Miami vs. Wake Forest Preview

By: Shasky Clarke

#7 Miami (6-0, 2-0 ACC) vs. Wake Forest (4-3, 2-2 ACC)

In what will be billed as a look-ahead game as undefeated Miami anticipates a rivalry match-up against #2 Florida State next week. But after already struggling at North Carolina last week, Miami should be focused for their noon home game against a decent, but overmatched, Wake Forest team. The Demon Deacons will compete and, if Miami quarterback Stephen Morris isn’t careful, turnovers could once again be an issue against Wake Forest’s ball-hawking secondary.

#3 Wide Receiver Michael Campanaro 5’10” 190, Senior

Campanaro is one of the most productive and high-volume slot targets in the country. He is super quick with the ability to get open against mismatched defenders and slip tackles in the open field after the catch. He is not a vertical threat, but he is a valuable short and mid-range weapon who has assisted in quickly moving the chains. Expect more than ten receptions in this game.

#50 Nose Guard Nikita Whitlock 5’11” 260, Senior

Whitlock has had a dominant year, translating his unique frame into tremendous interior disruption. He uses his naturally low pad level, explosiveness and sound hand usage to quickly disengage from blocks and disrupt plays behind the line. He is averaging a sack and two tackles for loss per game. Whitlock is a presence against both the pass and the run. While he is somewhat vulnerable to the power run game against certain individual opponents, Whitlock has the power and physicality to get a push against double teams in short yardage situations.

When Miami has the Ball

The strength of Miami’s offense is its super explosive, big play passing game, featuring a deep set of pass catchers, a strong armed quarterback with deep ball accuracy and a high quality offensive line. Wake Forest, though, has a pretty good overall defensive unit with veteran playmakers at every level of their 3-4 defense. On the defensive line, the Demon Deacons start three productive seniors, each capable of making plays behind the line. The ends, Kristopher Redding and Zach Thompson are 6’4” and 6’5”, respectively, and are athletic for the position. Thompson, in particular, has been having an outstanding year, securing five sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss in just seven games. The star of the group, and the team, is nose guard Nikita Whitlock, a sure-fire first-team all-conference player. Uniquely undersized at 5’11” and 260 pounds, Whitlock has seven sacks and leads the nation with 13.5 tackles for loss.

Wake Forest’s linebacker corps also features two good seniors in outside linebacker Justin Jackson and inside linebacker Mike Olson. Jackson is one of the most gifted athletes in college football, possessing legitimate 4.4 forty speed and a near 11-foot broad jump at 6’1” 230 pounds. Wake Forest drops their 3-4 outside linebackers in coverage a ton. So though Jackson’s production as a rusher and in coverage has been supremely disappointing, but his athleticism and hitting ability helps make the defense more versatile. Inside, Olson, the leading tackler, is a very good run defender lacking top bulk and overall range.

Finally, in the secondary, Wake Forest has two gifted cornerbacks in juniors Merrill Noel and Kevin Johnson who each have already notched three interceptions. Noel is a dangerous playmaker who is excellent out of breaks. He lacks great size but is very aggressive and can be susceptible to double moves. Johnson is fast, smooth and capable of staying with any wide out.

Wake Forest’s defense is above average and takes the ball away with a decent set of veteran talents. Nonetheless Miami has too many horses with too much speed and big play ability for Wake Forest to account for. Wake Forest has shown some vulnerability to physical running attacks. But statistically, they match up fairly well against Miami’s rushing attack, especially one featuring banged up Miami running back Duke Johnson.

But given Miami and Stephen Morris’s penchant for turning the ball over, if the defense can slow down Miami’s running game, they could find themselves in a position to make plays on the ball and keep the game close. Unfortunately, Wake Forest lacks the depth on defense to completely stifle one of the very most explosive offenses in the country.

When Wake Forest has the Ball

Wake Forest has a competitive defense. The same cannot always be said of their offense. Hampered by an awful offensive line with gaping weaknesses, the Demon Deacons, who run a shotgun zone-read scheme, have struggled running the ball and lack an explosive passing game. Senior quarterback Tanner Price is an adequate passer, though, and the offense has focused on utilizing quick screens, swing passes and a short passing game to replace their running game and move the chains.

Price, a lefty, is a conservative and experienced decision-maker who shows poise against pressure and has enough mobility to extend plays and be utilized on quarterback draws among other designed quarterback running plays. Unfortunately, his accuracy in the short and intermediate areas is not consistent, often hitting pass catchers too low and off the mark.

The offense is highlighted by slot receiver Michael Campanaro who is the main weapon in their offense. He receives a large volume of touches but he is not quite the game breaker the offense could use.

Where Wake Forest will be most under siege is on the offensive line. Wake Forest has had trouble preventing penetration and disruption over their center and right guard, where true freshman center Cory Helms and large senior Frank Souza reside. Left tackle Steven Chase, coming off a bad ACL injury, has also had a tough time against speed rushers.

Miami, assisted by a deep and talented front, should dominate the line of scrimmage and make a number of plays behind it. Wake Forest will dink and dunk so Miami can afford to be aggressive, not worrying about plays down the field.

Wake Forest’s only recourse should be to move the chains and extend drives through the short passing game. But given the mismatch up front and the lack of ability to get chunk yardage plays, it is hard to imagine Wake Forest putting up many points on offense.