No more 'wiggle room' for Deacs

Posted by ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich

Heading into this season, Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe sensed he would have a competitive football team, despite the mass exodus of some of the most talented defensive players the program has ever seen.

He was right.

This year’s team has fought until the last snap of the fourth quarter, and that’s exactly what most of the Deacs’ games have come down to this year.

So far, though, that effort hasn’t translated into enough wins. Wake Forest enters Saturday’s game at Georgia Tech having lost three straight and looking for its first road win of the season. Meanwhile, Georgia Tech has won six straight, including all four at home this year. The Deacs have just three more chances to find two more wins to get to a bowl game, and with the Yellow Jackets, Florida State and Duke still remaining on the schedule, there is no more margin for error.

“The one thing we do know is our backs are against the wall,” Grobe said. “We have to win. We’re in a must-win situation to have good things happen to us at the end of the season, so I think our players are fully aware of where we stand right now. I never like to be in those positions. I never like to talk to 19- and 20-year-old kids about must-wins, but we’re at a point right now in these last three games we just don’t have any wiggle room left. Regardless of what’s possible over the next three games, the bottom line for us is we better find a way to win and do it in a hurry.”

Heading into Saturday’s game at No. 10 Georgia Tech, Wake’s chances of winning for the first time in four weeks would increase significantly if the Deacs could depend upon starting quarterback Riley Skinner being healthy and back in the lineup. Skinner, who suffered a mild concussion in last week’s loss to Miami, practiced sparingly on Tuesday but didn’t wear pads and is still listed as day to day. Skinner is expected to get a little more work at practice Wednesday.

“I think it certainly hurts us if he can’t go because he’s got so much experience,” said Grobe. “I like Ryan McManus as his backup. I think Ryan does some really good things for us, but he just doesn’t have the game experience.”

Still, Grobe said the offensive scheme won’t change too much with McManus in the game, but there would obviously be a few throws that McManus wouldn’t be as comfortable with. McManus replaced Skinner in the fourth quarter last week after Skinner suffered a mild concussion, and he completed 5 of 9 passes for 42 yards during the most extensive playing time of his career.

Prior to Saturday, McManus was 1 for 5 passing for 5 yards in his career, all coming in 2009. His only action at quarterback prior to the 2009 season came late in Wake Forest’s 2008 season opening-win at Baylor.

“Obviously, there are going to be some nerves,” said McManus, a fifth-year senior. “I haven't started a game since high school, but I think I'm familiar with that situation of just being the starting quarterback. I'd have to get used to playing four full quarters, making those decisions and those reads but it would be exciting. It'd be a lot of fun."

For Grobe, it would be a lot more fun if they were winning.

“I think our guys, with some of the tough losses we’ve had, the danger is that even when you’re playing really good, you’re kind of expecting something to go wrong,” Grobe said. “Although we’ve got some guys who have been a part of some pretty good football teams here, you still have a concern that, especially when you’ve lost so many games late like we have, that you start to wonder a little bit if you’re capable of winning. My guess would be our guys are not all caught up in that, but at the same time, we’ve had about six games go right to the wire and we’ve only won a couple of them.

“We’re not in a very good mind frame right now, as far as losing those close games, but I’m proud of our kids. … We’re playing really hard, we just don’t have a lot to show for it.”