five times from his running back position, one of which went for a 43-yard scoring strike to Matthews. Cornerback Casey Hayward has run three reverses on offense, averaging 19 yards per carry.

The Commodores made a first down by running the Statue of Liberty. Vandy even completed a 35-yard pass to long snapper Andrew East on a fake punt. To top things off the Dores have converted on 14 of their 18 fourth-down attempts.

As Hoag said, "Be prepared for craziness." It is imperative for the Deacs to stay focused, play assignment football and to not make any mental mistakes against this opportunistic Vanderbilt team.


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