ACC: Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
Wake Forest can finally exhale.
|AP Photo/Nick Wass|
|Riley Skinner more than made up for his earlier performance against Navy, completing all 11 of his passes for 166 yards and one touchdown.|
The Demon Deacons strung together a little over two quarters of arguably their best offense this season, and another impressive performance from their top 20 defense led to redemption in a 29-19 win over Navy in the inaugural EagleBank Bowl.
The difference the second time around was glaring -- the offense moved the ball.
Quarterback Riley Skinner, who had accounted for five of his team's six turnovers in Wake's September loss to Navy, completed all 11 of his passes for 166 yards and one touchdown.
Wake Forest was finally able to run, which in turn helped Skinner pass effectively. Skinner's mobility took some pressure off of his offensive line, and offensive coordinator Steed Lobotzke was able to accomplish his goal of giving Navy a dose of its own medicine. The Demon Deacons were able to control the clock on offense and contain fullback Eric Kettani on defense. There were only a few occasions they fell asleep on quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, and allowed only a few big plays.
Wake Forest's offense, which had struggled all season, peaked at the right time and now has a springboard heading into next season. The Demon Deacons racked up a season-high 405 yards of total offense and a season-high 239 rushing yards.
Believe it or not, Wake Forest outrushed the No. 1 rushing offense in the nation.
Wake scored three touchdowns on the ground to Navy's one, and Kevin Harris led both teams with 136 yards on 24 carries. That's an amazing feat, considering Wake Forest was held to under 100 yards rushing in half of their regular season games, including the 24-17 loss to Navy on Sept. 27.
It was a gritty comeback effort for a team that trailed 13-0 in the first quarter, when the defense still looked asleep for the 11 a.m. kickoff.
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe is not one to reveal his emotions on the sideline, but as he pursed his lips together tightly in the first half, his team's miscues were clearly wearing on him. Lobotzke got creative in the first quarter and gave standout cornerback Alphonso Smith a tryout on offense. Smith made a nice run, but it was negated by a fumble that was returned 50 yards for a touchdown, and Wake Forest trailed 10-0 early.
That was exactly what the Demon Deacons were afraid of when they accepted the invitation into the bowl for a rematch against Navy. There wasn't any lack of drama in the first bowl game of 2008, but not only did Wake Forest save face in this game, the Demon Deacons looked good in the process.
Despite the many veterans who will be lost on defense, Wake Forest has also used plenty of young players this season who can build on this win.
Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
During his 11 years as a defensive assistant at the Air Force Academy, Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe became a seasoned veteran in defending the triple option.
|Mitch Stringer/Icon SMI|
|Eric Kettani has gained an average of 5.3 yards per carry this season.|
That's because for 11 years, he practiced against it every day.
His Demon Deacons haven't had that luxury.
Wake Forest will face this old-school offense for only the second time this season at 11 a.m. on Saturday against Navy in the inaugural EagleBank Bowl.
The first time didn't go so well. Wake Forest turned the ball over six times and lost 24-17 on Sept. 27. Navy fullback Eric Kettani rushed for a career-high 175 yards.
"When you get to see it once a year or twice a year, it's almost like stealing," Grobe said. "You've got two or three days and no matter what the coaches know, can you get the kids to understand that stuff in a matter of two or three days, and the answer is no. There's no way to do it. It's almost like you're in a boxing match but one guy is wearing boxing gloves and the other guy isn't. It's just a really tough thing to prepare for. Our issue getting ready for Navy is speed of the game.
"Because we've faced it a couple of times, we've gotten to the point now where our players understand what we would like for them to do, and it looks pretty good against the scout team, but once the bowl is kicked off Saturday morning at 11 o'clock, the speed of the game is what makes it so hard."
Navy will run the triple option twice as fast as Wake Forest's scout team has run it. The Midshipmen racked up 292 yards in the first meeting, and are first in the nation in rushing offense at 298 yards per game.
"You just hope as the game goes on, you can catch up and get a little better," Grobe said. "But what they do as the game goes on, they do a little better job reading you. Now the quarterback sees what you're doing and he gets better."
It's hardly as if Navy will be facing an inviting defense. The Demon Deacons are 17th in the nation in scoring defense, 21st in rushing defense, and 19th in total defense. But this offense has a tendency to neutralize even standout defensive players like Alphonso Smith and Aaron Curry. Wake's strength this season, though, has been its veteran defense.
"We've got old guys and now we're playing them for the third time in a year and a half," said Wake Forest defensive coordinator Brad Lambert. "That helps, no question. The more you see it, the better you get at it. That's why it's important for us to come out early and execute on defense. Hopefully seeing them the second time, that will help us."
This game will be different in that Navy quarterback Kaipo-Noa Kaheaku-Enhada, who suffered a preseason hamstring injury and reaggravated it in the first half of the game against Wake Forest, is finally healthy. He has only played in five of the Mids' 12 games this season, and in only two full games, but Lambert said the offense is significantly better with Kaheaku-Enhada in the game.
"It's not even close," Lambert said. "He just executes their offense so well. ... They just don't miss many reads and they execute well. That's a huge problem for us. ... Now he's full speed and they're better than they were. That should make it a really good game. Hopefully our guys are better at executing than we were the last time."
What Navy coach Ken Niumatalolo and Georgia Tech coach Paul Johnson do so well is execute the play-action passes. They catch teams overcrowding the run so they're able to come off play fakes, throw the ball deep and hit home runs.
"It's a nightmare," Grobe said. "There's not a coach in the country that plays against Georgia Tech or Navy that feels comfortable because you don't get a chance to work on it until you play it."
Wake Forest happens to have the fortune -- or misfortune -- of playing it twice.
12:30 PM ET Virginia Tech North Carolina 3:30 PM ET North Carolina State Clemson 3:30 PM ET Wake Forest 1 Florida State 7:30 PM ET Miami (FL) Georgia Tech 7:30 PM ET Pittsburgh Virginia