In what was the worst loss of the Jim Grobe era for the Demon Deacons, the Stanford Cardinal took down over-matched Wake Forest by an embarrassing scoreline of 68-24. Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck led the Cardinal offense down the field for a touchdown on their first possession of the game and the Cardinal managed to score touchdowns on their first 8 possessions of the night. Wake was only able to keep Stanford out of the end zone on two possessions as the Deacs dropped their first ever game to a Pac-10 team, falling to 4-1 all-time. The Cardinal improved their record to 3-0 for the first time since 2001, as Wake fell to 2-1 on the season. The schedule doesn't get any better for Wake as they head south to Tallahassee next week for a matchup with the Florida State Seminoles.
Click through for a more detailed breakdown of Wake's loss to Stanford
Stanford scored on their first drive and scored at will for the rest of the game. Typically this space is reserved to discuss what actually happened in the game, but quite frankly I don't want to think about the actual details of the game anymore than I absolutely have to so the recap will be abbreviated.
Wake managed to tie the game up at 7 midway through the first quarter on a good run by Chris Givens. This was Wake's only touchdown of the first half and after Jimmy Newman's field goal with under a minute to play in the first half, Wake found themselves down 41-10 heading into the locker room at halftime.
Luck had a great game going 17-23 for 207 yards and 4 TD's through the air. Luck also tacked on a highlight reel run for a touchdown in which he managed to go nearly untouched through the entire Wake defense to put the game essentially out of reach at 34-7 with 8 minutes to play in the second quarter. Luck played the first two drives of the second half before yielding to the Cardinal backups for the rest of the game. Stanford scored on every possession Luck was in the game and had he played the entire game Stanford could have easily hung 90 on the Deacs. At one point in the game, Stanford had 55 points through 34 minutes.
The only noteworthy occurrences in the second half were Luck's initial two drives of the half, Tanner Price's touchdown run in the third quarter, and a somewhat controversial decision by Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh to throw the challenge flag on a fumble while leading by nearly six touchdowns with under 6 minutes left in the game. All-in-all, the best part of this game was the fact that it kicked off at 11:25 EST and most people were asleep when it happened.
After going 3-and-out on their first offensive possession, the Deacs rebounded to punch in a touchdown to tie the game up in the first quarter at 7 on their second drive. Freshman QB Tanner Price started the game, becoming only the third true freshman to start for an FBS team this year. Both Ted Stachitas and Brendan Cross saw stints at quarterback in the second half when the game was well out of reach.
The running-back situation became possibly even more vague than before the game as the Deacs went back to the rotation method which Grobe used last year with Harris, Pendergrass, and Adams. Since the running game was fairly non-existent in the first half when the game was still mildly competitive, it's hard to state that any one back had a better game than the other two. Pendergrass did manage to open up a few nice plays on the ground in the third quarter and ended up with 34 yards on 5 carries.
The major problem for the Wake offense continues to be the play of the offensive line. Plagued by youth and injuries last year, the O-line struggled against the more physical defensive lines they encountered and not much has changed this year. Price did not have a lot of time in the pocket to get rid of the ball, but when he did he was able to step into the pocket and make solid, confident throws. Price really made an impression on me personally when he managed to evade several defenders when the pocket collapsed on Wake's first touchdown drive and convert across the middle on a critical 3rd and 9. If the quarterback position is in question at all it would be mildly surprising as Price continues to look like the better and more experienced quarterback despite being a true freshman and not having the extra years of practice under his belt that Stachitas, Cross, and Jones all have.
Michael Campanaro had a series of good runs from the flanker position and gained 41 yards on 4 carries, including his first collegiate touchdown. Since there were only 8 completed passes for the Deacs, it was hard to get a feel for the receivers, but Chris Givens continued to play well and had 4 catches, leading the team. With a catch in the game, Devon Brown continued his streak of 15 consecutive games with a catch dating back to last season.
The Wake offense has established an identity which includes keeping the defense on their heels with receiver sweeps, short passes, and runs from the quarterback out of the shotgun. It would be helpful if moving forward the offense is able to elongate the time of possession to keep the defense off the field, but with our offensive line struggling at times, it is hard to ask the team to run the ball a lot more than they are currently doing. In my opinion offensive coordinator Steed Lobotzke is having his best season in quite some time through three games.
There is not enough room on the entire website for me to elaborate fully on what is wrong with the defense, but the bottomline is that I can't think of more than one or two positive things to say about the effort in the Stanford game from this side of the ball. The defensive line was completely overpowered by the Stanford offensive line, the Wake linebackers were nearly non-existent during the game, the secondary was out of place an absurd number of times, and Lambert's defensive scheme was shaky at best. If you are in any way, shape, or form related to the defense, you are partially to blame for last night's performance.
As stated in the introduction, it is difficult as a BCS team to give up 68 points to anyone. To pinpoint how this occurred, it is necessary to first examine the front four. Simply put: our front line is not big enough nor fast enough to compete with upper-level BCS offensive lines. Nikita Whitlock will be good in his time at Wake, but last night he was simply a couple inches too short, a couple pounds too light, and a couple steps too slow to have any meaningful impact on the game. Stanford came into the game with a fantastic aerial threat, but they helped break the game open by completely opening up the running lanes for their backs. Luck could have done backflips in the pocket last night and not been touched by our line. When the defensive line is unable to get pressure on a quarterback and blitzing schemes (more to come on this later) are not working, it is very difficult to alleviate pressure on your secondary. Luck had time in the pocket, and when Luck has time he is deadly accurate with his throws.
Moving to the second level of the defense, the linebackers last night were just not existent. I can't remember at any point during the game thinking that a backer made a great play, or to be honest, seeing a linebacker make ANY play whatsoever. There were a few blitz packages which saw Woodlief and Haynes get into the backfield a couple of times, but mostly they were dropping back into coverage and getting abused by Luck's cannon. The only time I noticed a linebacker was when either Haynes or Ehrmann (don't remember which one, and I'm not going anywhere close to highlights or game footage from last night) blitzed from the right side of the field towards the center, leaving a gaping hole through the right side of the line which allowed a Stanford runningback to walk into the end zone untouched.
When your two leading tacklers for a game are the two starting safeties, the game didn't go well. Both Quarles and Frye continued to have a solid season combining for 12 tackles, and generally doing as well as they could given the circumstances to keep the ball in front of them. To run down the list of problems our corners have at this point would be both counter-productive and insanely long, but it's evident that aside from Okoro we have no ACC-caliber corners. Marshall and Johnson are both inexperienced and appear to be a step slow at times to keep their receiver in front of them in man coverage. I don't particularly place too much blame on the players for the zone schemes because I feel like at times the schemes are generally ineffective from the beginning, but neither player has proven that they are much better at zone coverage than in man. The only major thing I have to say about the secondary is that it is probably one of the worst in the country at this point. We've given up 58 points per game against FBS schools and our secondary (scapegoat or not) are the ones getting abused on the field. Blame youth, blame inexperience, blame lack of athleticism, blame whatever you want, but our secondary this year is just not good.
For the first time in Lambert's three years at Wake Forest, I potentially see the side of those in favor of going another direction with the defensive schemes (and presumably the defensive coordinator). I fully realize that there are advantages and disadvantages to each defensive concept, but the fact that our corners continue to line up 8 yards off the line when the opposing quarterback has a great arm just drives me crazy. If Stanford had run a bubble screen on every play last night, they would have gained at least 5 yards a play before the first defender even touched them. The idea of staying off the line and not jamming too much clearly derives from the bend-don't-break strategy of avoiding getting beat deep. But last night we were getting beat everywhere, including deep, when we were just giving the receivers the first five yards past the line.
This was a tough loss to swallow for Wake, and is the most embarrassing loss of the Grobe era. That being said, the team is young, we have a week's worth of practices coming up, and we are still undefeated in conference play. Wake needs to get back on track and fight hard in Tallahassee next week.