Deacons Get Test
Wake Forest was ranked to start a season for the first time in 2008, and the Demon Deacons looked determined to leave no doubt that they deserved that lofty status during their opener.
Coming off a lopsided victory that vaulted them up three spots in the Top 25, No. 20 Wake opens its home schedule Saturday against Mississippi, which is also coming off a big victory in Houston Nutt's debut as coach.
Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made Wake Forest -8 point spread favorites (View College Football odds) for Saturday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 59% of bets for this game have been placed on Wake Forest -8 (View College Football bet percentages).
The Deacons went 9-4 last season and won the Meineke Bowl, earning them the No. 23 spot in the poll to start this season. They played like one of the nation's top teams last Saturday, knocking off Baylor 41-13 on the road for their fifth straight victory.
"I was proud of them. It would have been easy to come here and not be ready to play," said coach Jim Grobe, who guided Wake to the ACC title in 2006. "I don't know if I've ever been this nervous about an opening game. We've always played well as the underdog but I was really concerned about having that Top 25 ranking coming in here."
The Deacons put their coach's fears to rest early, jumping out to a 17-0 lead early in the second quarter and 20-6 at the half. Wake pushed the advantage to 34-6 in the third on a 43-yard touchdown pass from Riley Skinner to Ben Wooster.
Skinner displayed the accuracy that allowed him to lead the nation with a 72 percent completion rate last season, going 27-of-36 for 220 yards and two touchdowns against the Bears, a perennial doormat. He completed 12 of his first 13 passes.
"We were efficient," said Skinner, who earned his school-record 19th victory for a quarterback.
Skinner will look to lead Wake to its 10th victory in the last 13 home openers, including six of eight under Grobe. The Deacons are 67-37-2 all-time in home openers.
Wake will be taking on another team looking to build on a one-sided opening victory. With Nutt roaming the sidelines at a raucous Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in his Rebels debut, Mississippi defeated Memphis 41-24 last week.
It marked the first time Ole Miss scored 40 points against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent since a 43-40 win over South Carolina on Nov. 1, 2003, and was just the kind of result Mississippi was looking for when it hired Nutt in November to restore fan enthusiasm after 10 wins in three seasons under Ed Orgeron.
"I'm still deaf from the noise in The Grove," said Nutt, who was chest-bumped by a fan as the Rebels made their way to the field before kickoff. "I wasn't prepared for that."
Nutt's players looked plenty prepared, as Jevan Snead threw touchdown passes of 64 and 15 yards to Shay Hodge and Dexter McCluster rolled up 125 total yards and a touchdown run out of Ole Miss' new Wild Rebel formation.
McCluster, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound receiver, worked out of the shotgun in the "Wildcat" role played by Darren McFadden under Nutt the last two seasons at Arkansas.
"Dexter's our knuckleballer," Nutt said. "He can handle it, run it and throw it. He can read triple option and he's unselfish."
While Wake will need to guard against the Rebels' speedy and unpredictable offense, Mississippi is facing an opportunistic Deacons team that forced five turnovers against Baylor, turning three into touchdowns, and held the Bears to 250 total yards.
Ole Miss hopes the momentum generated in its opener carries over this week to the road, where the Rebels have lost four straight games and 13 of 14.
The Rebels and Deacons have only met once, with Wake winning 27-3 on Sept. 23, 2006 at Oxford.
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