September 20, 2004 WINSTON-SALEM After the difficult opening loss to Clemson, Wake Forest used its next two games to prove a couple of things.
First, against East Carolina, quarterback Cory Randolph showed that he could put it all together, coach Jim Grobe proved that Randolph was his quarterback, and Randolph showed he could throw to more than one receiver. Against North Carolina A&T, the Demon Deacons proved that their tailback position is in good hands for the foreseeable future.
Randolph was feeling heat from everywhere after his slow close to last season, a poor spring game and a weak passing effort against Clemson. Backup Ben Mauk was everyone's hot choice to see more action.
But against ECU, which loaded up against the Deacons' well-established running game, Randolph took over. He joined Charlie Ward of Florida State and Woody Dantzler of Clemson as the only ACC players to throw for more than 300 yards and run for more than 100 in a single game. In addition, he was on target for most of the night, except for an overthrow on a second-half interception.
Perhaps more importantly, Grobe made a statement by not playing Mauk. He could have played him in the first half, as was his plan. But with the game tight and Randolph playing well, the coach didn't make a move. In the second half, with Wake up 24-3, Grobe had Mauk get ready. But Wake fumbled a punt and ECU scored, and Grobe got cold feet.
The statement was an important one to fans, players and his quarterbacks about whom Grobe sees as his team's leader. It was a decision that could pay off in the long run, both for Randolph's confidence and how everyone else feels about him.
In addition, Randolph showed he could throw to a number of receivers. For a while, Randolph has seemed to lock in on star senior Jason Anderson, who was hurt early in the ECU game. Randolph instead spread the ball to eight different receivers on his 16 completions. The Deacons even completed three passes to running backs and one to a tight end, positions they often avoid in the passing game.
While Wake's receivers, other than Anderson and sophomore Nate Morton, still often have shaky hands, Randolph has to try to find them more often to keep defenses honest.
Against A&T, Wake got a glimpse of its future at tailback in redshirt freshman Micah Andrews. With junior Cornelius Birgs again in the doghouse after a university punishment, Andrews showed power, speed and moves. Andrews has long been a dedicated practice player, and he has studied film consistently with father William, a former NFL runner. Those traits could push him past the talented but unreliable Birgs.
Wake also experimented with two small backs (Chris Barclay and Andrews) in the backfield at the same time. Look for the Deacons to try tricks like that more often, especially after recently losing starting fullback Damon McWhite for up to six weeks.
Offensive Line Depth Worrisome
The possible career-ending injury to offensive lineman Brodie Overstreet put a spotlight on a recruiting gaffe by the Deacons this year.
Overstreet, a redshirt freshman, was playing well enough to start at guard against Clemson. However, after a practice the next week, fluid was detected in one of his eyes. Doctors are concerned that he might suffer a detached retina, the same condition he had in his other eye last season. His vision in that eye has never fully recovered.
The loss of Overstreet weakened Wake's lineup this season, and it also will put a cramp in its future depth. That problem was exacerbated by Wake failing to sign an offensive lineman in the Class of 2004. At a position that requires five starters and strong depth, it's an inexcusable mistake to have an empty class.
The Deacons should be OK in 2005, with as many as nine scholarship linemen, not including any players signed for the Class of 2005. But in 2006, things could get sticky.
By that time, Wake will be down to only six juniors and seniors on the line: seniors Arby Jones and Steve Vallos, plus juniors Matt Brim, Louis Frazier, Steve Justice and Eric Gaskins. Barring incoming transfers, any others will be from the classes of 2005 (probably redshirt freshmen) and 2006 (true freshmen).
Depending on how many (or how well) Grobe recruits, 2007's line could be inexperienced as well. The four juniors above will be seniors, and the rest of the line will be sophomores and redshirt freshmen. Of course, all of that's assuming that all of the players mentioned above will pan out and stay healthy, which is probably not realistic for offensive linemen.
Among the youngsters on the line, only Vallos and Brim have played regularly so far this fall. Jones played a few snaps a game last year as a reserve but hasn't played this year because of a shoulder injury. Frazier didn't see any extended action until the North Carolina A&T blowout, and Justice didn't see any action at all until that game. Gaskins, who was moved from defensive tackle after the Overstreet announcement, didn't travel to the first two games.
How did the Deacons get in this position?
Wake brought in four linemen, plus Florida transfer Wesley Bryant, in the Class of 2002. Bryant's last season will be 2005, and Dan Callahan is now a fullback and tight end. Dustin Abercrombie left the program, leaving only Jones and Vallos for 2006. Grobe signed four linemen again in 2003, but Overstreet's injury leaves only Brim, Frazier and Justice.
Then, as mentioned, the Deacons didn't sign anyone in 2004. In the Sports Journal's recruiting edition, Grobe explained the situation by saying that Wake was unsure about its number of scholarships. Planning for a small class, Wake concentrated on obvious defensive needs. When scholarships opened up, the Deacs were unable to capitalize, really coming close on only one target. That was Andrew Gardner, who ended up at Georgia Tech.
"I'm disappointed we didn't take an offensive lineman," Grobe said at the time. "Had we known (about having 19 scholarships), even as late as last November, we would have been more aggressive."
Instead, for example, the Deacons ended up signing three wide receivers, giving
them 12 in the program. Nine of them are underclassmen, compared to five offensive
linemen who are
So what are the prospects for the Class of 2005? So far, not great.
Wake has a commitment from Trey Bailey from Duncan (S.C.) Byrnes, a 6-3, 270-pound player who attended the team's summer camp. His only other official offers were from Division I-AA Appalachian State and Furman. The Deacons have offered a number of other strong prospects, but they don't appear to be high on any of their lists. Chris DeGeare of nearby Kernersville (N.C.) Glenn appears to be looking at other ACC and SEC schools, and Joseph Birdsong of Montgomery Bell Academy in Tennessee seems to be looking mainly at the SEC. The only other players Wake has offered are projects.
Meanwhile, Wake already has received commitments from 11 players for a 2005 class that probably won't get to 20 and could be as small as 15. Obviously, the Overstreet injury should up the staff's focus on offensive linemen for some of the remaining spots.
Basketball Hits Season-Ticket Snafu
In what should have proven to be Wake's best season-ticket year ever in basketball, it appears the Deacons may have committed a turnover.
Wake contracted with a third party to do the mailings to Deacon Club members, and the job hasn't been done well. Many club members still hadn't received their mailings by the time the initial deadline passed. A second deadline was set, but many still didn't have a mailing or received it only a few days before the deadline.
It's too early to tell if the snafu will make a big difference in the number of tickets sold compared to what the school originally expected. But one thing's for sure: It's never a good idea to annoy your big-money donors.