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Friday, September 07, 2007

Wake Forest Preview

Ed. Note - Nothing like waiting until the last minute. One thing that will suffer this year, due to increased schedule demands will be my opponent previews. Hopefully they will still be of interest.

Head Coach: Jim Grobe 7th Season at Wake Forest. Career record 37-35

Last Season: The Demon Deacons shocked the world on their way to an ACC Championship and a 10-3 record.

This Season: The Deacons returned 14 starters when the season began, but injuries have already begun to cause problems. As with Nevada, conventional wisdom sees Wake headed back to pre-2006 levels. But how far will they fall? According to SMQ, most of the way down:
Wake Forest is not a good team. In fact, it wasn't a good team when it won the ACC last year. It was an exceedingly mediocre team with an outstanding kicker and an unsustainable barrage of fortune at its back. On an every-down basis, Wake was what it's always been - slightly below average - evidenced in it being outgained overall in league games despite a 7-2 record. The conference should be tougher this year, but even if it's the same parity-driven parade of underthrown curl routes, the Deacons are a middling bowl team at best and a lamentable bottom-dweller at worst. They'll be doing just fine to finish 7-5.
On Offense:

Like many teams today the Deacons run college football’s newest equalizer - the spread offense. Wake will attempt to combine misdirection and superior execution to overcome talent deficiencies on Saturday. When execution meets the aligning planets a spread attack can cut down even the grandest gridiron Goliaths (See Emo Week at Michigan). Even at it’s peak Wake’s offensive attack is far more plodding than prolific producing just 21.6 points a year ago. In terms of offensive efficiency the Deacons were entirely average ranking 59th nationally in the Scoreability Index . That sandwiched the efficiency of the Wake attack between the offenses of Air Force and Northern Illinois. Wake Forest scored one touchdown for every 85 yards of offense they generated. For comparison, Nebraska scored one touchdown for every 81 yards of offense the Huskers generated a year ago, which ranked 42nd nationally.

Quarterback: Wake will likely be without starting quarterback Riley Skinner who suffered a separated shoulder against BC. That means sophomore Brett Hodges gets the start on Saturday. Hodges is much quicker than Skinner but is similar in terms of efficiency, moving the chains and taking what a defense gives him. He also appears to be an upgrade over Skinner in arm strength. Against Boston College, Hodges completed 17/23 passes for 130 yards and a TD. He also threw one INT. His passing efficiency rating is currently at 127.0 which ranks 58th nationally, one spot ahead of Sam Keller. Keep an eye on third down, as the Wake QBs struggled in week one completing just 50% of their passes. That’s a huge dropoff from first down where their QBs completed an astounding 91% of their passes.

Running Back:I would be completely justified in leaving this position out of the analysis as Wake’s running game was simply non-existent in week one. The Deacons managed just 2 yards rushing on 24 attempts against BC. That’s not going to get it done, even in the ACC. The running game was counting on 230-pound sophomore Kevin Harris. Harris is big and strong and supposedly possesses 4.5 speed to boot. Unfortunately that combination of speed and power is useless when your 4 carries are cut short in the backfield or spent running up the backs of your lineman as Harris’ were in week one. Micah Andrews is also back from a knee injury a year ago and got seven carries for 7 yards against the Eagles. He’s got talent, however, as evidenced by a 254-yard effort against Vandy in 2005.

Wide Receiver: The Wake receiving corps has benefited from the move of last year’s leading rusher Kenneth Moore to his more natural WR position. He lit up BC for 15 catches, 126 yards and a TD. Moore has the kind of size and strength that has been known to give the Huskers fits. Murillo and Grixby will need to play strong near the line of scrimmage to keep him in check. Kevin Marion and Chip Brinkman have names that belong at a fraternity party, but are actually two more capable receivers for Wake. Marion has game-breaking speed and made a name for himself a year ago on special teams. Brinkman has decent athleticism, but is a bit untested catching just one ball a year ago. Senior tight end John Tereshinski is also dangerous both as a blocker and a target over the middle. He had 6 catches for 75 yards in week one.

Offensive Line:The offensive line returns everyone from a year ago except All-Everything tackle Steve Vallos. That makes the rushing performance even less impressive. The tackles are Jeff Griffin and Louis Frazier. Griffin is only a sophomore, but looks like’s Wake next OL star. Frazier was great as a runblocker last season, but struggles against strong pass rushers. The guards are Chris DeGeare and Matthew Brim. Brim is the only new starter, but was slotted to start a year ago before breaking a bone in his hand. DeGeare is ginormous at 360+ pounds. The one lineman for Wake who is expected to garner post-season accolades is center Steve Justice. I’m excited to see him match up with Suh on Saturday.

On Defense:

Despite the loss of Jon Abbate many thought this year’s defense had a chance to be even better than the 2006 version. Last year Wake’s D was the model of efficiency as measured by the Bendability Index. The Deacons finished #3 nationally in the Bendabililty Index as opponents needed to generate an average of 126 yards to score the equivalent of one TD a year ago. In comparison, the Blackshirts were less efficient forcing opponents to march 109 yards to score the equivalent of a single TD last season. Overall, Wake’s defense is speedy in the secondary, but will need to step up against the run and generate a pass rush to be successful on Saturday.

Defensive Line: The defensive line seems to have the talent to be active and get into a team’s backfield. How they’ll stack up against Nebraska’s bigger offensive line remains to be seen. One player to keep an eye on is NT Boo Robinson. Robinson is a 6-2, 326-pound sophomore who can clog up a running game if left unaccounted for. The other DT is the undersized John Russell who goes just 6-3 and 250 pounds. He has a good motor, however, and won’t be easily pushed around. The defensive ends are Jeremy Thompson and Anthony Davis. Thompson looks to be growing into his potential and had 2 sacks against BC. Davis is tall and rangy, but has yet to be a factor in Wake’s pass rush.

Linebackers:You don’t replace a Jon Abbate without experiencing a dropoff. The Deacons are currently starting a trio of sophomores in Aaron Curry, Stanley Arnoux, and Eric Berry. Berry is a DT playing LB and goes 6-1, 288-pounds. I have no idea what that’s about. Curry is big, fast and experienced and could push for all-conference honors with a strong season. He currently leads the team in tackles with 11. Arnoux has a nose for the ball and a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

Secondary:Alphonso Smith appears to be ready this season to be the star of the secondary. He has great cover skills and will bait Keller into forcing throws if he’s not careful. Smith returned an INT 21 yards for a TD against BC. The other CB is another sophomore Kerry Major. Major isn’t the strongest CB Nebraska will face, but is a steady contributor for Wake. The safeties are Chip Vaughn and Aaron Mason. Vaughn is big and fast and should become a playmaker in the future. He returned a fumble 38 yards for a score last week. Mason looks like a CB but has the skills to be a decent safety.

Random Notes

Wake Forest and Important Stats (2007):

Scoring Defense: 96th - 38 ppg
Third Down Efficiency: 79th – 31.6%
Total Offense: 67th - 368 yds/game
Scoring Offense: 49th - 28 ppg.
Pass Efficiency Defense: 97th - 151.45
Rush Defense: 28th - 54 yds/game
Total Defense: 95th – 462 yds/game
Yds./Pass Attempt: 69th – 6.1 yds/Att.
Passing Efficiency: 58th - 123.91
Third Down Efficiency Defense: 83rd – 42.9%

Six Degrees of Beano Cook: Wake Forest beat Florida State. Florida State beat UCLA. UCLA beat USC. USC beat Nebraska.