This has happened before. A new coach at one of the in-state ACC schools gets his first shot at Wake Forest, full of optimism and confidence. And what happens? He gets Grobed.
Jim Grobe may be under fire by a vocal cadre of Deacon fans, but he had the upper hand on Dave Doeren, who became the latest in a long line of first-year coaches to lose his first battle with Grobe, joining John Bunting, Ted Roof, Tom O’Brien, Butch Davis, David Cutcliffe and Larry Fedora before him.
Seven times at Wake Forest, Grobe has taken on one of his local rivals for the first time, and with a 28-13 win over N.C. State on Saturday, seven times he has won.
“I thought their guys played their best game of the year against us,” Doeren said. “They played really good. Part of that’s them, and part of that’s us. We didn’t play good enough.”
This was the same day a group of disgruntled Wake Forest fans planned to fly a banner over the stadium urging the firing of athletic director Ron Wellman, their patience already stretched by Jeff Bzdelik’s stewardship of the basketball program and apparently exhausted by a 56-7 loss at Clemson last week that even Grobe described as “embarrassing.”
The flight was scrubbed, apparently for lack of a pilot, saving the boosters no end of embarrassment because Grobe had the perfect riposte Saturday — a vintage Wake Forest performance against an in-state team, featuring the unexpected running of Tanner Price and the unstoppable playmaking of Michael Campanaro.
“First off, I want to thank Ron Wellman,” Grobe said. “I don’t think anyone in the country is a better AD. He was at practice all week and he even suggested one play. He’s been very supportive.”
N.C. State, in its own way, was very supportive of Wake Forest, with some coaching decisions that backfired, missed assignments on defense and costly penalties. Losing both receiver Rashard Smith and safety Jarvis Byrd to injuries didn’t help, either.
Most damaging, in retrospect, was the defensive collapse to close out the first half after the Wolfpack took its first lead with 39 seconds to play. Wake Forest went 75 yards in 33 seconds, the capper a 10-yard touchdown pass to Campanaro, who was supposed to be double-covered.
“Honestly, we can’t do that,” N.C. State cornerback Dontae Johnson said. “As a defensive unit we can’t give up points going into halftime. We’re up, we had momentum, 30 seconds left. That was a terrible performance on our part. It put our offense in a bad situation.”
On Wake’s first possession of the second half, a roughing-the-kicker penalty by the otherwise excellent Robert Caldwell turned a Wake Forest field goal into a first down and, one play later, a touchdown.
N.C. State responded by driving inside the Wake Forest 10-yard line, where a series of curious calls saw the Wolfpack go run-pass-run without ever throwing the ball into the end zone.
Doeren said the outside run on third down was at worst intended to set up a fourth-down attempt from closer to the goal line, but the Deacons wiped it out and forced a field goal, the last points N.C. State would score.
“We didn’t play well,” Doeren said. “We didn’t do what we needed to do. It starts with me, obviously. I thought I had them ready to play today. Just too many of the same things, you know?”
Doeren exited the field in similar circumstances to so many of his predecessors, with the bell ringing, Grobe smiling and the Wake Forest fans happy, at least for the moment.