College Football

Deacs not playing like Wake

Staff WriterOctober 1, 2009 

There's a reason why Jim Grobe is the only Wake Forest football coach with a winning record since the Demon Deacons joined the ACC in 1953.

Under Grobe, Wake has adhered to a specific philosophy of football -- don't beat yourself. That means create more turnovers than you give away, and minimize the penalties.

Strategically, that doesn't seem like much on paper, but when your ACC contemporaries have included Chuck Amato, John Bunting and Tommy Bowden, a little discipline goes a long way.

Since a losing season (4-7) in 2005, the Deacons are 30-14 with an ACC title and two bowl wins. That's a staggering winning percentage (68.1) when you consider Grobe inherited a program that won less than 30 percent of its games under his predecessor, Jim Caldwell, who posted a 26-63 record.

(By the way, Caldwell's now the head coach of a successful NFL team -- the Indianapolis Colts -- which metaphorically puts Grobe on track to rule the universe whenever he decides to leave Winston-Salem.)

The problem for this year's Deacs squad is that it is forgetting Grobe's philosophy. Wake committed 10 penalties and turned the ball over three times, with only one takeaway, in Saturday's 27-24 overtime loss at Boston College.

"From our standpoint, we're not really playing real good Wake Forest football right now," Grobe said Wednesday.

"We might get beat physically, but we typically don't beat ourselves with penalties and mental mistakes, and I feel like we're doing that right now."

In addition to the mental errors, there's the new reality on special teams. Freshman kicker Jimmy Newman missed a 51-yard field goal against BC. For most teams, a missed 51-yarder is not a big deal, but when you're Wake and you've had the luxury of Sam Swank banging 51-yarders like an extra point, it's just another piece of the formula that adds up to an 0-1 ACC start.

Maybe Newman will develop into another Swank, but there's not another Aaron Curry, the fourth overall pick in this spring's NFL draft, or another Alphonso Smith, a second-round pick, on the roster.

With Curry, an athletic linebacker, and Smith, the definition of a shutdown corner, on defense, Wake led the country with 37 takeaways in 2007 and ranked fourth nationally with 35 last season.

Wake went 9-4 in 2007, in no small part because its defense scored eight touchdowns, including three by Curry. Smith finished his career with 21 interceptions, the most in ACC history.

The defense scored only once last year, which caused a slight slip to 8-5. In a 1-2 start against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents this season, Wake hasn't had the benefit of any free points (a touchdown return by either its defense or special teams). Even worse, it's losing the turnover equation. In those three games, Wake's a minus-3, with seven giveaways.

Not that you have to tell Grobe what he's missing.

"It has been disappointing but not unexpected," Grobe said. "I didn't expect us to turn the ball over like when we had [Curry] and [Smith]."

That's what makes Wake playing like Wake even more imperative on offense. Against Boston College, senior quarterback Riley Skinner threw for 354 yards and was spectacular in bringing the Deacs back from a 24-10 hole in the fourth quarter. In overtime, however, a miscommunication with running back Brandon Pendergrass led to a Skinner fumble.

While not entirely Skinner's fault, it was his third turnover of the game. If your defense can't take the ball away, then your offense has to protect it.

"The mental mistakes are driving us crazy right now," Grobe said. "We're really doing some things that good teams don't do."

Given Grobe's track record, he'll straighten this team out sooner rather than later, but the loss to BC could end up costing the Deacs a fourth straight winning season.

Clock management

While a Big East officiating crew was busy mangling the clock at the end of the first half of N.C. State's 38-31 win over Pittsburgh, an ACC crew was working on its own clock mistakes in Atlanta.

Another clock error occurred at the end of the first half in Georgia Tech's 24-7 win over North Carolina. With 16 seconds left in the half, Tech receiver Demaryius Thomas caught a pass near the sideline at UNC's 44-yard line.

The side judge ruled Thomas stayed in bounds, which was debatable, but Thomas had gained enough yards to pick up a first down. That should have stopped the clock until the chains were set, but the clock ran, costing the Jackets about 10 seconds.

Georgia Tech ran two more plays before the end of the half, reaching UNC's 6-yard line before running out of time.

Michael Kelly, the ACC's associate commissioner for football operations, said the clock should have been stopped on account of the first down.

"It was an officiating error, and one that we should have corrected," Kelly said.

At the half, Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson sprinted to midfield to confront referee Tom DeJoseph. Given the result, and a few days to cool off, Johnson understood the mistake.

"In the big scheme of things, it ended up not being a big deal," Johnson said. "Guys make mistakes, I make mistakes. I don't think anybody did it intentionally, it was just a situation you learn from and move on."

Quick slants

The bandwagon is emptying at a record pace at Maryland, which is off to a 1-3 start.

"There are a lot of people who are down on us right now, but I don't think our players are," Terps coach Ralph Friedgen said.

The Fridge might want to keep his players away from the ACC stat sheet. The Terps rank last in the conference in scoring defense, total defense, rush defense and turnover margin.

The on-field celebration of Houston's big 29-28 win over Texas Tech led to an unexpected problem.

Allow Cougars coach Kevin Sumlin to explain, via his Twitter account:

"Saturday night was fun, but it will be hard for three of our guys to play this week without their helmets. Please return, NO QUESTIONS ASKED."

jp.giglio@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8938

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