Last year was a throwaway season for the Demon Deacons, and the fact that it could be considered a disappointment is a credit to what Jim Grobe has done in Winston-Salem. Actually, those Deacs looked quite a bit like the bowl teams before them, but they didn't have the close game magic it sometimes feels Grobe has made into a tangible skill at Wake Forest; they lost five games by a field goal or less.
It was probably the best offense Grobe has put together at Wake, better than the previous year's by over a yard per snap. That didn't translate into a significant increase in scoring, though (just +5 PPG), and the defense devolved into a true weakness for the first time in several years. Likely the biggest reason for the Deacs' lack of success in tight games was a turnover rate and turnover margin that collapsed along with the defense. It was a defense that forced 30+ turnovers every year from 2006 through 2008, and the big positive margins that came with such impressive and consistent disruption, that made those close wins--those bowl games and that ACC title--possible.
They forced 15 turnovers in 2009, 22 fewer than in 2008, and the story remains the same in 2010: just 12 takeaways thorugh nine games. But there's no explaining away this team's sub-.500 record. They're bad. The defense really started cracking at the end of last season, giving up nearly seven yards per snap and lots of points to Florida State and Duke. That ineffectiveness has carried over and well into 2010, as they've rarely provided much resistance to anyone.
On the road they've been particularly awful, losing by an average score of 53-15. They hit rock bottom in College Park, where they allowed a Maryland offense that remains the sort of mildly-effective offense we've come to expect out of the Fridge to score 62 points.
Without an experienced quarterback to maintain the gains made by the offense last season, things have come apart completely. But I won't blame you if you're wary about Saturday's game. It's hard to ignore recent history no matter how little it may mean, and the Deacs have been a tough or impossible out for us for the better part of a decade.
I'll believe this too-terrible-even-to-be-a-nuisance business when I see it.