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Want Bowl Security? Seven Wins Required

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

October 28, 2002 WINSTON-SALEM — The Wake Forest football team should be very interested in Maryland for the rest of the season. In fact, the Deacons should want the Terrapins to play like a powerhouse — until the last game of the season, when the two teams face each other. Maryland closes the season at Clemson, at Virginia and against Wake Forest, three teams that could be fighting for bowl spots with Georgia Tech.

The real key to the equation is Virginia. Wake Forest needs the Cavaliers to lose out, which is actually not too difficult to picture — if Maryland beats them. Virginia plays at Penn State, against N.C. State and Maryland and at Virginia Tech. Losses in all four would make them 6-7 and ineligible for a bowl.

If form holds, Georgia Tech could finish 6-6 (3-5 in the ACC), and if Maryland beats Clemson, the Tigers could be 6-6 (4-4). If Wake can then beat Maryland, the Deacons would be 7-5 (4-4), assuming a loss to Florida State, which is not guaranteed for the first time in the history of the world. That could make the Deacs the No. 4 bowl team from the ACC, possibly in line for the Tangerine Bowl. Otherwise, it would guarantee a spot in either the Continental Tire Bowl in Charlotte or the Seattle Bowl.

Assuming the above scenario, but if Maryland also beats Wake, the Deacons would be
6-6 (3-5). Wake then would be fighting it out with Georgia Tech and/or Clemson for spots in the Tangerine, Charlotte and Seattle bowls. Tech went to Seattle last season, which might make them headed for Charlotte this year. However, Wake is much more likely to draw in Charlotte than in Seattle or Orlando.

Of course, if Maryland doesn't play well down the stretch, it's possible it could be 4-4 or even 3-5 as well. And obviously, if Virginia doesn't lose out, things get more complicated. In those cases, it's very possible that the ACC could have seven teams bowl-eligible, which could leave Wake fighting for Charlotte or Seattle. The alternative? Staying home as an eligible team for the second straight season.

If the Deacons find themselves in this position, we'll see what athletic director Ron Wellman is made of. Making a bowl or staying home could make a huge difference in the development of this program under Jim Grobe.

Attendance Numbers May Hurt

Attendance can be a huge factor when bowl bids are considered. That means the Florida State game will be a major test for Wake fans. FSU fans probably won't travel too well in another down year for the Seminoles, meaning Wake fans must show up for this big game to prove the strength of their program.

The outlook was bleak after the Duke contest, which was Wake's homecoming game. The Deacons announced a crowd of 25,856, but it would have been difficult to find more than 20,000 bodies in Groves Stadium, which has 31,500 permanent seats. The players even started to complain to the media (mainly off the record) about the home crowds, saying they preferred to play on the road because at least there was some atmosphere to pump them up, even if it was a negative one.

However, things turned around for the North Carolina game, as Wake drew 31,476 fans. Though the numbers were boosted by at least 9,000 UNC fans, they were still more impressive. The crowd was Wake's largest since the 1988 season, which was the last time the Deacons posted consecutive winning seasons, as they're trying to do this year.

To keep this in perspective, the teams Wake could be fighting for bowl spots draw well more on average than the Deacons' best crowd in 14 years: Georgia Tech (43,471; 99.4 percent of capacity); Clemson (74,800; 92.4); Virginia (56,653; 92.1) and Maryland (46,355; 96.5).

Grobe Addresses Chop Block Issue

It took nine games, but the offseason chop-block complaints against the Deacons finally showed up in penalty flags — three of them against UNC. Conspiracy theorists will have a field day with the fact that UNC players and coach John Bunting have been some of Wake's most vocal critics in this area.

Watch this same call in the game against Florida State, whose players also were vocal in the offseason about the Deacons' blocking. Before the UNC game, the Deacs had only one flag for chop blocking (against Duke) all season.

“We're not a team that gets called for that,” Grobe said. “Some coaches talk to officials before the game, and sometimes it becomes an issue. It's never been an issue since I've been here in a game. In eight previous games, we had one, and the one that was called was when one of our linemen fell down in front of somebody and ended up with two people blocking. It's not something we teach or work at, and it'll be interesting for me to see the film.

“We're a low-blocking football team. We're not a very big football team, so we're always going to try to use our lack of size. We are pretty athletic, so being a small team, we're going to try to use that to our advantage, and our advantage is to try to tie you up and get you to keep your hands down and try to block you low. It won't surprise me if I see that there were some cut blocks in the game, but I'll be disappointed if they're chop blocks.

“And the other issue we got into, and I talked to the officials about this, is sometimes defenders grab offensive linemen to keep them from blocking the next level. When that happens, you could get in a chop block situation because we're not counting on two people being engaged, we're counting on someone being at the next level.”

Grobe's tone was not highly indignant, but the most telling part of his response was the long pause he took after saying “some coaches.” He really had to pause and pick his words carefully when discussing Bunting.

This came on the heels of a close loss at Clemson, in which Wake was called for 14 penalties, one off the school record. In 18 previous games under Grobe, the Deacons averaged 6.7 penalties a game.

Grobe made a little light of the situation after the UNC game, in which he debuted a new white Wake baseball cap: “I was having some problems with the referees, and I thought if I looked more like a referee, maybe he'd like me better.”

Offensive Line Getting Job Done

Guard Blake Henry had a different blocking explanation for what happened against UNC.

“What happened was we had better players up front,” he said. “We were better than them. Last year they had a bunch of NFL guys up there, and we still won the game. But this year, all those guys had graduated, and we still have talent. We have a good line, and we bowl people over.

“The coaches were saying, ‘They've got a lot of talent.' But we've all played football, and you can tell when you've got better football players than somebody. And that's why we won the game.”

Perhaps more than anything in Grobe's rebuilding, that statement spoke volumes — first in the confidence shown by a Wake player, and second because his words rang true.

Wake's offensive line, traditionally the program's second-weakest spot behind the defensive line, is better than most units. The only ACC team averaging more yards per carry entering November was Florida State.

Also, that performance is without the benefit of as much rest as last season. In 2001, the Deacons rotated 10 linemen, and the starters played 66 percent of the snaps. This season, that total is closer to 75 percent, and the line is not quite as healthy. Craig Jones (ankle) and Henry (back) both have been hobbled in recent weeks.

Next year, Wake will have to replace the right side of the line: guard Henry and tackles Tim Bennett and David Walters, who split snaps. Depth should not be a problem, though. Returning starters will be left tackle Mark Moroz, left guard Tyson Clabo and centers Jones and Blake Lingruen. Barring attrition, five reserves also will return, plus five players who are sitting out this season — four who are redshirting and Wesley Bryant, a Florida transfer.