WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) - Receiver D.J. Boldin had no grand delusions when he came to run-first Wake Forest. Sure, he'd catch the occasional pass, but his main job was to get downfield and help clear the way for the team's biggest stars - the running backs.
``I was always told blocking will get you on the football field. You do good things, and the ball will come your way,'' Boldin said Tuesday. ``Now, it's been a lot more passes than I expected.''
Nobody who knows Wake Forest's program expected this much passing, either.
Not long ago, there was no Atlantic Coast Conference team better at running the ball - and no team worse throwing it - than the Demon Deacons.
All of a sudden, the offense is backward at No. 21 Wake Forest - which is tops in the league through the air heading into Thursday night's game against Clemson, yet for the first time in coach Jim Grobe's career, can't get anything going on the ground.
bottom line may be, we're just more of a throwing team than a running team,'' Grobe said.
That's entirely out of character for a program that built its identity through the years with a rushing offense that perennially led the league and developed last year's ACC rookie of the year Josh Adams. And before that, 2005 ACC offensive player of the year Chris Barclay.
``It's every lineman's dream to hear the coach (say), 'We will run the ball,''' guard Russell Nenon said. ``That's why you play offensive line, to knock people back and run the ball successfully and see the running backs score lots of touchdowns.''
That hasn't happened this year, not with All-America center Steve Justice now in the NFL.
The Demon Deacons haven't produced a 100-yard rusher all season. They've cracked triple digits as a team only once, gaining 156 in the opener at Baylor. Their average of 2.35 yards per carry ranks among the worst in the country.
And, perhaps most worrisome in Winston-Salem, they've regressed each week, bottoming out with just 43 yards two weeks ago in a loss to Navy.
``There's a sour feeling in my mouth,'' Nenon said.
That ineptitude has placed the weight of the offense on Riley Skinner, who remains the ACC's most efficient quarterback despite a career-worst four interceptions against Navy that left him disconsolate and offering a blunt explanation: ``It's all on me.''
old him it was a team effort (and) I'd be selfish as a football player if I let you take that defeat by yourself,'' Boldin said of Skinner. ``Definitely, we'll see the old Riley Skinner.''
That would be welcome news for Grobe.
Skinner leads the conference with averages of 243.5 yards passing and 245 yards of total offense, at least partially because he's getting more chances to do it. He has thrown or was sacked on 54 percent of the plays, compared to 44 percent last year.
``We tend to put so much pressure on Riley that if he has a bad day, like he did against Navy, it really handcuffs you,'' Grobe said. ``That just may be who we are. We'll find out Thursday night. We may be an air-it-out football team, and we may not be able to do anything about that.''
Except, of course, to embrace it. Skinner's top targets also are putting up big numbers, with Boldin averaging a league-best seven catches and tight end Ben Wooster also ranking in the ACC's top ten.
``I've never been in this situation. It's new for us, it's something that's different, something that we haven't hung our hat on in the past, and I'm fine with it if we're successful,'' Grobe said. ``I could (not) care less how we find a way to win. We just need to find ways to win.''
That's not to say the ever-optimistic Grobe is about to abandon his once-proud ground game.
said. ``So we'll just continue to work at being a better team running the football, and I'll be the first to tell you, we may be better putting the burden on Riley.''
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