Terps try to change luck vs. Deacons

The Baltimore Sun

College Park -- After his program's unprecedented 11-win season that included the Atlantic Coast Conference championship, Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe was named the ACC Coach of the Year and given a 10-year contract extension, but that didn't stop outsiders from questioning the validity of his team's success in 2006.

Heading into this season, it was a question Grobe had heard before: Given the subpar performances throughout the league last year and the uncharacteristic flops of Florida State and Miami, is it at all possible Wake Forest got a bit lucky?

"Possibly," Grobe said. "There's a possibility that happened only because I think some of the schools in the league that have been traditional powers have struggled at their quarterback positions."

Maryland running back Lance Ball was just as forthcoming.

"It surprised a lot of people," Ball said. "I don't think they were really that great."

Oh yeah?

"We're the ACC champions," Wake Forest receiver Kenny Moore said. "I've got that ring on my finger from last year. He ain't got nothing."

And the Demon Deacons are a major reason why.

Wake Forest, the smallest school in the league, knocked Maryland out of contention for playing in the championship game with its 38-24 win in the regular-season finale last year. Ball and his teammates will get another shot to find out just how good Wake Forest is at 3:30 p.m. today in Winston-Salem, N.C.

"They're just really opportunistic," Maryland fullback Cory Jackson said. " ... It just didn't seem like they had the athletes, but they ran their offense really well; that's what kept them together."

It's the Terps' first conference game of the season, and perhaps the first real gauge of what Maryland might be capable of this season. After beating unheralded opponents Villanova and Florida International, the talent they faced skyrocketed, and the Terps fell to then-No. 4 West Virginia.

"It's a team more on our level," Jackson said. "You're not as intimidated by them, but at the same time, you know they're a formidable opponent."

Wake Forest is also playing for its first league win of the season, as the Demon Deacons lost, 38-28, to Boston College in the season opener. Not only does Maryland want to start off the ACC schedule with a win, but the Terps also are hoping for a little payback. They want revenge, "so bad, so bad," safety Christian Varner said.

"That still hurts really bad," he said. "That hurts almost as bad as the [2006] West Virginia game. It hurts. We were so close to going to the ACC championship, and I don't have a ring. I was like, I'm about to go to the ACC championship in my first bowl. Wow. And then we lost."

"That game was so important," he said. "Even though we lost to BC, we still had a chance, and we let it slip out of our hands. We have to have grown from that experience."

One advantage Wake Forest will have over Maryland is its experience at quarterback - that is, if Riley Skinner makes a seamless return both physically and mentally. Skinner is expected to start for the first time since he was injured in the season opener. He has missed the past two games with a separated shoulder. Against Maryland last year, Skinner completed 10 of 13 passes for 125 yards and a touchdown.

Another player who gave Maryland trouble last year was Moore, who was playing tailback at the time. He ran for 165 yards and a touchdown.

So far this season, Moore has scored on a 55-yard punt return, a 5-yard reception and a 5-yard run. He said he expects the Terps' best efforts on defense today.

"It's going to be tough," Moore said. "I'm pretty sure they're going to be gunning for me. When you have somebody that hurt you last year, you don't want them to repeat this year. I'm sure they'll have some different things to try to limit me."

Maryland coach Ralph Friedgen said he has watched film of Wake Forest's offense through all of last season. Friedgen had his own theory on how lucky the Demon Deacons were.

"I think you make your luck," he said. "I think Jim has been a good coach for a long time. I think he gets a lot out of his kids. I think they do a lot of good things, from a strategy thing. We play them, it's a tough game every year. We probably moved the ball on them better than Louisville or Georgia Tech, but they moved it on us better, too. I have a lot of respect for him."

Varner agreed.

"I feel like they had a lot of things that went their way happen last year, and more power to them," he said. "They fought for what they had last year. Much respect."


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