|Wake Forest carries weight of struggling ACC|
|Written by Admin|
|Friday, 05 September 2008 07:05|
While that sentence would have drawn laughter just a few years ago when the Demon Deacons were routinely scheduled for homecoming, it's now reality.
With the ACC reeling from losses last week by favorites Clemson and Virginia Tech, and with Florida State and Miami in down cycles, the 20th-ranked Demon Deacons will carry the league's banner into Saturday's home opener against Mississippi.
For the first time, Wake Forest is the only ranked ACC team.
``The expectations get greater by everybody,'' coach Jim Grobe said. ``Fans, coaches, players, we all have expectations. We all want to be good. Everybody wants to be good.''
So far, Wake Forest (1-0) is the only team looking good in the conference. After commissioner John Swofford raided the Big East to get Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech, the ACC hasn't become the dominant league Swofford anticipated.
With the big-name schools floundering, the ACC's smallest school, the one that used to be known only for basketball, has been the most consistent team in the league since its surprise league title and Bowl Championship Series berth in 2006.
With it comes pressure. On Saturday, the Demon Deacons christen their renovated stadium, knowing an upset loss to the Houston Nutt-led Rebels (1-0) will make the ACC jokes louder and harsher.
``Every week's going to be a fight, and against Ole Miss, they'll definitely be a tough team,'' tight end Ben Wooster said. ``They'll definitely be ready for us.''
Wake Forest had a successful opener. Riley Skinner threw for 220 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, and the experienced defense forced four turnovers in a 41-13 rout of Baylor.
Next up, the Rebels, who looked nothing like the downtrodden teams under former coach Ed Orgeron in Nutt's debut last week. Using direct snaps to receivers and an opportunistic defense, Ole Miss rolled up 438 yards in a 41-24 win over Memphis.
An upset of Wake Forest would give Ole Miss, picked to finish fifth in the six-team SEC West, its first 2-0 start since 2002.
``Overall we did good job because we didn't have any turnovers and that's the most important thing,'' Nutt said. ``We didn't have any penalties, so I was very proud of that. Defensively, there were times where we got off the field and did a very good job.''
The most intriguing aspect Saturday will be how Nutt's ``Wild Rebel'' formation fares against Wake Forest's ball-hawking defense. Small and quick receiver Dexter McCluster ran for 64 yards on six carries when he lined up in the shotgun against the Tigers, including a 32-yard touchdown run.
In all, Ole Miss rolled up 148 yards on 10 plays in the formation, which Nutt used with Darren McFadden at Arkansas before changing jobs in the offseason.
``People are going to work on it and we are used to that,'' Nutt said. ``They are going to start preparing for it. We just try to stay as sharp as we can with it. We try to maybe add a wrinkle to it each week. The bottom line is that it still comes down to blocking, ball handling, and the trigger man - Dexter.''
Behind linebacker Aaron Curry and cornerback Alphonso Smith, Wake Forest produced a nation best-tying 67 turnovers in the past two years. The trend continued when Wake Forest scored 21 points off turnovers against the overmatched Bears last week.
``Defensively, you can see why they've been to a BCS bowl game,'' Nutt said. ``They've got nine starters back. It's like they're magnets to the ball. If that ball's on the ground, it's their ball. if that ball's in the air, they get it. Tipped balls, they get it.''
It'll be the first significant test for Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead. In his first start, the Texas transfer overcame accuracy issues to throw for 185 yards and two touchdowns against Memphis. McCluster was one of a half-dozen players to get carries as Ole Miss rushed for 216 yards.
While the Rebels' defense forced two turnovers, they gave up 453 yards. Skinner, running back Josh Adams and Wooster, who had six catches for 90 yards last week, provide a bigger challenge than Memphis, even though defensive tackle Peria Jerry (knee) may play for the Rebels after sitting out last week.
But clearly the pressure is on Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons carry the weight of a disappointing league on their shoulders.
``They'll give you some issues,'' Grobe said of Ole Miss. ``You've got to play physical and you've got to play fast and you've got to play with intensity, those kind of things. But you've got to have a brain. You can't just be running around. You've got to recognize what they're trying to do to us.''