ACC: Art Briles

Baylor proves it's a better team than it was a year ago

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
8:52
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich
AP Photo
Baylor QB Robert Griffin takes a snap during the first half of a 24-14 win over Wake Forest Saturday.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – A young fan wearing a Wake Forest T-shirt walked up to a player after the Demon Deacons’ 24-21 loss to Baylor on Saturday and asked for an autograph – Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin’s autograph.

As the Demon Deacons spent their postgame press conference trying to explain their four turnovers, Griffin and his teammates posed for photos and signed programs for fans as if they were on their home field. It was an entirely difference scenario from a year ago, when Wake Forest beat Baylor 41-13 in Waco, and that’s because those within Baylor’s program say this is a different, more confident and experienced team in the second season under coach Art Briles.

The Bears flew across the country and earned a win against a respectable Wake Forest team, and it reinforced what they already knew about themselves – they’re pretty darn good.

“This isn’t even our potential, I don’t think,” said defensive end Jason Lamb. “We still had a lot of mistakes, a lot of penalties. I know we’re a lot better than this. Getting a win against a pretty good ACC team, I mean, it’s not really a surprise to any of us. It’s kind of what we were expecting to do. We’ve just got to carry that out the rest of the year. It’s a different Baylor.”

Much of that has to do with the maturation of Griffin, who is only a sophomore, but he’s hardly their only answer. The defense also did a good job of flushing Riley Skinner out of the pocket and forcing him into three interceptions. Jay Finley rushed for 91 yards on 14 carries, and receiver David Gettis had five catches for 65 yards and a touchdown.

“I came in this year trying to get the guys around me more involved, letting everybody see them shine instead of me shine,” said Griffin, who finished with 136 passing yards, 41 rushing yards, and one passing touchdown. “If I have to do some things out there, then I’ll do them, but for the most part, I’m just looking to let other guys make plays and allow myself to feel the flow of the game. The pressure’s not on me.”

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Greetings from Wake Forest

September, 5, 2009
9/05/09
1:29
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich


WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Hello from Wake Forest, the smallest school in the BCS, where an eight-win season has suddenly become a disappointment.

It’s still a pretty quiet scene here, and game day traffic on Cherry Street consisted of the stoplights, but it’s still a cozy atmosphere and will eventually pick up considering a) it’s a beautiful, warm, sunny day for a football game, b) it’s a legitimate opener for both programs, and c) it should be a much closer game than last year’s 41-13 Wake win at Waco. Baylor returns 19 starters, the school’s most since 1969, and the Bears should be much better in Year 2 under Art Briles.

The jersey of choice here is obviously No. 11, Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner, but the spotlight is on Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III, a.k.a. RG3. The Wake defense also needs be leery of No. 32, tailback Jay Finley. He led Baylor with 865 yards (72.1 per game) last year.

The biggest question, though, is obviously how Wake’s defense will look against them without its superstars.

Week 1 predictions

September, 3, 2009
9/03/09
10:00
AM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich

Ah, it’s make or break time for the ACC blogger. You guys asked me all summer who was going to win this game and that, and I usually hedged my way around it one way or another. Well, not today. Thursdays are our prediction days on ESPN.com, so it’s time to own up. Last year I fared pretty well, and then got crushed during bowl season. (I wound up giving the conference too much credit.)

Here’s to starting 2009 better than we finished ’08 – that goes for me AND the ACC.

NC State 21, South Carolina 17: Both teams are going to run the ball, but the Wolfpack have the edge at quarterback, and that will be the difference in the game. Russell Wilson picks up in the midst of a school-record streak of 249 passes without an interception. NC State trailed 3-0 at halftime last year before Wilson suffered a concussion. They’re 10-3-1 against the Gamecocks at home.

Georgia Tech 42, Jacksonville State 7: Jacksonville State returns 19 starters from last year’s 8-3 team and is ranked No. 19 among FCS schools. This should be a good warm-up before facing Clemson five days later, but if the Jackets get caught looking ahead, it could turn into a Gardner-Webb scare. Doubtful, though, without suspended quarterback Ryan Perrilloux.

Boston College 28, Northeastern 7: Northeastern finished 2-10 last year, and, like BC, is breaking in a new quarterback. Still, the Eagles have enough pieces in place on the offensive line, at running back, wide receiver and in the secondary to keep this a textbook opener. Plus, with Frank Spaziani coaching, you know you’ll get the most out of the defense, even if some of it is in a rebuilding mode.

Wake Forest 24, Baylor 21: Yes, the Bears will be a better team than they were a year ago now that versatile quarterback Robert Griffin is more seasoned and in the second year under coach Art Briles. But Jim Grobe and his staff will have his players prepared. Wake’s offense could be one of the best in the ACC, and if the defensive players stick to their roles, a group effort will get the job done.

Clemson 31, Middle Tennessee 17: The Blue Raiders have nine coaches or staff members with some connection to Clemson, so that should keep the sideline game interesting. But the Tigers have the athletes, and that will be the difference. Unless, of course, Clemson pulls a Maryland.

North Carolina 38, The Citadel 7: UNC has outscored the Bulldogs 109-21 in three series games, and this year shouldn’t be too much different, considering the Heels’ stifling defense. The Citadel’s roster includes tight end B.J. Phillips, who transferred from UNC after last season.

Virginia 28, William & Mary 17: The Tribe, ranked 14th nationally in both preseason FCS polls, returns 17 starters from last season’s 7-4 team. Virginia has enough experience at quarterback and on the offensive line to offset the growing pains of the new offense in this game.

Duke 24, Richmond 17: Mike London’s 2008 FCS national championship team is not to be taken lightly, and this could be a trap game for the Blue Devils. In 2006, when they last met, Richmond won 13-0. This is obviously a different Duke team under David Cutcliffe, but Richmond won’t back down.

Alabama 13, Virginia Tech 10: Considering Alabama is breaking in a new quarterback and a revamped offensive line, and the Hokies are breaking in new running backs, both teams should rely heavily on their nationally-acclaimed defenses. As good as a coach Frank Beamer is, I’m giving Nick Saban the nod on this one.

Cal 35, Maryland 27: Ok, so I had a little fun with this one and flipped he score from last year, but it’s not far-fetched. With veteran quarterback Chris Turner returning to his home state, he should perform well, but the Bears have a tough defense and will be more than Maryland's new offensive line can handle.

Miami 35, Florida State 28: The Canes have a greater sense of urgency and understand the importance of starting off their mini four-game season with a win. Both defenses have questions to answer, but the combination of Jacory Harris and offensive coordinator Mark Whipple will expose FSU’s defensive holes first.

Baylor QB to challenge all facets of Wake's D

September, 1, 2009
9/01/09
2:45
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich


The Wake Forest defense has done its homework. In addition to their routine study of game film, some of the Deacs looked up Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin on the internet.
James Lang-US PRESSWIRE
The Wake Forest defense knows it will have its hands full with Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin.

They know he goes by RG3. They read he might be the fastest quarterback in FBS history. (He’s also a world-class hurdler.) And they know the dual-threat quarterback will present a legitimate early challenge to a group that graduated seven starters on defense, including some of the most talented players to ever come through the program.

Wake Forest traveled to Baylor last year for the season opener and won, 41-13. Griffin came off the bench and made his collegiate debut in the second quarter, and remained the starter for the rest of the season. As an 18-year-old true freshman, Griffin was the youngest starting quarterback in the country, and he quickly matured into one of the best. With Griffin now more seasoned, and the entire team entering its second season under coach Art Briles, nobody in Winston-Salem is expecting an easy opener, especially considering the question marks that loom on defense.

Wake Forest is confident in its defensive line, but this year’s Baylor team will keep every unit on the Deacs’ defense honest, including a completely rebuilt linebacking corps, and a secondary that had to replace three starters.

“They present a lot of problems because they’re so athletic,” said Wake Forest defensive coordinator Brad Lambert. “It all starts at quarterback. … We played them last year, so that helps us, obviously, but we caught Robert at a good time. Last year was his first college game. He’s got 12 games under his belt now, so he’s going to be a different player coming in here than he was last year when he came in the game. We’ve had to focus on that a lot. I don’t know that you can ever stop him. You try and slow him down a little bit, keep him under control and avoid those big plays. That’s going to be the challenge for us.”

Griffin accounted for two-thirds of his team’s touchdowns last year (a school-record 28 of 46). He scored 13 rushing and 15 passing with just three interceptions. He set an FBS record 209 passes without an interception to start his career, and didn’t throw a pick until the ninth game of the season. Add on his 843 rushing yards, and it doesn’t seem like there’s much Griffin can’t do.

“He can definitely challenge all aspects of our defense,” defensive end Kyle Wilbur said. “He can throw the ball, as everyone can see. I just read something talking about him being the fastest quarterback to ever play college football, so it’s going to be a big challenge for us.

“I don’t think you can just contain one person. They’re starting to call Robert Griffin RG3 now. If we just surround him, then the wide receivers will have a breakout day on us, or the running backs will have a breakout day. I think we have to come with a balance and shut down everything.”

Linebacker Jonathan Jones, who has the daunting task of taking over for Butkus Award winner Aaron Curry, agreed.

“This is definitely, definitely an early test,” said Jones. “In one sense it’s a blessing we get to play them in the first game so we’ve had a little longer to prepare for them. They do a lot of things, throw a lot of things at you, and with Robert Griffin being the dual threat that he is, you have to have everybody have all eyes on him. Everybody has to be focused and in tune. This is not a game that’s going to be won by the front, or won by the defensive backs. We need a collective team effort on defense to try to contain this offense.”

And without the star-studded defensive cast of last year, it will likely take a collective team effort all season.

Skinner makes history as Demon Deacons roll

August, 29, 2008
8/29/08
8:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Griffin

 
 AP Photo/ Donna McWilliam
 Riley Skinner throws a TD pass during the first half of Thursday night's game against Baylor.

WACO, Texas -- Riley Skinner could joke a little about his relative place in Wake Forest's football history.

So when somebody told him that he became the Demon Deacons' winningest quarterback after his 41-13 victory over Baylor, the junior chuckled at his place in a school without much of a previous winning history

"It's not too impressive of a record, I guess," said Skinner, who rifled a career-best three touchdown passes to lead the victory. "It feels nice. I just hope I can add onto it a little."

Much like their undersized quarterback, the Demon Deacons persevered for a workmanlike victory.

And they made history doing it, winning their first game as a ranked team to start the season.

"I thought our coaches prepared our team well, but I was still nervous," Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. "We've always played well as an underdog. But I was really concerned with the top 25 ranking coming in here."

The Demon Deacons played like they're familiar with such rankings. They jumped to a quick 17-0 lead and cruised to the easy victory as they spoiled Baylor coach Art Briles debut with the Bears.

And they proved something to themselves by doing it.

"Being ranked is nice, but it puts a target on your back," Skinner said. "People expect you to win this game. We knew it would be a tough battle. We played well, but they're still some things left we'll have to work on."

Interestingly, Grobe was an unsuccessful candidate for the Baylor job when Guy Morriss was hired in 2002. When he took over the Wake Forest job a year earlier, the Demon Deacon program could have been considered the Baylor equivalent in the Atlantic Coast Conference after compiling seven losing records during an eight-season span.

But he steadily built the program into the ACC champion two years ago, the school's first title in 36 years. He followed that team with one that overcame an 0-2 start last season to qualify for the Meineke Car Care Bowl. The Demon Deacons had back-to-back bowl teams for the first time in Wake Forest history.

And with a veteran lineup of 17 starters, the Demon Deacons needed to prove their ranking to a national television audience.

Skinner especially did that, completing 17 of his first 19 attempts. His only missed connections during that stretch came on a throwaway pass and a drop. And his performance showed the form that is leading many to call him the ACC's best returning quarterback this season.

"People were getting open and they were making it easy on me making their catches," Skinner said. "We need to be efficient to score a lot of points like this. Basically, we took what they were giving us. I was really happy how everybody played."

Grobe sounded more relieved than happy as he related how his team had little to go by as they prepared for new Baylor coach Art Briles before the game.

"Every coach's nightmare is opening on the road, especially against a good team in a major conference," Grobe said. "We knew that coach Briles does a great job wherever he is and knew he had some great players.

"But we had little knowledge about their X's and O's on offense and defense. We had to do a lot of adjusting as the game went on. It was a good win for us and a great challenge."

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