Not much ’D’ for Demon Deacons lately|Defense needs to step up for Wake

Published 5:45 pm Wednesday, September 22, 2010

By By JOEDY McCREARY, AP Sports Writer
WINSTON-SALEM — There’s no defending how poorly Wake Forest’s defense has played lately.
After giving up 48 points to Duke and 68 to Stanford, the Demon Deacons (2-1, 1-0) enter this week’s game at Florida State as the Atlantic Coast Conference’s worst team at defending the pass.
‘‘When you get 68 points scored on you, you’re thinking, ’Oh, no, I can’t have this happen to me again,’’’ safety Cyhl Quarles said Tuesday. ‘‘That means we’ve got to play harder.’’
And better.
They’re giving up 461 yards per game overall, and they rank 100th or worse nationally in four major statistical categories. Take away their rout of outmanned Presbyterian, and their two FBS opponents averaged 511 yards against them. They’re 11th in the ACC in both points and yards allowed, ahead of only Duke.
And things may have hit rock bottom — or so the Demon Deacons hope, anyway — in Palo Alto, Calif., where coach Jim Grobe said his defense ‘‘gave up a million points.’’
It wasn’t quite that many, but Stanford’s 68-24 romp did represent the most points allowed by Wake Forest since Florida State rolled up 72 in 1995.
‘‘You can blame it on jet lag, you can blame it on the time change,’’ Quarles said. ‘‘But in reality, we just didn’t play good.’’
So the Seminoles could hardly be blamed if they gleefully anticipated the prospect of going up against a Demon Deacons defense that has been carved up lately. Especially since ACC preseason player of the year Christian Ponder is off to a slow start, throwing for just 429 yards so far and ranking ninth in the league passing yardage.
But when he was asked about facing Wake Forest’s leaky defense, Ponder wouldn’t bite.
‘‘Not necessarily. ACC play is always different,’’ the Florida State quarterback said. ‘‘Everyone comes to play. It’s always played tough. We know they had a tough game this past Saturday and they’re going to come out motivated. They want to beat us. They always play us hard.’’
The big point totals and gaudy stats allowed by Wake Forest haven’t seemed to affect the defense’s confidence, at least not yet.
‘‘When we go to Tallahassee,’’ Quarles said, ‘‘our objective is not to get scored on.’’
That’s the attitude that carried the Demon Deacons a few years ago when they played in three straight bowls and their defense, which ranked among the ACC’s best, was stacked with future NFL talent.
Linebackers Aaron Curry and Stanley Arnoux and defensive back Alphonso Smith are all in the pros now, and nobody has stepped up to replace them.
Instead, the current struggles have led to a chicken-or-the-egg dilemma in Winston-Salem: Are Wake Forest’s bad defensive numbers a result of facing two top offenses? Or are those teams’ huge offensive numbers merely a result of facing a struggling Demon Deacons defense?
And youth and inexperience make up another part of the problem. Wake Forest has just three seniors on its defensive depth chart, and no defender has made more starts than Quarles’ 15.
That means, Grobe said, it may be time to simplify things and trim down the defensive playbook.
‘‘Coaches, we pride ourselves on being flexible and finding different ways to do things and being multiple on defense, multiple on offense, lots of sets, lots of plays, lots of coverages, lots of stunts,’’ Grobe said. ‘‘But what you find out is, if you ask your kids to do too many things, they get a little constipated (and) don’t move their feet very fast. At times the other night, it looked like we had lead boots on.’’
Associated Press Writer Brent Kallestad in Tallahassee, Fla., contributed to this report.