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Wake On Familiar/shaky Ground

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

By Dave Glenn and staff, ACC Sports Journal
November 11, 2002 WINSTON-SALEM — It's difficult to find too much fault with a Wake Forest offense that could wind up being the second-highest scoring unit (behind 29.5 in 1986) in school history. However, it's also impossible not to notice that Wake remains the league's most one-dimensional team. Through games of Nov. 2, the Demon Deacons led the league in rushing and were last in passing, by a wide margin.

At its best, this offense can befuddle opponents and chew up clock time with its tremendous variety of running plays, as it did on the first two drives against Florida State: 155 yards on 17 plays, only one of them a pass. At its worst, it can become predictable, as it did in the second half against FSU: 75 yards on 27 plays.

Grobe has said that because Wake runs so well, it should be hitting at least 60 percent of its passes. But through 10 games, the Deacons were at 54.6 percent.

One reason is the lack of high-percentage passes the Deacons make available to quarterback James MacPherson when they keep him in the pocket. Wake seems to rely mainly on out or fly patterns. For some reason, the Deacons rarely throw to their tight ends or running backs, despite their obvious talent there.

Recently, Grobe said he regretted the lack of passes to tight end Ray Thomas, who has shown good hands and the ability to gain yards after the catch.

“He's a guy that we probably should always try to work into the offense more because he is a good receiver,” Grobe said. “He knows in our offense you're only going to get a few opportunities.”

Through 10 games, running backs and tight ends had caught 26 passes for Wake. At the same time, two ACC teams were completing more than 60 percent of their passes. Virginia (67.3 percent) had completed 125 passes to running backs and tight ends through nine games, and N.C. State (61.4 percent) had completed 51 through 10 games. The next highest, Clemson at 59.8 percent, throws a lot of receiver screens, another high-percentage approach Wake shuns. This is despite the presence of big-play receivers Jason Anderson, Fabian Davis and Anthony Young.

The disappearance of Young this season is particularly disturbing. As a quarterback in 2001, Young was responsible for two of the Deacons' three longest runs from scrimmage, including a 71-yard dash against Florida State. Yet, this season, offensive coordinator Troy Calhoun hasn't been able to put Young in a position — whether it's on a screen, a crossing pattern, a reverse or something else — to take advantage of his blazing speed or arm.

One thing to remember is that Calhoun has not built a diverse passing offense in the past. His teams at Ohio moved almost exclusively on the ground, with the rare pass thrown in for surprise. To win at a major level, though, he may have to show more imagination in his passing plays.

Calhoun's record speaks for itself, though, as so far he's developed offensive powers at two previously downtrodden programs. There's no reason to believe he won't unveil some new passing looks by next season.

Meanwhile, with a probable win over Navy and a probable loss to Maryland on the horizon, Wake Forest (5-5) may be headed for another shaky postseason situation. The Deacons, the only one of seven bowl-eligible ACC teams to stay home for the holidays last year, may need some outside help to avoid the same result in 2002.

The ACC has six bowl tie-ins this year: BCS, Gator, Peach, Tangerine, Continental Tire and Seattle. If the Demon Deacons get to six wins and only five other conference teams are eligible this year, they are assured of a bid. However, if seven conference teams achieve bowl-eligibility — Virginia, needing a win against either N.C. State or Virginia Tech, is the wild card here — Wake Forest, with its small alumni base and low national profile, remains the best bet to get left out in the cold again.