September 5, 2009: Wake Forest Demon Deacons vs. Baylor Bears Football Preview

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The time has finally come. Jake and I finished up our first preview of the year, and it couldn't come at a better time. Finally, all of the preseason articles and predictions do not mean squat anymore--now the play on the field will dictate what means what. We're trying a format different from our basketball previews, so let us know if you like the layout. We are always looking for ways to evolve and change. So, without further ado, here is the preview for the Wake Forest-Baylor game this Saturday.

Breaking Down The Bears

Baylor is a funny team to analyze. They won just four games last year and had defensive troubles in the always dangerous Big 12. However, underneath the record are a number of extremely dangerous weapons. LB Joe Pawelek is a stud. FS Jordan Lake is extremely consistent. Robert Griffin has all of the tools to be one of the best quarterbacks in the nation and can only build off of his freshman campaign. Plus, he has a running back who had 865 yards and 5.8 YPC in Jay Finley and a star receiver in sophomore Kendall Wright (50 rec, 649 yards; 168 yards rushing).

This Baylor team has a lot of pieces in place but the question remains whether or not Art Briles can put together the puzzle and bring the Bears to a bowl game. Standing in their way will be the Demon Deacons, who won 41-13 last year and are playing this game in front of an extremely football-hungry home crowd. Will Baylor be able to start their season off right and use a win for momentum? Will a loss hurt the team’s morale and push them into a funk? Or, will that loss provide motivation to come back the next week and move forward? A lot of questions might be answered for both teams on Saturday.

Stopping RG3

That’s right. Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin has come so far since the last time we saw the Bears that he went from backup QB to starter to earning himself a nickname. And as well he deserved it. All the praise for a freshman phenom quarterback went to Terrelle Pryor last year, but Griffin had an eye-popping season too. Just for comparison:

Pryor: 1311 yards, 60.6 completion percentage, 12 TDs, 4 INTs, 631 yds rushing, 4.5 yds per carry.

Griffin: 2091 yards, 59.9 completion percentage, 15 TDs, 3 INTs, 846 yds rushing, 4.9 yds per carry.

It’s close, but the edge goes to Griffin in my opinion. What does that mean for the Deacs? Simple, the young defense will be tested early. The linebacker corps, without stars Stanley Arnoux and a guy by the name of Aaron Curry, will be asked to step up and fly to Griffin when he gets past the defensive line. The DEs will need to contain and stay disciplined. And the offense needs to sustain long drives to keep RG3 off the field. If those things happen, Wake Forest will be able to hold Griffin in check.

Ghee Leads Young Corners

Replacing a player like Alphonso Smith is never easy, but having an All-ACC caliber player such as senior Brandon Ghee certainly softens the blow.  While most Wake fans are confident in his abilities, the other cornerbacks are unproven.  Sophomore Michael Williams had a great spring and summer and was promoted to the other starting cornerback spot.  At 6’1", he certainly has great size for the position as well as good hands, which he exhibited at the spring game by making a spectacular one-handed interception.  Josh Bush, the only other returning defensive back with significant game experience, will likely see time at both safety and cornerback.  Finally, make sure to look out for redshirt freshman Kenny Okoro on Saturday.  Coach Grobe had great things to say about him during his redshirt season, so it will be interesting to see what kind of impact he makes in his debut.  While it would likely be beneficial to give the corners a game or two to become comfortable on the field, this inexperienced unit will be tested instantly by the playmaking ability of Robert Griffin.

Weapons At Wideout 

Before each Demon Deacon season it is tough to tell who will be the go-to guy at wide receiver.  Last season Demir Boldin stepped up tremendously from his previous years and led the ACC in total receptions.  This season is no different, as four guys look to step up and fill the void.  The most experienced is Marshall Williams, who had a couple memorable touchdown receptions last season against Ole Miss and N.C. State. 

Jordan Williams struggled to get playing time last season after earning snaps as a true freshman, but has improved his work ethic in an effort to make a big impact this season.  Devon (Y’lou) Brown and freshman Chris Givens are both small, speedy receivers that will likely get some looks in the orbit as well.  It will be intriguing to see if one guy stands out and becomes the primary receiver or if Wake has more of a receiver by committee approach.

Double-duty For Popham?

After being thrown into the fire last season after Sam Swank’s lingering injury, Shane Popham will look to prove that he belongs.  After winning a tough battle against ex-soccer player Cline Beam and freshman Jimmy Newman, he should receive ample opportunity to demonstrate that he is a capable ACC-level kicker.  The depth chart also reveals that he won the punting job over freshman Alex Wulfeck.  It is also important to note that Popham will likely get a break from doing kickoffs, as Beam will likely serve this role after showing off his strong leg in practice thus far.

On the other side, Baylor does not appear to be any better off in this area.  Bears sophomore kicker Ben Parks missed five extra point attempts last season and was only six of nine on field goals, with a long of 42.

The Battle In The Trenches

When Wake Forest is on the defensive side of the ball, one battle they must win is the one upfront.  On paper, this is likely the Deacs’ biggest advantage in the game as emotional team leaders Boo Robinson and John Russell command attention against a Baylor offensive line with big holes to fill. 

The Bears lost second overall NFL draft pick Jason Smith at left tackle as well as three year starter Dan Gay at right tackle.  Looking to replace these losses are JuCo transfer Danny Watkins, who did not start playing football until junior college, and freshman Cameron Kaufhold.   Baylor does, however, have experience at the interior positions, with three year starter James Barnard and talented center J.D. Walton leading the way, Mohawks and all  

For Wake, it will be important for the guys upfront to get pressure and try to minimize big play opportunities for Robert Griffin, especially young defensive ends Kyle Wilber and Tristan Dorty.  As is the case in most games, the battle in the trenches will ultimately determine the outcome of Saturday’s showdown.

Not Just A Kid From Jacksonville

Riley Skinner has a mission this season: to bring another ACC Championship to Winston-Salem. That claim might seem outlandish, but not for a quarterback who in his freshman season took home the title and has led the team to two straight bowl wins since. Last season, despite the offensive line hiccups, Skinner still threw for 2,347 yards with a 65.8 completion percentage. His leadership will be the key to this season’s success.

With the team going back to the I-Formation this year, it is critical for Skinner to manage games the same way he has in the past by limiting mistakes and taking shots when he has the opportunity. As a quarterback goes, a team goes, and with Riley at the helm, the Demon Deacons should feel pretty good about getting to a fourth straight bowl game. All that stands in the way to a good start is the Baylor Bears, and don’t think for a second that Skinner isn’t ready for the challenge.

A Return To Smashmouth

The offensive line’s troubles last season have been well-documented. I’m not going to go into it. If you want proof, just look into the endless number of articles that have been written this summer about how the offensive line needs to step up after last season. That’s true. It is absolutely imperative that the Deacs go back to their strong point from seasons prior. With three completely capable running backs—Brandon Pendergrass, Josh Adams and White Lightning Kevin Harris—as well as two stud FBs in Rinfrette and freshman Tommy Bohanon, this team seems poised to break out in the running game in a big way.

They go up against a Baylor team that was 91st in the nation on the defensive line and lost three starters. But they do gain Phil Taylor, a player who has been maligned with all kinds of trouble, including being kicked off the Penn State team. Regardless, the kid is enormous at 6’4", 355 lbs.  And that’s not a typo. Fortunately, the Deacs return their entire offensive line and all of the injuries and guys playing out of position last season should definitely help the depth and confidence of the unit.  Having potential pro Chris DeGeare back from suspension certainly will not hurt either. I fully expect the Deacs to have a lot of success running the football this season.

 

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