WINSTON-SALEM – By no means was it all pretty, but Wake Forest overcame some first-half errors, gaffes and miscues to capture a convincing 48-5 victory over Gardner-Webb at BB&T Field on Saturday.
“I thought we were really disorganized early in the game,” Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. “But we settled down.”
And for the third week in a row, starting quarterback Tanner Price continued to showcase his slow-but-steady growth in leading the Demon Deacons (2-1, 1-0 ACC) over their in-state, Big South Conference opponents. Rushed, hurried and twice sacked, the sophomore completed 21 of 32 passes for 281 yards and two touchdowns, spreading the ball to four receivers before he was pulled early in the third quarter.
Price showed strength, touch and patience – melding them on Wake’s first drive of the second half when he guided a seven-play, 51-yard drive for a touchdown with 11 minutes, 1 second left in the third quarter. Dropping back in the pocket, progressing through his reads, the sophomore connected with redshirt junior receiver Chris Givens on the 19-yard scoring play.
Givens caught the pass crossing over the middle of the field and wriggled past defenders, diving into the end zone from the 3-yardline, his hands and body stretched out like Superman.
Givens extended his consecutive game streak with at least one catch to 18 and with 366 total receiving yards this season is off to the best start in school history since Rickey Proehl collected 304 in three games in 1988.
Price is off to a record-breaking start as well. His 864 yards is the second most in school history since Mike Elkins passed for 884 yards in three games in 1986.
The Price and Givens show pleased the announced crowd of 28,265, which also watched the Deacs shine on special teams – setting up two first-half touchdowns with spectacular plays.
A blocked punt by Givens set up a six-yard touchdown run by redshirt senior Brandon Pendergrass to hand the Deacs a 20-5 lead with 22 seconds left in the second quarter.
On third and six from the 28, Wake redshirt senior linebacker Kyle Wilber sacked Gardner-Webb quarterback Chandler Browning – a loss of 13 yards – and forced the Runnin' Bulldogs to punt on fourth down from their 15 yardline. The Deacs followed that with pressure on special teams.
“That was huge,” Grobe said. “That’s one of the most effective things in a game when you can block a punt. I don’t think there’s any momentum-changer bigger than a blocked punt.”
Givens bum-rushed Gardner-Webb punter Trever Austin and smothered the booted kick with his mid-section. The ball reflected into the open field and Runnin' Bulldogs' James Dugas recovered the ball on the six.
“They just didn’t block me,” Givens said.
The Deacs took over and scored on Pendergrass' storming right sweep into the end zone. He pushed to the right pylon and dashed in untouched.
There were, however, some uneasy moments for the Deacs.
In the first quarter, after a booming punt pinned them on the 1-yardline, the Deacs tried a pass, then a run to get out of harm’s way. On the running play, redshirt freshman running back Josh Harris stumbled as he cut upfield and Gardner-Webb defensive lineman Matt Goods tackled him to the ground.
Harris made an effort to advance the ball out of the end zone, but his elbow made contact with the ground and the Runnin’ Bulldogs collected a safety.
The Deacs started the game with some disorganization on defense and misfires on special teams – poor snap and misdirected kicks.
“We certainly have things to work on,” said Grobe, who also appreciated his team all-in effort after a emotional victory over N.C. State the previous week.