By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
After winning three of its first four games in 2012, Wake Forest appeared to be on the road to bowl eligibility. But that was before eight players were suspended for violations of team rules in a two week period and injuries decimated what looked like a promising season.
It all came to head on a Thursday night in Winston-Salem, N.C., when 13th-ranked Clemson embarrassed the Demon Deacons on national television, 42-13. The game was over at halftime as the Tigers built a 35-7 lead thanks to five Tajh Boyd touchdown passes.
“We were just really beat up at the time,” Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe said. “We had some issues with our team and they were discouraged by some of the decisions other guys made.”
Wake Forest never truly recovered after the Clemson game. Though they got a victory over lowly Boston College the next week, the Deacons lost their final three games to NC State, Notre Dame and Vanderbilt by a combined 103 points.
“Last year we were 5-7, we shouldn’t have been 5-7,” Grobe said. “We should have won more than five.”
Besides the injuries and the suspension, part of the reason why Wake Forest won only five games was due to in part to its struggle on offense and its inability to slow other teams down. The Demon Deacons averaged only 18.5 points a game and eclipsed the 250-yard mark only three times in the last seven weeks.
“We actually learned a lot from last season,” wide receiver Michael Campanaro said.
What Grobe learned was that he needed to mix things up a little bit on offense. It was obvious Wake Forest’s game plan centered on Campanaro, who averaged league-best 7.9 receptions per game. Defensives quickly adjusted, forcing quarterback Tanner Price and an anemic running game to beat them instead.
“I think what we learned last year is we probably got into too much of a comfort zone with Mike, probably Tanner did, too,” Grobe said. “We got to the point where it’s kind of almost like every play we called was, ‘Let’s go to Mike.’”
So Grobe went back to the basics this past spring with the hopes of getting his offense—which has seven starters back—more cohesive and better at running the football. Grobe has decided to ditch the pass-heavy attack from previous years and go back to what he did in his early days at Wake Forest, playing with more option and misdirection, while using the slot receiver a lot and asking the quarterback to hide the football.
The spring was not an easy one as players tried to adjust, but after a whole spring and now working together throughout the summer, the players feel like they have it down. And Campanaro is a guy who can benefit the most because he already fits perfect in Grobe’s old scheme and the senior flanker believes it can work, again.
“We are kind of moving to the spread option and we are running a lot more option with our running game,” he said. “It is going to take a lot of pressure off our skill position guys and our offensive line. We are going to ask Tanner to do more things with his mind in making reads and things like that, but I think as a fourth-year starter he is definitely ready for that.”
But the offense is not the only thing that needs to get better. Though the Deacons return eight starters from last season, they were starters on a group that allowed 432.8 yards and 31.8 points a game. The Wake Forest defense allowed 22 rushing touchdowns in 2012, the third worst in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“We have a lot of people coming back and that’s always good,” senior linebacker Justin Jackson said. “It looks like they have all worked hard in the off-season. Hard work pays off so I think we will do really well.”
Campanaro, who was named to the media’s preseason All-ACC team on Wednesday, thinks they will do good enough to compete for an ACC Championship. Pretty big words considering he has not been on a team that ended a season with a winning record.
“Right now, we are focusing on an ACC Championship as a team,” he said. “We really feel like we can get there. We have enough talent in the room and we honestly think we can get there. We just have to stay healthy and keep working hard.”