Friday, August 28, 2009

season preview: Wake Forest

Tonight we wrap up the most extensive ACC previews you can find. This weekend's project will be to get that last baseball game up in the highlights, and next week we go in depth on the offense and defense before Thursday's game preview.


9/5: Baylor
9/12: Stanford
9/19: Elon
9/26: @ Boston College
10/3: NC State
10/10: Maryland
10/17: @ Clemson
10/24: @ Navy
10/31: Miami
11/7: @ Georgia Tech
11/14: Florida State
11/21: BYE
11/28: @ Duke

Skip: Virginia, North Carolina, Virginia Tech

Projected starters:

QB: Riley Skinner (5Sr.)
RB: Brandon Pendergrass (rSo.)
FB: Mike Rinfrette (5Sr.)
WR: Marshall Williams (rJr.)
WR: Devon Brown (rSo.)
TE: Ben Wooster (5Sr.)
LT: Chris DeGeare (5Sr.)
LG: Barrett McMillin (5Sr.)
C: Russ Nenon (rJr.)
RG: Jeff Griffin (5Sr.)
RT: Joe Birdsong (5Sr.)

DE: Tristan Dorty (rSo.)
DT: Boo Robinson (5Sr.)
DT: John Russell (5Sr.)
DE: Kyle Wilber (rSo.)
SLB: Jonathan Jones (5Sr.)
MLB: Matt Woodlief (rJr.)
WLB: Hunter Haynes (rJr.)
CB: Brandon Ghee (5Sr.)
CB: Josh Bush (rSo.)
FS: Alex Frye (rJr.)
SS: Cyhl Quarles (rSo.)

K: Shane Popham (rSo.)
P: Shane Popham (rSo.)

(Italics indicate new starter.)

Coach: Jim Grobe (9th season )


2008 1st team: WR D.J. Boldin, LB Aaron Curry, CB Alphonso Smith
2008 2nd team: none
2008 HM: QB Riley Skinner, DT Boo Robinson
2009 preseason: none

Media prediction: 4th, Atlantic Division

A few years back, Wake Forest won an ACC championship and instantly changed national perceptions. Once viewed alongside Duke as a basketball school that only plays football because Daddy expects them to but they don’t really like it and they’ll drop it just as soon as they don’t have to work at his company any more, Wake Forest is now sort of expected to at the very least provide a hurdle for would-be champions to get past, ifnot actually contend. The problem is, the talent is having a hard time matching the expectations.


As with NC State, Wake Forest convinced a few of the loonier writers covering the ACC to vote for them for division champions. If you ask those writers why, they’d probably answer, “Riley Skinner.” An experienced and talented quarterback is always a leg up on the competition, and Wake will be pinning their hopes on Skinner this year. There isn’t much behind him, so they’d better keep him healthy. Skinner is deadly accurate, owning a career completion percentage of 67.3% - if he maintains that, he’ll knock off Matt Schaub’s ACC record in that category.

He’ll need to find a go-to receiver, though. Schaub had Billy McMullen, and Heath Miller stepped up for his senior season. Skinner’s favorite target was D.J. Boldin, who’s since graduated, and the Deacs will look first at Marshall Williams to step up and help Skinner out. Tight end Ben Wooster has plenty of experience and should also be a very dependable target.

The offense as a whole is very experienced, and a lot of that is due to the offensive line. Injuries and academic problems (Chris DeGeare fortunately had a redshirt season to burn last year, because he wasn’t academically eligible, and can return as the starting left tackle) caused a lot of shuffling and rotation, with the result that the starters are a little bit interchangeable and there’s a lot of experience in the two-deep as well. Wake will be hoping last year was a little bit of a sacrificial year, because it didn’t go well for the line. They allowed almost two and a half sacks per game in 2008 and only managed just over three yards a carry on the ground – good for 107th in the nation, and yes, that was worse than we were. The Deacons went with tailback by committee and nobody was effective. So the experience and depth on the line is a plus, but they absolutely must improve both pass- and run-blocking, or it’ll be a long season.


Trouble. No other way to put it. With seven new starters, and last year’s top five tacklers gone, Wake Forest’s defense is going to have to grow up in a hurry. The entire linebacking corps is brand new, as is most of the secondary, so any defensive success is going to have to start up front. Most of Wake’s pass rush actually remains intact, and tackles Boo Robinson and John Russell will be the anchors of the defense this year. End Kyle Wilber also returns. Those three accounted for most of Wake’s sacks last year, although the other end, Tristan Dorty, is a greenhorn. The Deacons are going to lean heavily on the line to help keep offenses honest.

All three of their best linebackers, though, graduated, and they were so good their backups rarely saw the field. Sound familiar? Even the fifth-year senior, Sam backer Jonathan Jones, has been almost exclusively a special teams contributor for most of his career. Look to weakside starter Hunter Haynes for most of the playmaking; Haynes was the only one not stuck behind an NFL draft pick and so got a lot more time as an actual linebacker than the other two.

The secondary isn’t much better looking. Brandon Ghee is the only returning starter, and as such he’ll need to step up his production after intercepting just one pass last year. Ghee is entering his third year as a starter, so he’ll also need to be a steadying influence as this is also the youngest unit on the defense. Alex Frye is the only returning player with an interception besides Ghee and Boo Robinson(!).


Shane Popham is the returning punter and inherits the kicking job as well. This isn’t good news for Wake fans; Popham was 7 for 12 last year in relief of Sam Swank.


Wake Forest looks like the team least likely to live up to expectations this year, and it’s not like they’re super high to begin with. With a quarterback as good as Skinner, you always have a chance if your defense can keep it close, but Wake’s ability to do that is going to be called into question. The saving grace is the schedule. The first three ACC games are extremely winnable, and if they find themselves teetering on the edge of bowl eligibility, Duke awaits in the season finale. The first two games will be an excellent litmus test. Baylor and their defense-shredding quarterback Robert Griffin await in the opener, and that could be a real upset alert. Perennial doormat Stanford is starting to get uppity too, so if the Deacons get past these opponents, the season outlook will be much improved. Bowl eligibility likely hinges on those first two games. A loss in either one would expose Wake Forest as a pretender. Either way, however, this looks like a team whose postseason ambitions should be limited.

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