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Amazing Grobe Again Discovers Answers

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

November 3, 2003 WINSTON-SALEM — Way back in the spring, Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe spent a lot of time warning about what could happen with a young team. He was even frank and admitted that this could be a season where his program took a step back. Add to that the injuries Wake suffered early in the season, and it's difficult to believe that — by early November — the Deacons already appeared to be a shoo-in for a bowl. If Wake takes care of business as it should against horrendous North Carolina and so-so Connecticut, it will have seven wins, a 4-4 record in the conference and be headed somewhere fun in late December. If it also can upset Maryland in Winston-Salem, then the Deacons would be above .500 in the league for the first time since 1988 and could slide up as high as second place in the pecking order. That probably would mean something like the Tangerine, Continental Tire or (less likely) Peach bowls, which really would be a shocking result for the program. One word of warning, however: Optimistic fans must remember that, under ACC rules, a second- or third-place league finish does not guarantee a spot in one of the top two or three bowls. The Gator and Peach bowls can select any team within one win of the second- (Gator) or third-place (Peach) finisher in the conference standings, and the lower tied-in bowls can choose any of the ACC's bowl-eligible teams. Wake (small alumni base, low name recognition, small traveling parties, etc.) never has been particularly popular among those who make decisions in the postseason. But that's a concern for later. Barclay, Moroz Leading Revival A reason for optimism down the stretch is the renewed play of running back Chris Barclay and lineman Mark Moroz. Looking at how well Barclay and Moroz are playing at this point, it's easy to see how crucial their early season injuries really were. Those who follow Wake Forest closely understand and appreciate how good Barclay was last year as a freshman. Senior Tarence Williams got most of the attention outside the program, but Barclay averaged more yards per carry and scored more touchdowns as his backup. Clearly, in retrospect, the Barclay of early this season was not the real thing. Limited by a sprained ankle, he had no cutting ability to get to the open field and no burst if he ever did. “He really was kind of a shell of what we thought he could be,” Grobe said. The real Barclay returned after the Deacons' off week. In his first five games of the season, Barclay carried 78 times for 248 yards (3.2 average) and two touchdowns. In the next four games, he ran 81 times for 500 yards (6.2 average) and six touchdowns. The latter numbers could have been even larger, but Barclay played very little in the second half of blowouts against Duke and Clemson. Another key factor in the Demon Deacons' recent revival was the return of the real Moroz to the offensive line. Going into this season, he was thought to be a candidate for All-ACC honors, but he suffered a knee injury in preseason practice. He came back quickly, a quality the Wake staff holds in very high regard, but he wasn't the same player. “Really, he did not play well when he came back,” Grobe said. “(He) actually played poorly.” Moroz said he was only recently able to stop taping the knee, in addition to his brace, and that's made him much more mobile. It showed in his dominant performances against Florida State and Clemson. Add in the return to game shape of feisty guard Craig Jones, who was suspended early in the season for disciplinary reasons, and center Blake Lingruen getting over some nagging injuries, and Wake's line again is looking strong. Tucker, Andrews Look Promising Another reason for optimism is the improvement of young defensive linemen Jyles Tucker and Bryan Andrews. Tucker, a true freshman who went to prep school, is ahead of Andrews, a redshirt freshman, at this point. Neither had been much of a factor until recently, but their improvement could give Wake at least a pretense of a pass rush down the stretch. Both are quick, athletic ends. “Tons of potential,” senior safety Quintin Williams said. “Watching how fast they are and how athletic they are, to be ends and that young. … You're watching them every play like: ‘What are they going to do next?' because they're so athletic.” Early in the season, the two were finding themselves manhandled physically or not putting themselves in the right places. Grobe said Tucker was running around like a chicken with his head cut off. Against Clemson, Tucker was running into the end zone, after stealing the ball from quarterback Charlie Whitehurst on a big pass rush. “It's definitely mental,” Williams said. “He makes a big play like that, but you want him to be consistent, too. You want him to use his athleticism, but still in the framework of the defensive scheme that we're calling. So the only thing they really have to work on is mental now. Physically, they've got all the tools. They just have to learn defense and learn the game of football right now.” Again, Injury Means Opportunity Overall, Wake's basketball program shouldn't be too disappointed about the broken bone in Chris Ellis' foot. Yes, Ellis is a nice frontcourt reserve on a team that's not too deep there. Yes, center Eric Williams always seems to be in foul trouble. Yes, power forward Vytas Danelius has been bothered by tendonitis this fall. But, much like the injury to Josh Howard last season, this injury could help make the Deacons better in the long run, as players and coaches have to work to fill his role. How long Ellis will be out remains unclear. The official word is eight to 12 weeks. Some athletes, including former Wake running back Tarence Williams, have come back even quicker from similar injuries. Others have taken the full three months. Without Ellis, the Wake coaches will have to look for someone else to step up. Right now, they're glancing in the direction of 6-11, 224-pound freshman Kyle Visser. He was the surprise of early practices, showing good hands and agility. He's not physical, though, and Prosser said he's thinking too much. But Visser now should get a number of quality minutes he wouldn't have gotten otherwise, and he'll have to prepare himself mentally to play, not just act like a freshman who's happy to be here. The coaches also will have to find other rotations to fill the gap, and that shouldn't be a problem with this versatile team. The domino effect will get more minutes for other players. If Prosser plays Danelius at center and Jamaal Levy at power forward, then he could play with Trent Strickland at small forward or with three guards, including freshman Chris Paul. Either way, guys such as Strickland and Paul will see more quality minutes. Whenever Ellis returns, that extra experience can only help.