Sunday, August 16, 2009

Wake Forest Preview: Demon Deacons Go For Fourth Straight Bowl

QB Riley Skinner's versatility is key in Grobe's offense

The Wake Forest Demon Deacons enter their ninth year with Jim Grobe as the head coach and look to appear in their fourth straight bowl game. While most are not picking the Deacons to win the Atlantic Division, they will no doubt be a thorn in many a ACC team's side. If you think Wake is all coaching just look back to the NFL Draft last April and you saw four Deacs drafted. To get a better look at Wake, I talked with Martin at Blogger So Dear.

Last year Wake had a running back by committee with Brandon Pendergrass and Josh Adams leading the way. Who do you see as the primary ball carrier this year or will Jim Grobe alternate carries?

I think they will split series. Grobe trusts both Pendergrass and Adams, but he also likes to roll the dice and it wouldn't surprise me if Kevin Harris got a bunch of carries too. Grobe seemed to like what he saw out of Harris from a toughness perspective near the end of last season. Needless to say, there will be plenty of carries to go around as Wake should be using the ground game a lot more this season.

Riley Skinner enters his Senior season at Wake. What do you think the Jacksonville, FL native needs to do to become an elite QB?

I think he is already an elite quarterback. He has led Wake to three straight bowl games, including two wins and an Orange Bowl appearance. This season will be a new test for him as the offense will be the focal point this year as opposed to defense the last few seasons. But regardless, Skinner is a special quarterback for this program and he isn't a secret anymore as he was voted to the preseason ACC first team.

Two of the top three receivers are gone including All-ACC performer DJ Boldin. Who do you see stepping up here as a pass catcher for Skinner?

I definitely see Chris Givens in the mix, as well as Jordan and Marshall Williams and Devon Brown. This is a very deep position for Wake this year; these are some of the best athletes Grobe has ever brought into Wake Forest.

The Demon Deacons have the 4th most starts back on the offensive line in FBS. Do you think this experience can regain the momentum the running game in Grobe's early years?

I do. The line was thrown into the fire last year and some guys had to shift around to fill holes due to injuries. Because of this though, I feel like the experience will translate to success this season. The line seems healthy, confident and ready to make the running game a strength again like Grobe teams of the past.

The defense lost their top five tacklers from a year ago. Will the defense need the offense to carry them early on to win games?

It's no secret that losing Stanley Arnoux, Chip Vaughn, AC [Aaron Curry], KP [Kevin Patterson] and Phonz [Alphonso Smith] will hurt the defense. That said, the offense returns an awful lot outside of losing DJ Boldin (Anquan's brother). As a unit, in addition to the news that the team will go back to running their tried and true offense, they should be a real threat to put up big numbers.

It may take a little while to get the defense clicking, but there are defensive standouts-especially on the line-and if they step up, the defense could continue to be a strong point of this team.

The loss of 1st Round Draft Pick LB Aaron Curry will certainly be felt. Who is the top choice to step and replace Curry at the LB position as a tackler and team leader?

From a team leader perspective, there's no question that DT John Russell is a player to watch, as are Boo Robinson and Brandon Ghee. From a linebacker standpoint, there's no real way to "replace" Aaron Curry, but look out for Hunter Haynes and Matt Woodlief.

The defense has a lot of talent to replace

Wake also lost one of the best kickers in the country in Sam Swank? Is Shane Popham (7-12 on FGs 2008) going to handle both kicking duties and how much of a drop off do you see in special teams?

Shane was thrown into a very difficult situation last year. Swank was so consistent and so good for so long, there's no way that Popham would have been ready to shoulder the load right away like he was expected to. That trial by fire will help him significantly this year as he earned experience and poise. Shane will not have to do it all, Wake brought in a stud punter in Jimmy Newman, and they may have soccer player Cline Beam kick off.

That said, special teams was not a strength last year, and it is definitely something to watch; there's no way that Jim Grobe was happy with how special teams played and there is no question that he will spend extra time addressing that.

We may not be as familiar with Wake's top recruits, but we know they will produce. Who are the top redshirt freshman that could make a big impact (since I know Grobe likes to redshirt true freshman)?

There are a few. Keep an eye out for Scott Betros, Ramon Booi, Terence Davis, Chris Givens and Kenny Okoro. The thing about losing a lot is that young guys get a chance to step right in, which can be good or bad obviously, but with the extra year from the red shirt under their belts, these guys will unquestionably be ready and asked to make a significant impact.

Wake has played Navy four times in the last three seasons and won five of the last six meetings. This year the Deacs also play Georgia Tech. What do you attribute Wake's success against Paul Johnson's offense to and do you think Wake can win both games this year?

Wake had a tough time figuring out Navy's offense last year for whatever reason and that loss was one the Deacs had a tough time stomaching all year. That was addressed fairly well in the bowl game win against Navy the second time around. I think the Deacs are able to understand the triple option so well because Coach Grobe used to run it at Air Force when he coached there. There are times when Wake's philosophy is fairly similar; against Miami last year Wake only threw eight passes as opposed to 52 rushing attempts.

Paul Johnson does a heck of a job over at Tech and Dwyer is one of the best RBs in the country, so it is going to be a heck of a challenge playing the Yellow Jackets. I definitely think Wake will be ready for both games and should beat Navy, but beating GT is going to be really tough.

Wake Forest has reached incredible heights under Grobe

Will Wake beat FSU for a 4th straight year?

Of course I hope so, but that's a really tough question. FSU is much improved and they always have a ton of athletes. If the 'Noles can stay together as a unit this year, they will be a force to be reckoned with. By the time the two play each other in November, we will know a lot more and will be able to judge exactly where both teams stand and I would really like to see the game be a deciding factor in the Atlantic Division.

It is just too hard to make that call right now. The Atlantic and the ACC in general are a crap shoot and it doesn't help that FSU has been so bipolar the last few years.

My Thoughts on Wake Forest...
It is really amazing when you look at Grobe has done in his nine years at one the smallest FBS schools; Grobe is near the top of my ACC coaches list. He will do without top talent again this year instead relying on solid QB play, taking care of the football, and and a rebuilt defense. QB Riley Skinner is a senior and he hopes to get increase help from the running game where the two top rushers are back back. Like the blogger mentioned, Wake will need someone to step up in the passing game. The biggest plus for Wake is 119 career starts returning on the line, second most in FBS.

Defensively, it will be very tough to replace guys like Curry and Smith, but an experienced d-line could help the rest of the unit big time. Don't underestimate the loss of Sam Swank who was Wake's all time scoring leader. Wake benefitted from a +17 turnover margin last year that they will need to replicate again if they want to challenge for the ACC title. I see Wake Forest getting back to another bowl this year.

My Prediction...
7-5, 4-4, Bowl Game

Best Case Scenario: 8-4
Worst Case Scenario: 5-7

Vegas Odds:
BCS Championship 100/1
ACC Championship 15/1 (8th)
Win Total - 7

Thanks again to Blogger So Dear for their insight. You can check their updates on the right hand of the page here.

What are your thoughts on Wake Forest? Can they make another run to the ACC Championship or does the loss of talent finally catch up with them?


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