September 27, 2005
WINSTON-SALEM -- Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe and his staff have received a lot of praise for finding high school prospects who were overlooked by other programs, then developing them into solid contributors.
But Grobe and his staff also deserve some undesirable attention for an area where that hasn't happened: wide receiver.
The Demon Deacons' passing game is a mess. Through four games, Wake averaged 4.9 yards per pass attempt, an amazing lack of efficiency for a team that runs so well. That figure topped only hapless Duke (4.3) in the ACC. In contrast, seven other league teams were averaging more than seven yards per attempt.
Though the Demon Deacons never have been a passing powerhouse, the inefficiency this fall stands out even in their mediocre history. Wake has averaged less than five yards an attempt only 10 times since the ACC opened in 1953. Nine of those times were before 1973. Since that year, the only time the Deacons have averaged less than 5.5 yards an attempt was in 1994 (4.9), when they went 3-8 (1-7) under coach Jim Caldwell.
This year, the blame can be put in many places.
Quarterback Ben Mauk has been erratic at best. The staff's play-calling and schemes have been questionable for two years, with some positions (tailback, tight end) almost totally excluded from the passing game and other problems. The line is struggling to pass block, and the staff is paying for not recruiting a single offensive lineman in the Class of 2004.
But the bottom line is that Wake doesn't have one receiver other teams fear. The group struggles to block, to get open and to catch the ball, and none of them causes defenses to have to plan around them.
Wake's wide receiver rotation is another good example of Grobe's reclamation projects, except these haven't worked out too well for the most part. Three of them -- Nate Morton, Cory Randolph and Willie Idlette -- were quarterbacks before arriving at Wake Forest and had never played receiver.
Morton has become the best of the bunch, but he ideally would be a third or fourth option, a possession guy who gets under defenses stretched by better receivers. Randolph, though a good athlete, hadn't practiced a down at receiver until this fall. Idlette, a junior, showed promise as a freshman, but he's struggled to hang onto the ball and with his overall toughness. He's fallen from favor again this fall.
Senior Chris Davis and sophomore Kevin Marion were speedsters Grobe hoped would develop, but neither has become a reliable, consistent contributor.
Davis played as a true freshman, with Grobe hoping for a spark, but then the coach benched him and wasted the year after deciding Davis couldn't help. Davis has had a couple of good games, but he was benched against Maryland this year after fumbling. Grobe recently said the staff would have to do some "soul-searching" about Davis' future.
Marion played sparingly in high school because of two different knee surgeries, but Grobe took a shot on him. His career sort of mirrors Davis' so far. Coaches are waiting for him to break out.
Two redshirt sophomores -- Delon Lowe and Kenneth Moore -- arrived with some good credentials, but considering Wake's problems, it means something that they haven't gotten onto the field in 2005. When Grobe was fed up against Maryland, he went right past them to Demir Boldin, a redshirt freshman. The staff has high hopes for Boldin, who's the strongest of the group, but he's still getting familiar with the offense.
Three receivers -- none highly touted -- were in this year's recruiting class, and the best of the bunch is probably 6-4, 185-pound Jonathan Jones. The staff would love to see Jones develop into a Jason Anderson-type player. That might have to happen sooner than later, if Wake is going to make anything happen on offense.
Frustration Evident Post-Maryland
Despite Wake's troubles over the last two years, the Deacons have remained pretty positive. After the Maryland game, both Grobe and the players were as full of questions and anger as at any time since the coach took over.
Grobe, who usually takes the "we'll get back to work" approach in his press conferences, questioned the play-calling after the Maryland game. He also challenged the entire coaching staff, asking whether what they're asking the players to do is realistic. Both he and senior tailback Chris Barclay questioned the players, wondering why the staff had to go over some schemes on the sideline that they had practiced all week.
Barclay showed frustration that the Deacons couldn't execute anything in the passing game, and the defensive players talked about how much the big offensive mistakes take out of them.
If Grobe doesn't want to destroy a young team, he'll have to figure out how to properly channel that anger and frustration, and he'll have to do it quickly.