WINSTON-SALEM — Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe watched the opening half of his team’s first football scrimmage of the preseason on Saturday from the 20-yard line behind the defense.
He was in perfect position to observe that unit, one returning nine starters, swarm the offense and force two turnovers in the first 15 plays.
By the end of the night, the defense had collected six sacks on four different quarterbacks, including three on junior starter Riley Skinner.
Grobe said the video of Saturday’s two-quarter scrimmage, played before 500 at BB&T Field will share the entire story after coaches evaluate players individually. Still, he said the defense, as expected, appeared ahead of the offense.
“We’ll have to see if we played technique really, really well,” Grobe said. “I think we flew around and had a lot of energy and enthusiasm.”
Defensive end Matt Robinson led all defenders with five tackles and a sack. Safety Junior Petit-Jean made four tackles, as well as senior Aaron Curry, junior Michael Potteiger and redshirt freshman Gelo Orange.
Grobe said the offense never found a rhythm, though it moved the ball for 435 yards and 31 points.
There were dropped balls. Balls batted down at the line of scrimmage. And two fumbles.
Josh Adams, the 6-foot, 182-pound tailback from Cary High, carried nine times for 55 yards, his longest run for 18 yards.
Junior running back Kevin Harris rushed twice for 31 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown run up the middle.
Skinner, who completed 11 of 15 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns and an interception, found senior D.J. Boldin going across the middle on a 40-yard touchdown play that certainly caught the attention of coaches and fans.
With receivers Jordan Williams and Chip Brinkman injured and standing on the sidelines, it was an opportunity for other receivers to make a case as to why they should be called upon to fill the void left by graduate Kenneth Moore.
Boldin responded with six catches for 99 yards. Tight end Ben Wooster had three catches for 36 yards and a TD. Redshirt freshman Devon Brown made 4 catches for 20 yards.
Former Durham Riverside receiver Marshall Williams, a 6-foot-1, 193-pound sophomore, pulled in a catch for 15 yards on a hitch route from Skinner. He showed no signs of the high sprain that required surgery and sidelined him for the entire season in 2006.
"I definitely see the opportunity,” Williams said. “The major thing is that this year I had to come back and prove I can be a guy we can go to. Big plays. Jump balls. Running after the catch.
“So far, I have shown the coaches I can do that.”
Still, Grobe said the offense was not ready for its season-opener at Baylor on Aug. 28. With the start of two-a-day practices this week, he will continue to monitor an offensive line that lost three starters.
He said he was not satisfied with how often the quarterbacks were pressured on Saturday. He said there was a lot of pushing a shoving, not crisp movements.
“If you don’t feel that you played well as a unit, typically you’re not dominating people up front,” Grobe said. “That doesn’t mean they played terrible.”
Left tackle Joe Birdsong, a junior with game experience, said the unit improved near the end of the scrimmage.
“We came out a little shaky the first couple of series,” he said. “We were kind of looking at each other like, ‘We’re better than this.’ ... We knew what we were doing, we weren’t confused by anything. We just weren’t getting it done.”
NOTE: Senior kicker Sam Swank, who is the nation's active career leader with 60 made field goals, nailed two field goals from 52 yards to end Saturday's scrimmage. He booted another during the scrimmage from 27 yards.