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Unpredictable Team Unlikely To Change

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

October 6, 2003 WINSTON-SALEM — Wake Forest observers needed the recent off week just to mull over this confusing campaign. What in the world is to be made of the Deacons so far? Before the season started, if you had told most people that the Deacons would be 3-2 heading into their bye week after a tough five-game opening stretch, they'd have been shocked. After all, the Deacons were rebuilding at many positions, most importantly on both lines, and they had a difficult schedule. To many, only ECU appeared to be a winnable game. So 3-2 was one or two games better than many figured, which is pretty good, right? Certainly, if you looked at the statistics after five games, you'd agree. The Deacons were second-to-last in the ACC in both total offense and defense, last in time of possession and had two sacks. Any team that can pull a 3-2 record out of that against tough opponents must be doing fine, right? Well, anybody who watched Wake's first five games might disagree. In some ways, the Deacons should be disappointed that they're not 5-0. If the Deacs had gained a couple more yards — specifically, on key fourth-down plays in both losses — that just might be the case. Wake Forest has managed to give itself a chance to win every time by posting a big turnover margin for the second straight season, being called for few penalties and having its defense bend but not break. So what does that mean for the rest of the season? Well, 8-4 seems reasonable, with 9-3 not out of the question. Except, what if the statistics ring true, and Wake isn't as opportunistic? Then maybe the Deacons are back at 6-6. OK, so all we can say is that it's likely that the rest of Wake's season will be as confusing as the first half. The best sign, though, is that the expectations for the program have changed. Add that to the growing list of major accomplishments for third-year coach Jim Grobe. If 3-2 in that five-game stretch no longer seems acceptable, the Wake football program really may be ready to join the rest of the college football world. Second-Guessers Probed Grobe Another good sign — perhaps — is that Wake Forest observers now tear apart individual coaching decisions instead of just bashing the entire program, as was historically the case. The bad part was that there was plenty to question in the Deacons' losses. The staff certainly took some heat for its fourth-down play call against Purdue. The inside zone run from the shotgun was questioned, since less than a yard was needed. Even some of Wake's players publicly doubted the call. The staff added to the heat with its fourth-down call with five-plus minutes left against Virginia — both that Wake went for it at all and then the play it called. The ideas behind going for it were solid, including reaching for the throat on the road. But up 24-21, a field goal seemed like the smarter play, putting the game out of reach for a tying field goal, which Virginia's offense seemed likely to be able to produce. Put the onus on the Cavaliers to drive the length of the field for the victory. Put the pressure on the back eight of the Wake defense, which is loaded with experienced players and is pretty good at keeping people out of the end zone. But the entire series could be questioned, not just that call. After getting the ball on the Virginia 16, the Deacons ran three plays up the middle, using an orbit run by speedy wideout Willie Idlette to break them up. The fourth-down play was right into the middle, despite the Cavaliers putting 10 players in the box. Grobe repeatedly has said that this Wake team can't run the ball right at teams, yet on the season's two most important plays, the Deacons have tried to do just that, in situations where the opponent was expecting it, no less. Wake's final drive of the Virginia game was just as confusing. The Deacons got the ball back on their 20 with 1:51 remaining and the game tied. The first two plays were runs, not exactly two-minute-drill material. Virginia actually called a timeout, thinking it might get the ball back, but stopping the clock actually helped Wake when a quick pass netted a first down. Wake then aired it out and got a pass interference call, setting up possibly the worst play call of the season. With 1:13 remaining, the Deacons had the ball on their own 45. They ran the ball up the middle for one yard. Since Wake didn't want to burn its only timeout, 30 seconds ran off before an incomplete pass on the next play stopped the clock. Now pressured to make something happen, quarterback Cory Randolph threw the interception that led to Virginia's winning field goal. It was all set up by the odd running play. In the big picture, first-year offensive coordinator Steed Lobotzke hasn't found his rhythm yet. He's hit some home runs with timely calls for long passes, but he's suffered through some very conservative stretches. The N.C. State game plan, with its varied passing game, quarterback draws and trick plays, pretty much went into hiding after the upset of the Wolfpack. Another Rookie Mistake Looming? If Grobe wants to continue to run into the line, he might want to take a closer look at D'Angelo Bryant. After not looking at him at all against Virginia, Grobe was in danger for the second straight season of squandering a freshman who could have been redshirted. Last year, it was Chris Davis, a speedy wide receiver. Grobe was seeking some big plays in the kick-return game, and he gambled that Davis would be able to produce. But Davis returned only 10 kicks, losing his job as the season progressed. On offense, he caught five passes and carried the ball five times. In retrospect, it was a wasted season. Against ECU this fall, Grobe took the redshirt off Bryant (6-2, 212), a physical runner in contrast to Wake's one-two punch of sophomores Chris Barclay (5-10, 170) and Cornelius Birgs (5-10, 203). Bryant looked impressive against the Pirates, although he fumbled on his final carry of the game, bruising his shoulder in the process. Against the Cavaliers, Bryant was back on the bench. Grobe expressed regret after the game, and he intimated that Bryant might have helped on the key short-yardage calls. “We wanted to get him in,” Grobe said. “We wanted to wait a couple of series before we tried to put him in. And when the game got tight and we got a little lead, we didn't want to put the ball on the ground. But we should have played him, and we will play him. We got down the stretch, and I think all coaches have a tendency to want to play guys late — when it really counts — that have been in battle before. “I think in our case we made a mistake. He should have been on the field. He should have played in the first half, especially, and he might have even helped us late. He's a guy who's got to be on the field. We've got to try our best to make this year worthwhile for him.”