Preview: UNC at Wake Forest

From staff reportsSeptember 8, 2012 

Wake Forest Demon Deacons vs Clemson Tigers

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons visited the Clemson Tigers at Memorial Stadium on November 12, 2011 in Clemson, South Carolina. The Tigers defeated the Demon Deacons 31-28. (Brian Westerholt / Sports On Film)

BRIAN WESTERHOLT — Brian Westerholt - Sports On Film

  • More information Tweet of week UNC WR Quinshad Davis @quinshad_davis: “Dang I’m ready for the next game already.”

UNC (1-0) at Wake Forest (1-0) | 3 p.m., BB&T Field, Winston-Salem, Fox Sports South/WRDU-106.1

Keep an eye on

Wake Forest NG Nikita Whitlock

An All-ACC second-team selection a season ago, Whitlock, a junior, became the first Wake Forest player since 2008 to earn preseason all-conference honors. He finished last season with 64 tackles, including 14 for loss.

The 5-foot-11, 260-pound Whitlock will represent a significant challenge for UNC’s line, which was untested in that dominant 62-0 victory against Elon last week. Whitlock finished fifth in the ACC last season in tackles for loss, and he has a knack for finding his way into the offensive backfield.

The good news for UNC is that the Tar Heels have an experienced, talented offensive line that is among the best – if not the best – in the ACC. That line faces its first real test.

Stat that matters

80 Offensive plays Fedora would like to run, at least, in a given game. The Tar Heels ran 74 last week against Elon, and if they approach 80 today, that will likely mean that UNC is controlling the game offensively. Wake Forest’s best hope is to force three-and-outs and keep UNC’s offense off the field

Key matchup

UNC’s passing game vs. WFU’s secondary

Despite the return of QB Tanner Price, who threw for more than 3,000 yards a season ago, Wake’s offense lacks firepower and it struggled to generate scoring chances in its surprisingly close 20-17 victory against Liberty last week. So the competitiveness of this game likely will depend on how well Wake Forest defends UNC’s passing game.

UNC QB Bryn Renner looked sharp and threw for three touchdown passes last week against Elon, and 14 players caught passes for the Tar Heels. Wake’s defense, meanwhile, returns seven starters from a season ago. A.J. Marshall, the Deacs’ safety, played a major role in the victory last week. His interception return for a touchdown helped Wake overcome its second-half deficit.

Key mismatch

UNC’s defensive line vs. Wake’s offensive line

The offensive line represented the Demon Deacons’ most troubling concern entering the season. They had to replace four starters, and though they returned several players who had been in the program for years, many were inexperienced. Against Liberty, Wake’s line helped generate just 98 rushing yards – the fourth-fewest in the nation for a team playing against an FCS opponent. UNC’s defensive line, meanwhile, performed well in the first game of its new 4-2-5 scheme. DT Sylvester Williams finished with two sacks and tipped a pass that led to an interception.

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Pulse check

This is the conference opener for both teams, and the stakes are higher than they were a week ago, when both Wake Forest and UNC began the season against FCS opponents. The Deacons received a scare last week, while the Tar Heels weren’t tested. They should be today, though. UNC and Wake have split the last 10 games in the series, dating to 1998. But under coach Jim Grobe, Wake has had plenty of success against in-state ACC rivals. Under Grobe, Wake is 12-2 in home games against UNC, N.C. State and Duke.

Andrew Carter

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