NCAA Football Preview - Wake Forest Demon Deacons
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From The Sports Network By Scott Haynes, College Football Senior Editor 2003 SEASON IN REVIEW: The third season under Jim Grobe was much like the first two, as Wake Forest fell one game shy of becoming bowl eligible once again. The team finished the year at 5-7, and just 3-5 in ACC play, leaving the Demon Deacons in a disappointing seventh place. While the team fell well short of its goal, there were some positives to take from the campaign. Wake opened the season with two straight wins, upsetting both Boston College (32-28) and NC State (38-24). The team then took Purdue to the limit in a 16-10 loss and followed that up with an impressive win over East Carolina (34-16). A tough loss at Virginia followed (27-24), before getting squashed by Georgia Tech (24-7). A big win at Duke (42-12) left fans in Winston-Salem hopeful of a winning season, but after going 4-3 in the first seven games, Wake Forest proceeded to lose four of its last five games, including three straight to close out the year. The team did set a new attendance record last season, averaging a respectable 28,273 fans per game and had three First-Team All-ACC performers, the most since 1992. 2004 ANALYSIS: OFFENSE: One of the top rushing teams in the nation last season, the Demon Deacons have relied heavily on that particular specialty in terms of moving the football. Last season, Wake averaged just over 200 yards per game on the ground (203.2) and that figure isn't likely to stray one way or the other this year. Junior quarterback Cory Randolph is an athletic signal-caller with a bright future, but in a run-first offense, there isn't a whole lot of room to show off one's passing skills. Still, in his sophomore campaign, Randolph did complete nearly 60 percent of his passes (58.8), for 1,773 yards. However, his touchdown (8) to interception (10) ratio certainly wasn't impressive. He does get his top three receivers back this year, the most important being senior Jason Anderson (6-3, 195), who led all receivers last year in receptions (44), receiving yards (751) and TDs (six). As stated earlier however, this is a run- first team. Junior tailback Chris Barclay returns to the backfield after a huge sophomore season in which he amassed 1,192 yards (second in the ACC), averaging over five yards per carry and tallying 12 TDs. For this offense to work at optimum level, there has to be diversity in the backfield and Wake has plenty of that. Randolph is fully equipped to run the option, rushing for over 400 yards last season with five TDs. Cornelius Birgs (344 yards and five TDs) presents a third threat on the ground. The offensive line is missing a couple of all-conference performers in Mark Moroz (2nd-Team) and Tyson Clabo (1st-Team). This year's unit is not huge (just one projected starter over the 300-pound mark), but what it lacks in size, it makes up for in athleticism. DEFENSE: The Demond Deacons were extremely generous on defense last season, allowing teams to move the ball at will on the ground (174.3 ypg) and through the air (279.8 ypg). The result was almost 30 points per game surrendered (28.9). Those numbers have to be reduced significantly this year, if Wake is to achieve postseason nirvana. The good news is that eight of the 11 starters from last year return, led by the steady play of senior linebacker Caron Bracy. The 6-0, 230-pound veteran led the team in tackles in 2003, with 90 total stops. He is joined in the LB corps by former Georgia Bulldog Brad White, who had 78 stops a year ago and is a sure tackler who always seems to be around the ball. Senior free safety Warren Braxton will highlight the play in the secondary. He is coming off a junior year in which he tallied 66 tackles, one sack and two interceptions. Senior cornerback Eric King is a ball-hawk in the secondary, leading the team in PBUs (15) and interceptions (three) last year, en route to First-Team All-ACC honors. The Demon Deacons are switching over to a 4-3 defense this season, so much more will be expected from the defensive line. Much like the offensive front, the D-Line may lack great size (two of the linemen at around 250 pounds), but senior end Jerome Nichols (6-2. 273) will try to lead a young group. Nichols had 33 tackles last year, with two sacks. SPECIAL TEAMS: The kicking game is in fine shape in Winston-Salem, as junior Ryan Plackemeier can handle both jobs. He was the ACCâ¿¿s top punter last season and led the ACC and ranked sixth nationally in punting with a school single season-record of 45.6 ypp. He also tied for first in the ACC with a perfect PAT percentage (16-for-16). Plackemeier earned First-Team All-ACC honors in 2003. The only pressure he may feel is from his own team, as punter Steve Hale and placekicker Matt Wisnosky are both talented enough to push for playing time. The return game is in good shape with sophomore Willie Idlette dropping back. He averaged 7.0 yards per punt return and over 20 yards per kickoff return. He also had one return for a TD in 2003. OUTLOOK: Patience is probably running thin in Winston-Salem, as Jim Grobe better produce in a hurry. The new-look ACC won't help any, but a non- conference schedule that is comprised of East Carolina, North Carolina A&T and Boston College could have this team in good shape a month into the season. The league slate is another story. The Demon Deacons open the 2004 season at Clemson and with the Tigers being regarded as a conference contender this year, that game certainly won't be easy. With the next ACC game coming at NC State a month later, Wake could find itself buried in the standings early on. The team does get four straight games at home after that, but two of the teams making the trip to Groves Stadium are Virginia Tech and Florida State. North Carolina then finishes up the homestand, followed by back-to-back road games at Miami and at Maryland. The schedule is grueling in-conference and unless Grobe can pull a rabbit out of his hat, the Demon Deacons are looking at another year of being home for the holidays.