By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
STARKVILLE – Fletcher Cox let out an inscrutable chuckle when asked the question: Is Wake Forest’s offensive line comparable to anyone in the SEC as far as its physical style of play?
Cox, Mississippi State’s All-SEC defensive tackle, then gave a diplomatic answer: “Yeah, you look back at teams we play in the SEC, and Wake Forest does a lot of things the same way that schools in the SEC do.”
But do the Demon Deacons, who MSU will face in the Music City Bowl on Dec. 30, do those things as well as SEC teams?
Cox and the rest of the Bulldog defense are used to tangling with the likes of Alabama and LSU offensive lines. Wake Forest’s starters up front range between 305 and 320 pounds, so size isn’t an issue.
But the Deacons have allowed 29 sacks, which ranks ninth in the ACC, and are averaging just 118.9 rushing yards per game (ninth). The latter number is largely by design, because Wake operates a pass-first offense due to personnel.
Some of the sacks could be attributed to sophomore quarterback Tanner Price, who doesn’t force the issue very often, as evidenced by his six interceptions.
“What he does is make great decisions,” MSU defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said. “He may give up a sack, but he’s very good on protecting the football, not allowing turnovers and scoring points in the red zone. Where they really stand out is what they do in the red zone when it comes to scoring points.”
Wake Forest has scored on 41 of 49 trips into the red zone, which ranks fourth in the ACC. The Demon Deacons find a better run-pass balance inside the 20, with 14 of their 26 touchdowns coming on the ground.
But Price makes the offense go. The left-hander has completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 2,803 yards and 20 touchdowns.
“Very accurate and tough, has a quick release,” MSU head coach Dan Mullen said. “A lefty just always gives you a little bit different deal in that wherever he’s scrambling to, it’s a little bit different.”
Whatever its level of physical play, Wake Forest doesn’t make things too complicated for its offense. Jim Grobe, in his 11th year as head coach, has become adept at maximizing his personnel.
“A lot of teams motion you around and try to get you out of position, but Wake Forest, one thing they do is they play real sound football,” linebacker Cam Lawrence said. “They line up, they know their assignment, and they just execute really well. They kind of concentrate more on them than they do on the defense.”