Q: How many Wake Forest football players does it take to screw in a light bulb? A: Sigh. One. They're not a joke, and haven't been for years now.
Head coach Jim Grobe has become the guy losers turn to for respectability, having turned hapless Ohio U. into a .500 team. In his fifth year at once-hapless Wake, Grobe is one conference win away from 14 ACC victories, the most ever by a Wake Forest coach.
Wake's next win will give Grobe 27 at the Winston-Salem golf academy, putting him third on the school's all-time list behind Bill Dooley (29) and Peahead Walker (who won 77 over 14 years, but quit three years before the ACC was founded in 1953).
Wake (4-5, 3-3 ACC) began this year like the Wake of old, losing to Vandy and getting pounded by a bad Nebraska team. But since then, they're 4-3, and own a two-game win streak.
They could be realistically thinking bowl game, were it not for a loss to Boston College. That was brought about through a series of last-minute miracles that appeared to prove something about a divine preference for Jesuit colleges over Baptist ones.
Q: Well, OK. But why did the Wake Forest student cross the road? A: Yeah, yeah, because his Jag was parked on the other side. Ha, ha, very funny. It's an expensive private school with about 6,400 students. Hee-larious
Grobe's team is far from the effete elite. The Demon Deacons use a big, talented line to beat up opposing defenses and run the ball, and when they get tired of that, they run it some more. The Deacs have the nation's 18th-best rushing offense, which will have little fear of Tech's 19th-best rushing defense.
The Jackets (5-2, 3-2) have more playmakers and fewer shoulda-woulda-coulda games. They're favored to win Saturday, and should be. But they'll have to prove their toughness against Wake.
Q: OK, THAT's a joke, right? A: Nope.
Where they're coming from: After a close home loss to Vandy, a four-touchdown loss at Nebraska, a close win over East Carolina and a 10-point homecoming loss to Maryland, the Deacs were 1-3. But Wake righted the ship. A win over Clemson helped, followed by three quarters of good effort against Florida State before the roof fell in, 41-24. Boston College broke the Deacs' hearts by scoring two touchdowns in the final three minutes to win 35-30 at Boston. The Deacs' showed no sign of emotional damage, beating N.C. State 27-19 and taking their frustration out on Duke 44-6. A win Saturday would give the Deacs a three-game ACC win streak for the first time since 1992.
Deacs to watch: Sophomore quarterback Ben Mauck stepped in the last two games after senior Cory Randolph sprained his ankle. Mauck passed adequately, 24-39 for 278 yards and one interception, and ran the running game effectively. Tailback Chris Barclay is the goods, leading the ACC in rushing (998 yards) by nearly 30 yards per game over his nearest rival. Sophomore defensive end Matt Robinson leads a baby-faced defense -- the Deacs play six freshmen and three sophomores, though they're all redshirts. This may sound like a Wake Forest joke, but it's true that Wake has the nation's best punter in senior Ryan Plackemeier (45.05 career average, the NCAA all-time record).
Who's hurt: Randolph is probable. Wide receiver Kevin Marion (suspension), O lineman Brodie Overstreet (eye) and D lineman Jyles Tucker (suspension) are out indefinitely. For Tech, DT Joe Anoai (ankle) is questionable.
Xs and Os: Wake runs the ball, but not by lining up in the I and throwing toss pitches to the tailback. The Deacs thrive on counter action, set up by Randolph in the shotgun or second-leading rusher Micah Andrews (66 ypg rushing). Mauck and Randolph have battled for playing time, with Mauck failing early in the year by throwing four interceptions to only one touchdown. Randolph doesn't pass much, averaging under 80 yards per game, but has made it count with four TD throws against one INT. The Deacon defense is adequate against the run, Tech's first option, but is last in the ACC in sacks, total yards allowed (393) and passing yards allowed (263). They do have 13 interceptions, second in the conference to Tech's 15.
Key matchups: Tech's linebackers vs. Barclay. Tech's defensive front should be able to hold their own at the point of attack, but Barclay's cutback ability and speed will mean Phillip Wheeler, KaMichael Hall and Gerris Wilkinson will have to fill holes and make one-on-one tackles in space. Otherwise, Barclay will have five yards a play before the secondary can touch him. Plackemeier vs. Tech punt returner Pat Clark. Clark had a good game against Clemson (two returns for 25 yards), and he'll need an even better effort against the bionic-legged Plackemeier, who has an 82(!)-yarder this year. As Clemson and N.C. State proved, Tech's offense works a lot better running downhill.