Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Blogger summer assessment: Wake Forest

Chris's Blog has quickly become one of my favorites. His takes are usually fresh and almost always funny. While following DC teams and kicking ARod and Michelle Wie when they are down are his specialty, he is also the only blogger I know with any Wake Forest knowledge. In the second part of my Summer Assessment Series, Chris tells us what we need to know about future opponent and annual heart attack game, Wake Forest.

1. What is the one thing that all the experts have wrong about this year’s Wake Forest team?
Chris's Sports Blog: The loss of Chris Barclay won't hurt as much as expected. In 2005 the senior RB became the first Wake Forest player to win the ACC's Offensive Player of the Year Award since 1979, so it would seem natural that his graduation would cripple a team that has had limited success over the past, oh, millennium. But Barclay, for as good as he was, always was more of a system runner. Just like any running back in the Denver Broncos backfield is nearly guaranteed a 1,000 yard season, Jim Grobe's ground-attack gives opportunities for big seasons to players that would languish deep on the depth charts of other ACC schools. (This is not to suggest the Deacs o-line is anything like the Broncos; for one thing they don't cheat nearly as much, but that's a topic for another day.) Let's just say that it's not coincidence Barclay went undrafted.

Without the reigning POY, junior Micah Andrews will carry the load for Wake. In the 2005 opener Barclay sat out because of a suspension and Andrews nearly set a school record in his stead, rushing for 254 yards against a solid Vanderbilt team. Andrews won't win POY honors, but the Deacs rushing attack should be fine in his hands.

2. The team struggled last year when Mauk started. Any reason to think things will be different this year?

Chris's Sports Blog: Not really. Mauk was Jim Grobe's most heavily hyped recruit after setting national records as a high school quarterback in Ohio. But ever since he threw an 85-yard TD pass on his first throw in college, Mauk has been a relative disappointment. He looks and acts the part, but has always been mistake-prone when he's on the field. Perhaps the graduation of Cory Randolph will help though. After starting the first few games in '05, Mauk was pulled for the senior and didn't get back on the field until an injury forced Randolph to the sidelines. It's possible that without a reason to look over his shoulder (Mauk's backups will be redshirt freshmen), the junior QB will be able to shine with a longer leash.

3. Everyone in the ACC thinks highly of Grobe, but what do Wake fans think? Is there any frustration with the whole “he gets a lot out of his talent, but they still lose” mentality?

Chris's Sports Blog: The Jim Grobe lovefest has always been a bit baffling, not because Grobe's a bad coach but because he really hasn't done all that much at Wake to deserve such praise. After a promising start in 2001, Grobe led the Deacs to a bowl victory in 2002. Wake finished 7-6 that year, but lost three winnable games in the final seconds. After that season, the "Grobe is great" chatter began and it was widely assumed he would leave Wake Forest for a better job within the year. Expectations were high in 2003, but the team struggled, bottoming out in a 51-17 loss to Division I-A newbie Connecticut. It was more of the same in '04 and '05; the Deacs would win close games against good opponents (BC in '04, NCSU and Clemson the following season) but couldn't close out the likes of Vanderbilt and North Carolina.

It's clear Grobe is a good program builder, but his end-of-game strategies have always been baffling. Too many times Wake lets the clock run down during the two-minute drill, or calls for a running play on 4th and 2 when a pass is clearly needed. At some point the 'bad luck' argument fades and it becomes clear that the Deacs lose close games for a reason.

Having a successful football team at Wake Forest is difficult. Beyond Brian's Song there is no football history at the school, the university has the smallest enrollment of all BCS schools and has a suburban campus, making recruiting against Florida teams and schools located near cities (hello, BC) extremely difficult. So, in that regard, Grobe has done well just having the Deacs competitive. At some point, however, the team has to take the next step; the "next step" being consistent presence in the postseason. It's nice that ACC schools don't regard Wake as a pushover anymore, but that's not Grobe's ultimate goal. He wants to be a perennial contender for a bowl game and maybe sneak in an upset or two.

This will be Grobe's sixth year in Winston-Salem. Nobody realistically expected him to be there longer than three. It's not by choice. Had the Deacs lived up to expectations in 2003, Grobe would be on a sideline somewhere else. But those teams failed, much as Grobe has. Like I said earlier, Wake is no longer a doormat, but at least there's some pride in being a doormat. Seasons that begin with high expectations and end with records of 4-7 are just plain depressing.

4. The last three BC-Wake games have come down to the final two minutes? Care to make a premature prediction about this year’s game?

Chris's Sports Blog: Down 20 with 3:00 left to play, Wake will score two quick TDs and recover an onside kick down six points. Holding all three timeouts, the team will get down to the Eagles one-yard line and have four shots to get in the endzone in the game's final 19 seconds. After calling for three consecutive fullback smashes that go nowhere and using all three timeouts, Grobe's team will face a do-or-die 4th and goal from the one-inch line. Grobe will instruct Ben Mauk to lineup in a shotgun, whereupon he will promptly get sacked for a 47-yard loss.

Check out Chris's Sports Blog for a litte more on Wake and a lot more on the Redskins.

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