Early Look at the 2009 Wake Forest Demon Deacons

by - Senior Writer -

Baseball is finished, the Tiger basketball team had added a new recruit, and Clemson alum Lucas Glover thrilled Tiger Nation with a beautiful win at the U.S. Open on Monday. However, the ACC Meetings are just a month away, and it’s now time to turn our attention back to football. The Tigers run down the hill in a little over 70 days, so let’s get back to ACC football previews and reviews. Next up is Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons went to their third straight post-season bowl game in 2008, the first time in school history that Wake has earned three consecutive bowl invitations. The Deacs posted an 8-5 overall record and were 4-4 in the ACC, which was good for third place in the Atlantic Division.

The eight wins also marked the first time in school history the Deacons have won eight or more games in three consecutive seasons. Wake defeated five teams that earned bowl invitations in 2008 - Mississippi,
Florida State, Navy, Clemson and Vanderbilt, and that included two teams ranked in the final AP Top 25
(Ole Miss (14th) and FSU (21st).

WHO IS GONE - The Deacons took a big hit on defense, losing seven starters from last year’s team. Wake loses Alphonso Smith, the all-time ACC career leader in pass interceptions (21), and Aaron Curry, the ACC career leader in pass interceptions for touchdowns by a linebacker (3). The defense will be without its top five leading tacklers in LBs Stanley Arnoux and Chantz McClinic, FS Chip Vaughn and SS Kevin Patterson as well as DE Matt Robinson. Offensively, the Deacons lose WRs D.J. Boldin and Chip
Brinkman, as well as one of the best placekickers in ACC history in PK/P Sam Swank, whose 71 career FGs placed him 2nd on the ACC career FG list.

WHO IS RETURNING - The Deacons welcome back 14 returning starters among his 45 returning lettermen including nine starters on offense. That group is led by QB Riley Skinner, who
Enters his senior season as the most accurate passer in ACC history, having completed 67.3 percent of
his passes in his career. Skinner will be surrounded by veterans, including all five starters on the offensive line in Ts Joe Birdsong and Jeff Griffin, Gs Joe Looney and Barrett McMillin and C Russell Nenon. Also returning are TE Ben Wooster, FB Mike Rinfrette and all 3 TB’s who saw playing time in 2008 in Brandon Pendergrass (528 yds), Josh Adams (402 yards) and Kevin Harris (176 yards).The defense, however, will have plenty of new faces. In the spring game, only one returning starter from a year ago played with three out due to injury. The defense will be built around returning starters DTs John Russell and Boo Robinson, DE Kyle Wilber and CB Brandon Ghee.

BIG SPRING AND SUMMER QUESTIONS - The most obvious question will be on the defense, which has to replace those seven starters. Of the four returning starters, three are up front, so there is only one returning starters in the back seven. However, Grobe thinks that the linebackers, led by juniors Matt Woodlief and Hunter Haynes, who each played significant snaps last season, is one of the deepest he has ever had. On offense, the big question will be at receiver. Both starters from 2008, D.J. Boldin and Chip Brinkman, are gone, leaving only junior Marshall Williams as a receiver with significant experience. He had 26 catches last year.

SPRING PRACTICE AND GAME - Of the four returning starters on defense, only one played in the annual spring game. DT’s Boo Robinson and John Russell and cornerback Brandon Ghee were sidelined by injuries. That left Kyle Wilber, a redshirt freshman with seven career starts, to take the field with 10 newcomers to the first-team defense. As a result, the Deacons, for the first time in several years, had an intra-squad game instead of a scrimmage at the Doc Martin Practice Complex on campus.

In the game, the Black beat the White 24-14. The Black was built around the first-team defense and the White around the first-team offense, though there were players who played for both teams.
Running back Brandon Pendergrass was a factor for both squads, carrying three times for 30 yards for the White and four times for 40 yards for the Black. Backup quarterback Ryan McManus played for both teams and former soccer player Cline Beam, who was kicking because of a strained knee suffered by probable starter Shane Popham, kicked extra points for both teams and concluded the scoring with a 24-yard field goal for the Black. Redshirt freshman Chris Givens broke runs of 65 and 24 yards and caught three passes for 39 yards. Redshirt freshman Terence Davis caught three passes for 28 yards, tight end Ben Wooster caught three for 76 yards, receiver Danny Dembry caught a 59-yard pass from quarterback Riley Skinner and receiver Jordan Williams caught four passes for 70 yards. Skinner completed 15 of 23 passes for 272 yards and threw one interception.

2009 SEASON AND SCHEDULE - The 2009 schedule looks very workable for a team that is looking to go to a bowl game for the fourth consecutive season. The out –of-conference schedule is Baylor, Stanford and Elon, all at home to begin the season, and a late October trip to Navy. The Deacons’ first conference game is at Boston College on Sept. 26, followed by home games against N.C. State and Maryland. They travel to Clemson the week before the trip to Navy, and a Halloween home date against Miami follows that, with a trip to Georgia Tech on Nov. 7. The season closes with a home game against Florida St. and the season finale at Duke.

CLEMSON AND WAKE FOREST IN 2008 - The 2008 game will forever be known as the last game of Tommy Bowden’s Clemson coaching career. Skinner completed 22 of 34 passes for 186 yards, added 74 more yards rushing and led the decisive 15-play, 78-yard drive in the fourth quarter for the Demon Deacons. That drive ended when he threw a 7-yard scoring pass to D.J. Boldin with 5:28 left to give Wake the lead. Shane Popham -- starting in place of injured kicker Sam Swank -- had field goals of 22 and 32 yards for Wake, whose defense held the Tigers' ground game to 21 yards rushing on 23 carries. The Demon Deacons outgained Clemson 342-198 to snap a two-game losing streak in the series.
Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper was 15-of-35 for 177 yards with an interception. Harper’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Jacoby Ford with seven seconds left in the third quarter put Clemson up 7-3.
Alphonso Smith's school-record-tying 17th career interception gave Wake Forest the ball inside the Clemson 20 and set up Popham's second field goal, which pulled Wake Forest to 7-6 with just under 13 minutes to play. The Tigers had minus-6 yards rushing at halftime, were stuck in negative total yardage until their fifth drive of the game and were just 2-of-14 on third downs. James Davis finished with 25 yards, 50 below his average, while backfield mate C.J. Spiller had just 10 yards on two carries before injuring his left leg in the second quarter.

WAY TOO EARLY PREVIEW OF CLEMSON AND WAKE FOREST IN 2009 - This year’s Wake game will be the sixth game of the season for the Tigers, and comes after a bye week following the Maryland contest. It will be the seventh of the season for the Deacons, and follows games against Boston College, N.C. State and Maryland. Last year’s win by the Deacons broke a two-game winning streak in the series for the Tigers, including a shellacking the year before in Death Valley. On paper, the Tigers will be the more talented team heading into the contest, and will have the edge on offense and defense, with special teams still a question mark. However, Grobe’s teams always seem to play hard, and nothing is ever a sure thing where Wake is concerned. But if the Tiger defense is as good as most experts believe they will be, and the new quarterback has settled in, the Tigers should make it wins over the Deacons in three out of four years.

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