College Football Preview: Wake Forest vs. Gardner-Webb
Published 12:00 am Friday, September 16, 2011
WINSTON-SALEM ó Wake Forest looked solid in two games as an underdog. Now it’s time to find out how the Demon Deacons will perform against a team they should beat.
Coach Jim Grobe’s team isn’t worried about overconfidence Saturday night when it takes on Gardner-Webb of the Championship Subdivision.
“We are going to take them just as we would any of the other teams on our schedule,” Wake Forest running back Josh Harris said. “We can’t really look past any team. We’ve seen before the small schools beat the bigger schools, and we aren’t going to be that school.”
It’s happened a few times over the years to the Demon Deacons (1-1), who are 25-5 against FCS schools with all five losses coming to powerhouse Appalachian State. But they haven’t lost at home to a current Big South Conference team since 1930 and are taking on a Runnin’ Bulldogs team that is 0-2 against the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us,” right guard Michael Hoag said. “No team you play is a cake walk at all, so we’ll be ready for them.”
Wake Forest also wants to keep its surprisingly productive offense clicking.
Not many people expected much from the Demon Deacons during the preseason, but their passing game produced consecutive 300-yard outings and has them on the verge of being over .500 for the first time in a year.
Wake Forest opened with an overtime loss at Syracuse ó the Demon Deacons held a 15-point lead in the fourth quarter before quarterback Tanner Price was injured ó and followed that by holding on to beat North Carolina State 34-27 last week in their ACC opener.
“We’ve got to get our eyes off the scoreboard and quit feeling comfortable with the lead,” coach Jim Grobe said. “We’ve got to keep trying to keep our kids realizing that at this level, with the talent of teams we’re playing against, there is no comfortable lead.”
The Demon Deacons might face a test from a Gardner-Webb defense that ranks fourth in the FCS against the pass, allowing just 88 yards per game. Ohio completed 16 of 29 passes for 158 yards in a 30-3 victory last week against the Runnin’ Bulldogs (1-1).
“We’re still in the process of trying to find our new identity,” first-year coach Ron Dickerson Jr. said. “We want to continue to find who we are as a team. I think we’re getting closer to that.”
One of the keys to the Demon Deacons’ success this season has been their improvement on third down. They ranked 11th in the ACC last year, converting just 34 percent of the time, but are in the middle of the pack this year at a more respectable 42.9 percent.
“That was a big problem last year,” Harris said. “We’d go in there, three plays and out, and that put a lot of pressure on our defense. Now we are able to convert on third down and gives us more of a chance to put points on the board.”