The Washington Times - October 15, 2008, 02:34PM

When it comes to figuring out the ins and outs of Wake Forest, Dan Collins in the man you turn to.

Collins covers the Demon Deacons for the Winston-Salem Journal, and he was kind enough to take some time out of a hectic schedule of juggling football and basketball responsibilities to answer a few questions about Wake Forest heading into Saturday’s game against Maryland.

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You can read Collins’ coverage here, as well as in his recently launched blog at the Journal’s site.

Thanks so much to Dan for helping out. Onward to the Q&A:

1. Clearly Wake Forest is thriving because of the play of its defense. Is this the best defensive team the Demon Deacons have had in recent memory?

DC: There was talk coming into the season that it might be the best defense in school history, with nine starters returning, all of whom are in at least their fourth year in the program. Granted, given Wake Forest’s dismal history, that isn’t saying a great deal. And Alphonso Smith, Aaron Curry and company were disappointed in their play against Ole Miss and Navy. But in games against Florida State (12-3) and Clemson (12-7), they played defense as well as I’ve seen it played at Wake Forest, and I’ve been with the Winston-Salem Journal since 1978.

2. You’ve reported kicker Sam Swank is questionable for Saturday’s game with a strained quadriceps. How different a team is Wake Forest with Swank than without him and how much did it affect the Demon Deacons in last week’s victory over Clemson?

DC: Sam said it would probably be a game-time decision. The Deacons missed him last week against Clemson when his replacement Shane Popham flubbed a 39-yard attempt and had a 25-yard try go awry when the holder mishandled the snap. But Popham punted well enough that Coach Grobe said he would consider turning those duties over to him even after Swank returns. Popham admitted this week that going on the road will be different. Let’s put it this way: If the Deacs have a 50-yarder to win, I know they’d feel better with Swank trotting out to kick it.

3. From afar, it seemed like Riley Skinner was more of a game manager his first two seasons. How much progress has the junior quarterback made this season?

DC: Grobe, who used to be known for his relentless running teams, has rebuilt his offense around Riley. So more is indeed expected from him. On the other hand, Grobe felt Skinner tried to do too much against Navy, and that resulted in four interceptions and a lost fumble. Grobe said he’s more than willing to rely on his defense and special teams, and have his offense concentrate on not turning the ball over.

4. Turnovers were an obvious deal-breaker in the Demon Deacons’ only loss of the season. Are there any other weaknesses that could trip this team up?

DC: The offensive line has been slow to come around for the second season in a row. It had probably its best game against Clemson, when the Deacons rushed for 156 yards, but that still resulted in only one touchdown. Wake has been conspicuously bad in the red zone, ranking last in the ACC with only 16 scores on 23 red-zone opportunities.

5. Is this Wake Forest team better than the 2006 edition that ran circles around Maryland in the final game of the regular season and went on to win the ACC title a week later?

DC: Funny thing about 2006. Grobe had actually targeted 2007 or 2008 as the season he expected his team to contend for the ACC championship. So the Deacons really arrived ahead of schedule. This team is deeper, more experienced and probably more talented. But the 2006 team had a special quality. It remains to be seen if this team is special as well.

Again, much thanks to Dan Collins for lending his insight on Wake Forest

Patrick Stevens