In Week 1, the Deacons faced an up-and-coming team (much like Stanford) in the Baylor Bears. Track superstar turned quarterback, Robert Griffin III, is one of the most electric playmakers in the NCAA, but Wake was able to contain him. What the home team couldn't do is prevent big plays from happening as Baylor ripped off two scoring plays of more than 30 yards.
Wake is adjusting to playing defense after the departures of studs Aaron Curry and Alphonso Smith, who will both be playing on Sunday this year. The Deacon's back seven has six new starters and the secondary returns just one starter. Cornerback Brandon Ghee is the veteran of that unit, but the other three players have three combined starts among them.
In a 39-13 victory over Washington State, Stanford wasn't particularly flashy in any area (except maybe special teams) but proficient across the board. Toby Gerhart and Jeremy Stewart provided the ever-present potent rushing attack with a trio of touchdown runs and even quarterback Andrew Luck displayed a little flash with his legs (6 carries, 63 yards).
Behind Luck, the passing game was much improved, even though tempered (24 attempts), but at least it had a pulse. After scoring his first two collegiate touchdowns, sophomore wideout Chris Owusu could be poised for a breakout season.
The opening line for the showdown in North Carolina was released as a "pick ‘em", but quickly moved in favor of the home team and Stanford now sits as a three-point underdog. Don't expect this game to get out of hand one way or the other, as evidenced by the tight spread.
Notes and Quotes
Poker legend Phil Hellmuth and Cardinal head coach Jim Harbaugh have developed a friendship after meeting at a Stanford basketball game last season. The two and their wives have enjoyed dinner together and recently attended a Blake Shelton concert in Oakland. Hellmuth, who resides in Palo Alto, has reported tournament poker winnings in excess of $10 million. After the Cardinal's Tuesday practice session, Hellmuth spoke to the team.
"It was a pretty good message relating poker and football," Harbaugh said. "No matter where you are at – if you have a big chip lead or are the short stack – his philosophy is that the game is never over. It's having the confidence that you can win no matter what the circumstances are."
Apparently the players were also interested in learning some poker lessons. "They asked him when he plays a 7-2 off-suit. He's trying to work it into his schedule, and may go with us to the Wake game."
A couple of outlets reported Stanford's victory as a sloppy one. Working out the kinks is always expected in the first game of the season, but Coach Harbaugh did not feel the word "sloppy" was a fair description of his team's performance.
"No, I would not say that is accurate at all. I thought the team was mentally very sharp and really locked in. I thought they kept their composure very well. Sloppy would suggest fumbled snaps, jumping offsides and wrong formations."
Wake Forest and Riley Skinner
Four-year starter Riley Skinner is the ACC's all-time leader in completion percentage, but struggled through his 2009 debut. The veteran completed 20-of-31 passes for 143 yards and a pair of scores, but also threw three interceptions. Coach Harbaugh believes the real "Principal Skinner" will show up this weekend.
"They have good receivers… big, physical guys who are athletic. I think it will be a tremendous challenge for our secondary to keep those guys covered. Same with the quarterback, he's a very talented guy. I expect to see more of a Riley Skinner-type of game. I think they are probably disappointed in the way they played last week. I know they feel, and we feel, they are a much better football team than what they showed."
Starting wide receiver Chris Owusu suffered a mild concussion in the game against Washington State. He has been cleared to play on Saturday by the Cardinal training staff.
"I am feeling a lot better," Owusu said. "I went into the training room a lot during the week and they just did a wonderful job making sure I got back on the field this week."
Owusu wasn't sure if he sustained a full-on concussion or just got his bell rung. "I've never actually had a concussion before so I can't really judge the severity of it."
Improved Passing Game
While gaudy numbers through the air were not seen in the box score (193 yards), Stanford's passing game was present in the win over Washington State. As long as that area of the offense stays efficient, opposing defenses will have to respect Luck and his receivers.
"The receiving corps wanted to let the entire NCAA know what we can bring to the team," Owusu said. "I think we did a great job, Ryan Whalen had a heck of a game catching the ball and being a leader for us."
Whalen is the veteran of the receiving unit, but does not consider himself Luck's "go-to" guy.
"I wouldn't say that there is any one go-to guy at this point since we've only played one game," he said. "Chris [Owusu] had a touchdown and a bunch of yards and I only had one more catch than him. My goal is just to be the best I can be and give [Luck] that confidence in me."
So much is made of receivers being in sync regarding timing, rhythm and routes with their quarterback. Stanford's starting wideouts believe they are close to being on the same page as their signal-caller.
"For the first game I thought we did a good job," said Owusu. "On film, we saw that we are very close so we just have to keep on practicing and make sure that we get extra work after practice so we can get the timing down. Luck is going to get us the ball; he is such a great quarterback he puts the ball right where it needs to be. We just need to make sure we get off the line and get to the spot where we need to get be."
"I wouldn't say we are all the way there right now, there is always room for improvement," Whalen admitted. "There are always little adjustments with plays and coverages so there is always an opportunity to get better and keep making sure that timing is precise."
Allen Smith Update
Head coach Jim Harbaugh said that offensive lineman Allen Smith will not play this week at Wake Forest. "Hopefully next week," he stated. Smith's return to the roster could help alleviate the injury to OL Matt Kopa, who will miss 6-8 weeks with a fractured foot.
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