College Football: Wake plays host to Baylor
WINSTON-SALEM ó So much for Wake Forest breaking in its inexperienced defense with a breather.
Instead, the Demon Deacons will spend Saturday’s opener against Baylor trying to contain one of the speediest players in the nation ó quarterback Robert Griffin III.
That’s a daunting challenge for a defense that must replace seven starters, most notably NFL draft picks Aaron Curry and Alphonso Smith.
“The expectations are that this a young defense and that we’ll probably start slow and come up at the end of the year, but I think we are challenging this group to start fast,” coach Jim Grobe said.
And play faster ó even if Griffin’s exceptional speed won’t necessarily catch the Demon Deacons by surprise. He made his debut against them last season, rushing for his first career touchdown and throwing for 125 yards in an otherwise nondescript 41-13 loss to Wake Forest.
That put him on his way to a spectacular freshman season in which he threw for 2,091 yards with an NCAA-record 209 consecutive passes before an interception, and ran for 843 yards and 13 more TDs. And his emergence is a big reason the Bears are thinking about their first bowl game in 15 years.
“I think a lot of people’s expectations are lower than ours, so it’s not that tough looking at the expectations,” Griffin said. “But every time you turn around, there’s another article out, and you just have to take that and be humble about it. It’s only because of what your team has done that you have accomplished those things. I couldn’t have those stats or receive those accolades without the other 10 guys on the field.”
This intersectional matchup of private schools from Bowl Championship Series conferences provides an interesting juxtaposition in quarterbacks.
Griffin has shown a remarkable ability to elude defenders, while Wake Forest veteran Riley Skinner has been the model of efficiency during three seasons as the starter. The winningest quarterback in program history, Skinner set an NCAA record in his last game by completing all 11 of his passes in a 29-19 victory over Navy in the EagleBank Bowl.
He and the offense may have to carry the load while the Demon Deacons’ defense gets settled, though senior Brandon Ghee ó the only returning starter in the back seven ó remembered the team facing similar questions during his freshman season. Wake Forest answered them ó and then some ó by winning an unlikely Atlantic Coast Conference title and reaching the Orange Bowl.
“You never know who’s going to step up,” Ghee said. “I think we’ll have players step up, and everybody’s going to be surprised by Wake Forest’s defense.”
Wake Forest has evolved into one of the most consistent programs in the ACC ó its 28-12 record since 2006 is the best three-year string in school history ó and that success is something Baylor wants to duplicate.
“We want to be a respectable, credible football team,” Bears coach Art Briles said. “I think we’ve got the credible part down, but it’s awfully hard to be a respected team. We started pretty good and played well throughout but the point we have to get to is being happy at the end. To be respected, you have to win and we’ve got to do that.”