Wake Forest, FSU lines will be tested

September, 14, 2012
9/14/12
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TALLAHASEE, Fla. -- It's a familiar refrain when Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe talks about his offensive line. He's working around injuries, mixing and matching players at new positions, getting regular work for young linemen short on experience.

It sounds an awful lot like the problems FSU coach Jimbo Fisher has faced for much of the past year.

"Our offensive line is in flux," Grobe said, echoing a sentiment that had defined FSU's line until the start of this season.

In fact, a year ago no team in the ACC allowed more sacks than Florida State. Second on the list was Wake Forest.

Both teams have managed to turn things around a bit in 2012. The new-look Seminoles line has yet to allow a sack, while Wake has allowed just two. But plenty of questions remain.

Florida State's line appears markedly improved this season, but the truth is the unit really hasn't been tested.

Through two games against overmatched FCS adversaries, quarterback EJ Manuel has had no problem finding time to throw, and the ground game has found plenty of room to run, averaging a league-best 6.95 yards per carry.

This week provides a much bigger challenge, however. All-ACC nose guard Nikita Whitlock is expected to miss the game, but Wake Forest still has racked up 13 tackles for loss in two weeks and has the reigning ACC defensive lineman of the week in Hasan Hazime.

Wake also runs a 3-4 defensive scheme, which four of the five starters on Florida State's offensive line have yet to face in game conditions.

The Seminoles' scout team has handled the job of mimicking the look, and Fisher believes his unit will be able to handle the different looks.

"In practice and everything I've seen, we're much farther along than we've been in a long time," Fisher said. "We're doing things better than we had been, we're a lot more physical, picking up blitzes."

For Wake Forest, the test is even bigger.

Florida State's defensive line might be the best in the nation, led by defensive end Bjoern Werner, who has already tallied five sacks in two games.

In the Demon Deacons' win last week over North Carolina, Grobe was forced to replace three starting linemen after right guard Colin Summers went down early in the game. Grobe expects his team to be healthier this week, but the line remains a work in progress.

"We're still moving those guys around," he said, "and sometimes they'll play different positions."

While the makeshift unit has managed to protect quarterback Tanner Price at times, the Deacons' running game has been awful. Wake is averaging just 2.5 yards per carry through two games.

Fisher can empathize. It's where his group was a year ago. But things have improved, even if the FSU line hasn't faced a real test yet.

Grobe sees it, too, and he's hoping his line can quickly make similar strides.

"For a young offensive line, some guys that are first-time starters, they don't seem to make many mistakes," Grobe said of FSU's line. "We're impressed in their first two games. We'll have our work cut out for us."

Noles to watch

1. Bryan Stork. On an offensive line filled with rookies, Stork is the veteran and the only one who has gone up against Wake Forest's 3-4 defense before. He sat out last week against Savannah State with a neck injury, but is fully recovered for this game.

2. Christian Jones and Nick Moody. Neither of FSU's outside linebackers have seen much work through the first two games, but that could change this week. "They have a good QB, good receiver, and we're focused in on those guys," Jones said.

3. Rashad Greene. In a loss to Wake Forest last year, Greene had a career game, hauling in 12 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown. Greene has just five grabs for 49 yards so far this season, but he expects FSU to open up its passing game far more against the Demon Deacons.

Deacons to watch

1. Michael Campanaro. The Wake Forest wide receiver has racked up 22 catches for 260 yards in Wake's first two games of the year, both good for tops in the conference. A slot receiver with decent speed, Campanaro should provide a test for FSU's revamped linebacker corps and first-year starter at nickel, Tyler Hunter.

2. Josh Harris. A year ago, no running back had more success against Florida State than Harris, who broke free for 136 yards on just 13 touches. Injuries limited him to just 10 more carries the rest of the season. He's healthy again, but Harris has managed just 40 yards so far this year on 26 carries.

3. Tanner Price. Wake Forest's quarterback is smart, mobile and experienced. He'll need all those skills to combat FSU's defensive front, but he showed last season he's capable of making the big plays when he has to.

By the numbers

17 for 17. That's Florida State's success in the red zone through two games this season, including 15 touchdowns. Meanwhile, in Wake Forest's first two games, it has allowed points on all six of its opponents' trips inside the 20, including four touchdowns.

5 of 5. That's EJ Manuel's success rate so far this season on throws of 20 yards or more, including one touchdown. Last season, Manuel completed passes of 20 yards or more at just a 34.7 percent rate, including three interceptions.*

56.3. That's the percentage of plays by FSU opponents through two games that went for zero or negative yardage, the best mark in the country. Overall, the Seminoles defense is allowing just 1.79 yards per play through two games.*

49.2. That's the average yardage for the leading rusher for each of Florida State's opponents in the 10 games since Harris tallied his 136-yard game last year. Since then, no runner has topped 100 yards and just two have managed more than 60.

68. That's the number of passing plays this season for Price, who has thrown for one touchdown and two interceptions in two close wins for Wake Forest. Meanwhile, Manuel has attempted just 35 passes in his first two games.

*--Courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info.

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