Season wrap-up: Wake Forest

This was not the kind of season Wake Forest fans had grown accustomed to under coach Jim Grobe. Heading into the 2009 season, Grobe had directed the Demon Deacons to three straight bowl games for the first time in school history, and had three straight finishes with at least eight wins for the first time.

Those streaks were snapped this year, as Wake Forest (5-7, 3-5 ACC) lost five of its final six games. It was a particularly painful season, as five of those losses were by three points or fewer. It wasn’t until the season finale at Duke that Wake Forest won a road game this year. The best win came Sept. 12 against Stanford.

Wake Forest had a chance to beat Florida State for the fourth year in a row, as the Noles came to town with rookie E.J. Manuel making his first career start in place of injured starter Christian Ponder, but the Deacs’ defense caved, quarterback Riley Skinner struggled and Wake lost, 41-28.

Much of this year’s struggles had to do with the rebuilding effort on defense, where coordinator Brad Lambert had to replace seven starters. The most noticeable difference was in the turnover category, where the Deacs led the nation with 37 takeaways in 2008. This year they had 15. They also dropped from the No. 1 punt return unit in the nation to No. 56. Skinner had another record-setting season, but he was inconsistent at times and finished with 12 interceptions, compared to seven last year.

Still, this senior class finished as the winningest class in school history with a record of 33-19.

Offensive MVP: QB Riley Skinner – He threw for a school-record 3,160 yards and 26 touchdowns. With two rushing touchdowns, Skinner accounted for 28 of Wake Forest’s 39 offensive touchdowns this season. He finished his career second in ACC career completions (903) and completion percentage (.669), and fourth in ACC history in passing yards (9,762) and fourth in total offense (9,923).

Defensive MVP: DT John Russell – He was Wake Forest’s most consistent defensive player all season. Russell led all defensive linemen with 46 tackles (fifth on the team overall). He led the team with 4.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss.

Turning point: On Sept. 26, Wake trailed BC 24-10 midway through the fourth quarter before Skinner rallied the Deacs to tie the game with 11 seconds to play. After holding BC to a field goal in overtime, Wake had the ball first-and-goal at the BC 4. The Deacs missed the handoff and Skinner had the ball knocked out of his hands and a sure win became a heartbreaking loss. It was the second of what would be five losses by three points or fewer during the season.

What’s next: The coaching staff needs to work hard to recruit more talent like the defenders who departed to the NFL in 2008, and maintain the commitments from the players who said they’d play for Grobe before they knew it would be a bowl-less season. A quarterback will also have to be developed to replace Skinner.