WINSTON-SALEM – Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe valued the season-opening victory over Presbyterian last Thursday more for what it exposed about his football team than the blowout score it produced.
The Deacons ran off with a 53-13 win, yet at times were sloppy with assignments, whether it was the defense overloading on one side or the offensive line reacting slowly in protection. Jitters and first-game errors are expected, but the Deacons are looking for better execution as they host Duke on Saturday in what will be the first ACC game of the season for both teams.
“We played terrible,” Wake defensive end Kyle Wilbur said of the defense’s season-opening performance.
Grobe wasn’t as blunt.
“Okay,” he said. “I hesitate to say we didn’t play as well as I wanted to because we had a good solid win. ... We’re some where in the neighborhood of 22 freshman and sophomores in the two-deep [roster] and we played that way. We made some mental mistakes.”
Mistakes against the Blue Devils may result in a different outcome, especially considering the close-game history between these two league rivals. Wake holds a 10-game winning streak over the Devils, defeating them in five straight at home.
Four of those five games have been decided by two, two, one and three points. The Deacons captured a 45-34 victory over the Devils last season, snapping a five-game losing streak to end their season.
Grobe, in his 10th season at Wake, said the history between these two teams adds higher stakes to the game – one many see as a must-win for the Deacs to have a clear chance at earning a bowl game bid.
Grobe said a few more non-conference games would make a young team more comfortable taking the field against the Devils.
“We always have good games with Duke,” he said. “We’ve been honestly lucky to win some of the games we’ve had since I’ve been here. We’ve always had a battle with those guys and wouldn’t expect it to be any different this Saturday.”
Fully committed to an option system, the Deacs now feature a different running scheme from the past four seasons, where quarterback Riley Skinner operated a Pro-style set and shredded defenses through the air.
Now it’s up to the running back combination of senior Josh Adams, redshirt junior Brandon Pendergrass and redshirt freshman Josh Harris. They combined for 155 yards, while the Deacs rushed 50 times for a total of 415 yards.
“We did okay,” Adams said. “Everybody has to play faster. The offensive line can play faster, recognize their guys. Me, [Pendergrass] and Josh Harris can make some faster reads and we can break more runs. I’m excited.”
Redshirt quarterback Ted Stachiatas rushed 10 times for 76 yards. He completed 7 of 13 for 84 yards.
Grobe selected Stachiatas after a four-way training camp competition. He holds the position in front of freshman Tanner Price and Brendan Cross and Skylar Jones.
“He was in command,” Wake offensive lineman Joe Looney said. “He was calm, collected. He showed that he can be the man.”
Grobe lauded several individual performances, but said the Deacs must find more cohesion on Saturday, particularly on defense where there were missed assignments and missed opportunities to apply pressure.
He said coaches will monitor whether they are asking too much of some inexperienced players.
“We know we have potential to be a good football team,” Grobe said. “As players we have to realize that going out and playing hard just doesn’t get it done. You got to make plays, you have to be where you’re suppose to be, in the right gaps, play the right coverage, run the right routes. ... We have to take care of Wake Forest.”