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Wake Forest (7-5) vs. Navy (8-4)
Saturday, December 20th, 11:00 a.m. (et)
The Sports Network
By John Agovino, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The college football bowl season gets underway this weekend, as the Wake Forest Demon Deacons and Navy Midshipmen collide on the gridiron this Saturday at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C. in the inaugural EagleBank Bowl.
Earlier this season the Midshipmen snapped a four-game losing skid against Wake Forest with a 24-17 victory. Despite the setback, the Demon Deacons still hold a 6-3 edge in the all-time series with Navy.
This is the third straight bowl appearance for Wake Forest, which is the most consecutive postseason games for the team in school history. The Demon Deacons are 5-3 in eight previous bowl contests, and that includes the team's 24-10 victory over Connecticut this past season in the Meineke Car Care Bowl.
Head coach Jim Grobe understands the difficulty that comes with preparing a team for a postseason matchup.
"It's a huge challenge." Grobe stated, "I think bowl games are the hardest games to predict because you don't know what team is going to show up. It's a completely different environment."
Wake Forest's season began with three straight wins, including a hard-fought 12-3 win over Florida State on the road. However, the team stumbled after the quick start, losing three of its next four matchups. At 4-3 the team rebounded with back-to-back wins over Duke (33-30) and Virginia (28-17), but returned to the loss column with setbacks against NC State (21-17) and Boston College (24-21). Fortunately the Deacons were able to close out the regular season with a 23-10 victory over Vanderbilt, and with a win in the bowl game it would be the third straight season with eight wins for Wake Forest.
As for the Midshipmen, they lost two of their first three games this year, but rebounded with three consecutive wins, and that run included the victory over the Demon Deacons. After a 21-point loss to Pittsburgh, the Midshipmen closed out their regular season with four wins in their final five contests, and that includes two consecutive shutout victories over Northern Illinois (16-0) and Army (34-0). With an 8-4 ledger the Midshipmen earned their sixth straight bowl appearance, which is a school record. It is the 15th overall postseason game for Navy, which is 6-7-1 in those contests, and that includes the team's heartbreaking, 35-32 setback to Utah in the Poinsettia Bowl.
Inconsistency plagued the Demon Deacons on offense this year, as the team averaged just 300.2 total ypg, leading to 20.3 ppg. The ground game was extremely ineffective, as the team finished 100th in the nation with just 111.6 ypg on a mere 2.9 ypc. Brandon Pendergrass was the main source of production out of the backfield, but the tailback finished the year with just 528 yards and five scores on just 3.5 ypc. The passing attack was not much better, as Riley Skinner struggled throughout the year. The quarterback did complete 62.8 percent of his throws, but finished with just 2,181 yards and 12 scores against seven interceptions. D.J. Boldin was clearly the top target for Skinner, as the wide out grabbed 77 passes for 782 yards and three scores on the season. The offensive unit was unable to make many big plays consistently, as the team converted just 36 percent of its third down attempts and also posted a 76 percent clip inside the red zone.
It is safe to say that the Demon Deacons were carried by their defensive unit this year, which limited the opposition to just 18.2 ppg. and 298.3 total ypg. Wake Forest did a sensational job against the run, finishing 21st in the nation, holding teams to just 114.1 ypg on 3.3 ypc. The defensive unit also made plenty of big plays, forcing 35 turnovers on the year, while collecting 24 sacks. Linebacker Aaron Curry was outstanding all year, and finished the regular season with 101 tackles and 15.0 TFLs. Stanley Arnoux added 82 stops, while Alphonso Smith led the team with six interceptions. Smith is one of 17 seniors who will be playing their last game for Wake Forest, so this game brings on extra meaning to the veteran cornerback.
"I really want to win it," said Smith. "I want to win every game I play. I hope I win every game. I'm sure the feeling will be the same on Saturday. I'm going to be pumped and I know the team will be pumped. You always want to win your last game."
The Midshipmen lead the nation in rushing, so there is no secret how Navy will approach this contest. The Midshipmen finished the regular season averaging an outstanding 298.3 ypg on the ground, and out of the 37 touchdowns scored by this offensive unit, 31 have come via the run. The strong ground attack has led to a healthy 27.8 ppg. Shun White has been the main option out of the backfield, as the tailback led the team with 1,021 yards and eight scores on the year. Eric Kettani contributed 932 yards and four touchdowns on the season, while Ricky Dobbs found the end zone eight times to go along with 493 yards in just seven games. Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada has been a real threat in his tenure in Annapolis, but the signal caller suffered an injury early in the year, and participated in only five games. While on the field, the quarterback rushed for 212 yards and three scores, and also threw for 273 yards and three touchdowns. Kaheaku-Enhada led the way for Navy in the season- finale win over Army, and will likely be on the field against Wake Forest Saturday.
The Midshipmen have not been strong defensively, but the unit has done enough to help the team rack up victories. Navy is currently surrendered 341.8 total ypg, and that has led to 21.7 ppg. The team's true success has come against the run, as the unit is limiting opponents to just 126.2 ypg on 3.6 ypc. The team has forced 29 turnovers on the season, but the unit has struggled to pressure the quarterback, racking up just 17 sacks. The defense has also allowed opponents to convert on 47 percent of their third down attempts, and 75 percent of their red zone chances. Ross Pospisil has been all over the field this season, and comes into this bowl game with a team-best 93 tackles. Matt Nechak racked up 8.5 TFLs and four sacks on the season, while Rashawn King and Ketric Buffin paced the team with three interceptions apiece.
The Midshipmen got the better of Wake Forest earlier in the season on the road, but the Demon Deacons have improved drastically at the defensive end of the field, and should avenge the loss to Navy.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Wake Forest 31, Navy 24
12/17 10:31:27 ET