By Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor
2009 SEASON IN REVIEW: To say that Wake Forest was snake bitten in 2009 may be an understatement. Jim Grobe's Demon Deacons dropped five games by three
points or less and as a result, finished the year a disappointing 5-7 overall, including a fourth-place finish in the Atlantic Division and omission from the
postseason for the first time in four years. Two of those losses came in
overtime and the five setbacks were by a combined 13 points.
One of the narrow defeats came in the season-opener, a 24-21 setback to
Baylor. The Demon Deacons bounced back with a pair of victories against
Stanford (24-17) and Elon (35-7), before yet another heart-breaker, a 27-24
overtime loss at Boston College in the ACC opener for Wake. Two weeks later
and consecutive wins over NC State (30-24) and Maryland (42-32) had Wake
Forest sitting at 2-1 in league play in mid-October. However, a five-game
losing streak would follow, including a one-point loss to Miami (28-27) and an
overtime setback at ACC champion Georgia Tech (30-27). Wake was certainly
competitive in most of its games and it paid off in the regular-season finale,
a 45-34 victory at Duke.
OFFENSE: Wake was one of the top offensive teams in the ACC last year,
averaging 26.3 ppg, on an impressive 403.4 yards of total offense. Veteran
signal-caller Riley Skinner played a huge part in that success. One of the
ACC's top gunslingers all-time, Skinner will definitely be missed in 2010. The
quarterback position is up for grabs and senior Skylar Jones, sophomore Ted
Stachitas and freshmen Brendan Cross and Tanner Price could all see time under
center, thanks to strong camps.
Grobe hasn't decided on who will be the starter in the opener.
"We've got to go back to when we started and compile what they've done," said
Grobe. "I will say, if you come on strong at the end and the other guys fade,
that's another thing you've got to look at."
Whoever is throwing the football, they will have the benefit of a full stable
of receivers, highlighted by the trio of Marshall Williams (60 receptions, 867
yards, six TDs), Devon Brown (61 receptions, 671 yards, six TDs) and Chris
Givens (45 receptions, 629 yards, eight TDs), who led all freshmen in 2009 in
Grobe is excited about Givens' raw talent, but that enthusiasm remains
"(Chris) has been pretty impressive in practice. He's done some really good
things. He's got really good foot speed. He's becoming more of an everyday guy
in practice. He's still a young guy and is still up and down. He has some good
moments and some bad moments but more good moments than bad. That's what we
stressed last fall, that he did some pretty spectacular things but he wasn't
an every play guy. He's not where he needs to be but he's got a lot more good
things going on than bad.
The team also showed the ability to run the football last year (131 yards per
game) and with the top two rushers back in the fold in RBs Josh Adams (4.8
ypc) and Brandon Pendergrass (4.8 ypc), those numbers could increase.
One area of concern has to come along the offensive line, which must replace
three veteran starters.
DEFENSE: The Demon Deacons struggled to make critical stops last year and that
was certainly a big reason for the sub-par season. There are some crucial
losses like DTs John Russell and Boo Richardson and CB Brandon Ghee, but seven
starters from 2009 do return and that should help Wake improve defensively in
Junior safety Cyhl Quarles is the top returning tackler after posting 62
tackles a year ago. He will be joined in the secondary by sophomore CB Kenny
Okoro, who led the team in PBUs (11) and INTs (three) last season as a
freshman. Senior middle linebacker Matt Woodlief (52 tackles) highlights the
play in the linebacking corps, while DEs Kyle Wilbur and Tristan Dorty will be
called upon to get upfield and make plays off the edges. A lot is expected of
the 6-5, 230-pound Wilbur, who missed seven games last year with a broken leg.
SPECIAL TEAMS: The kicking game for Wake Forest returns both PK Jimmy Newman
and punter Shane Popham. Newman handled the placekicking duties as a freshman
in 2009 and had his ups and downs, converting 11-of-17 attempts, with a long
of 44 yards. Popham averaged 38.9 yards per punt, while putting 18 of his 54
attempts inside the 20-yard line.
OUTLOOK: With the Demon Deacons relying on the play of a new signal-caller, it
could be a long season in Winston-Salem. The team does start the year off with
Presbyterian, Duke and Stanford which may be beneficial in terms of getting
whoever is under center the necessary time to gain confidence. The remainder
of the non-league slate consists of Navy and Vanderbilt. ACC play will present
some problems both at home and on the road. The Demon Deacons must travel to
Florida State, Virginia Tech, Maryland and NC State. There are only two
potential wins there. The home slate features Duke, Georgia Tech. Boston
College and Clemson all coming to BB&T Field. Grobe certainly has the talent-
base to improve on last year's win total and get back to the postseason, but
that will depend greatly on the QB play he receives.