Thoughts on Wake
Last night's win over Clemson was unspectacular for the Demon Deacons. They thoroughly outperformed the Tigers offensively, yet had to scramble to pick up the victory. Their defense was solid, though you had to wonder if it would have been as effective had Clemson had any semblance of an offensive line with which to work.
Let's start with the Wake offense. Quarterback Riley Skinner displayed quick feet and an elusiveness in the pocket. He ended the night with 11 carries for 73 yards and not all of those rushes were unintended. Coach Jim Grobe said the game plan was designed to use Skinner more as a runner. He said he told Skinner before the game that defenses were able to hone in on Wake's passing attack because they knew Skinner was no threat to run the ball. Last night's game plan was an attempt to change that. One of Skinner's running plays stood out in particular. With about three and a half minutes remaining in the first half, Skinner took off on a first and ten at the Clemson 29. He spun 360 degrees counter-clockwise to avoid an oncoming defender and slid into the turf six yards later to avoid a hit for the second time. The play demostrated impressive athleticism on Skinner's part, and it probably had Grobe wondering why he had not asked Skinner to develop into more of a dual-threat quarterback sooner in his career.
Skinner had an efficient night passing the ball, as well. He finished 22 of 34 for 186 yards and a touchdown. Here was the intriguing thing about the Wake offense. It operated smoothly for a majority of drives and then would sputter once it got into the red zone. Tight end Ben Wooster said Clemson did a good job of stuffing the middle late in drives, which forced the Deacons to go more outside in the red zone. But at least in the early going, that simply wasn't true. Skinner frequently lined up out wide in the first half, and it may have hurt the Deacons once they got into scoring position. Grobe admitted that when they line Skinner up at wide reciever, Clemson knew Wake wasn't going to pass the ball with running back Josh Adams lined up at quarterback. That meant Clemson could flood the box and stop the run. Many of the runs during Wake's first two red zone drives were carries up the middle by either Adams, D.J. Boldin or Brendon Pendergrass. Their were stopped for short or no gain on many of those attempts because Clemson knew what was coming. The idea of lining up Skinner out of position is effective every once in a while, but wouldn't you want your best decision maker operating out of the shotgun in the red zone than a running back with little to no throwing ability?
When Wake's drives stalled, as they often did, the Deacons were left to turn to backup kicker Shane Popham, who made two of four attempts in place of the injured Sam Swank. To be fair, one of those misses was not Popham's fault. The hold on the first attempt was mishandled, which threw off Popham's timing on the kick. Regardless, it is clear Popham, a redshirt freshman and former walk-on, is not yet of the same ability as Swank, one of the top kickers in the nation. Swank missed the game due to a strained right quadriceps. Grobe said he hopes to have Swank back next week against Maryland and that he is considering splitting duties between Swank and Popham to ease the burden on Swank's leg. He said having Popham punt and Swank kick field goals is a definite possibility.
Defensively, there is no doubt Wake has a solid unit. Aaron Curry is one of the hardest-hitting linebackers in the conference, and cornerback Alphonso Smith is a ruthless ball-hawk. With Clemson clinging to a 7-3 lead late in the game, Smith came up with an interception at the Clemson 25 and set the Deacons up for another field goal to bring the decifit to one. The pick was the 17th of Smith's career and it put him in a tie for first all-time on the Wake career interception list. Wake held Clemson to 21 rushing yards. The Tigers had just six rushing yards at halftime, and that was with both James Davis and C.J. Spiller in the backfield. Spiller did not return in the second half after leaving with a left leg injury. The only question I had about Wake's defense was how much Clemson's dilapidated offensive line had to do with the Deacons' effectiveness. Clemson was playing without three of its typical starters heading into the game and lost two more during the first half. Wake created ample pressure on Clemson quarterback Cullen Harper, which frequently forced him into poor throws.
So here are a few critical points for Maryland heading into next week's matchup:
The offensive line must play better. The Terps were supposed to have one of the best fron lines in the conference heading into the season, but it has not lived up to the billing. Wake will make Maryland pay if Edwin Williams & Co. do not show up.
Chris Turner needs to spread the ball around. Throw some passes to Darrius Heyward-Bey, certainly, but don't just hone in on him and ignore other options. Alphonso Smith can cover only one receiver at a time (I think), so look for Dan Gronkowski, Danny Oquendo, Torrey Smith, etc.
The Terps pass defense needs to have the performance of the season. It has been shred up so far by quarterbacks of far less skill than Skinner. If he gets into a rhythm early, he will pick Maryland apart all day. The Navy game was an abberation. This guy will not throw four picks in a game again. He has an accurate and strong arm, which could signal major problems for the Terps secondary.
That said, Wake is far from unbeatable. Even if Swank returns next week, he likely won't be at full health. And if the Deacons make him attempt six or seven field goals because they cannot finish drives in the end zone, his sore right leg will wear down. It will be a challenge, no doubt, but Maryland already has proven it can win games it probably shouldn't (see: Cal, Clemson). The game likely will be decided based on which Maryland squad shows up. The one that looked impeccable for four-fifths of the game against Cal? Or the one that looked apathetic for the entire game against Virginia.
For those of you who saw the Wake game last night (and even for those of you who didn't), what were your impressions of the Deacons? And your early thoughts on Maryland's chances next week?
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