Archer: Wake's Offense is Unique

RALEIGH, N.C. -- After utilizing misdirection for much of his tenure at Wake Forest, Jim Grobe's offense has switched to more I-formation sets, and according to NC State defensive coordinator Mike Archer, it allows the Deacons to remain unique on the offensive side of the ball.

"They are the first true... they are going to be in two backs more than anyone we've played in two years," said Archer. "It's kind of refreshing because nobody does it anymore. They are unique in that sense. Everybody now is in one-back or empty. They'll have two backs in the backfield probably 70% of the time on Saturday I would think."

Jim Grobe

The reason for the change? Simply put, Wake Forest's offense had been ineffective. Scoring matters, but Wake's offense hasn't been able to sustain drives. The Deacs are No. 103 nationally in total offense (304 ypg), No. 80 in passing offense (191 ypg) and No. 98 in rushing defense (113 ypg).

In the team's first three conference games, Wake scored just one offensive touchdown and 24 total points, including a 26-0 shutout loss at Maryland. Following the game against the Terps, Wake Forest committed to more of a ground attack versus Miami, rushing the ball 52 times with just eight passes, but still scored just 10 points in the 16-10 loss.

However, that commitment to the ground game has paid off as Wake Forest is putting more points on the board... and winning football games. After a 33-30 overtime win over Duke and a 27-17 victory over Virginia, the Deacs head to Raleigh riding a two-game winning streak and are a couple of victories away from winning their second Atlantic Division title in three years.

"They went back after they got beat at Maryland and they basically scratched... threw away the spread," said Archer. "They are still running some of the rocket sweep, they are still running some of the misdirection with [Demir] Boldin but not like they did with [Kenny] Moore.

"They went back to their fundamentals and the things that they believe in. It's very simple formation-wise with the running game, and they've won two out of three games so obviously it has worked."

NC State's defensive unit entered the bye week prior to the Duke game with the major goal being to improve as tacklers.

"You've got to tackle," said Archer. "You've got to do things full speed. When you're in 11-on-11 situations... we don't scrimmage but you can put yourself in position with your balance and the way you bend your knees and the way you do things technique-wise that can help... without hitting and taking somebody to the ground. That was the thing we tried to emphasize during the open date.

Jeremy Gray

"It's a combination of ability, angles, who's tackling and who's running. Some of the people we play against are going to make us miss. [Maryland tailback Da'Rel] Scott's a good back, but there are other things. To me, tackling is 90% desire and 10% technique, so we've got to do a better job of it."

The Wolfpack showed improvement against Duke, particularly in the secondary. Cornerbacks DeAndre Morgan and Jeremy Gray limited big plays on short passes by combining on 28 tackles.

With Wake Forest bringing in a more run-based attack, the linebackers and defensive backs must be ready to come up and make the tackle to limit big plays on Saturday.

Archer believes his defensive unit must continue to improve. The Wolfpack's defense is ranked last in the ACC in the three major categories: rushing defense (162 ypg), passing defense (251 ypg), and total defense (413 ypg). A big reason is the Pack's inability to tackle ball-carriers and limit big plays.

They made strides against Duke, particularly in the running game as they held the Blue Devils to just 94 yards on the ground. It was the first time all season NC State held an opponent under 100 yards rushing. That came after Maryland, led by Da'Rel Scott's 163 yards, shredded the Pack's defense for 203 yards rushing.

"We were a little better [against Duke], but we still got a ways to go," Archer said. "The tackling effort in the Maryland game was about as poor as I've ever been around. We could only but improve.

"We had two weeks to practice. We made some improvement, but we still have a ways to go. We are going to try to have a perfect game. We may not get it, but we've got to be a lot better."

Wake's offense starts with talented quarterback Riley Skinner. Now in his third season as the starter, Skinner is a winner who makes plays both with his arm and his legs.

"You've got to keep him in the pocket," said Archer. "He's very elusive and slippery. He has a great presence in the pocket. He can feel people who are coming that are unblocked... he avoids a lot of sacks.

Riley Skinner

"It's uncanny what he can do... it's hard to describe. You see it over and over. We've seen it two years. You've got to keep him in the pocket, and you've got to get him on the ground when you have opportunities."

Extremely efficient, Skinner has completed 173-of-271 passes for 1,706 yards with 10 touchdowns and just four interceptions. Ironically, all four interceptions came in the home loss to Navy.

Wake's other offensive standouts include tailbacks Josh Adams and Brandon Pendergrass and wide receiver Demir Boldin. Adams has missed the past two games with a sprained ankle, but he is expected back for the NC State game. Pendergrass, a redshirt freshman, had a career-high 110 yards on 27 carries last week against Virginia. Boldin, a redshirt senior, leads the ACC in receptions and is Wake's go-to player at wideout.

"[Skinner] is the key," said Archer. "[Josh] Adams is the key, and then you've got to control Boldin in the passing game and what they do with him in the running game."

Clem's Chance
It's been a hectic few months for junior safety Clem Johnson. He enrolled this fall after spending two years at Valley Forge Military Academy, where he started for two seasons at quarterback. Recruited to come in and impact at safety, he was sidelined early with a broken jaw, but he has fought his way back and is now a starter.

"Clem wasn't here in the spring, got hurt early in camp, and then he missed basically nine weeks," said Archer. "We kind of threw him there into the fire against BC with three days of practice which wasn't really fair to him. He's got better and better.

"We made a decision in the second half at Maryland... we weren't tackling very well, and I made a decision that we are putting him in and we're going to leave him in. He earned the right to play."

Clem Johnson

Since taking the field against Boston College, Johnson has totaled 24 tackles in four games, including six last week versus Duke. The 6-foot, 190-pounder has proven to be a solid tackler and continues to improve everyday.

"He was far from perfect, but I think he's only going to get better," Archer said. "He got better during the second half of the Maryland game under fire. During the open date, I told him you're going to be the starter. You've earned it by the way you played and he accepted the challenge. He made some mistakes Saturday against Duke, but I think the most important thing is he's going to get better because he's missed so much practice time... he's going to get better.

"When I speak to Clem sometimes, he probably thinks I'm speaking Chinese because it's different. He's never been a defensive back, he was a quarterback when he got here. It's all new to him... [but] you can see him learning."

Johnson has also impressed Archer with his mental approach.

"He learned during he game," said Archer. "He blew a couple of things Saturday during the game. I made sure Mike [Reed] sat him down, and I asked him at halftime if he understands and he said yes. They ran the same play in the second half, and he went right where he was supposed to be.

"That's encouraging when they take coaching. I've been pleased with him. It's unfortunate he got hurt but there's nothing you can do about it."

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