WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., OCT. 15 -- Wake Forest football coach Bill Dooley is fond of discussing the game in cliches and indeed there are those around the Atlantic Coast Conference who would say that Dooley's ground-oriented attack is itself a cliche in this age of strong-armed quarterbacks and fleet, flashy receivers.
But regardless of what you may think of his methods, Dooley has proven himself capable of building winning football programs. He did just that during an 11-year stint at North Carolina and later in nine seasons at Virginia Tech.
In his first season at Wake Forest, Dooley has the Demon Deacons unbeaten in five games, which represents their best start since 1944 and makes them one of only eight undefeated teams in NCAA Division I-A.
Should the Terrapins lose Saturday, Wake Forest not only will assure Dooley of a winning record, but the Demon Deacons also will have their first 3-0 ACC start. Such a promising beginning is attracting notice outside the conference, too. Scouts from the Independence and All-American bowls will be among those in attendance at Groves Stadium this weekend.
The strength of the first half of Wake Forest's schedule admittedly could be called to question, since it included two Division I-AA opponents. But the Demon Deacons went a long way toward answering any questions about how good they are with a win over North Carolina last weekend.
Quarterback Mike Elkins has been the tie that binds Dooley and his predecessor, Al Groh, who resigned when his contract was not extended after a 5-6 season in 1986. Under the pass-oriented attack of Groh, the Demon Deacons were explosive -- and correspondingly inconsistent. Dooley's brand of football may not be as exciting, but Wake Forest has proven durable.
Dooley has loosened up his normally very controlled offense slightly to take advantage of the talents of Elkins, a strong-armed junior who ranks third in completions and fourth in yardage in Wake Forest history. The Demon Deacons threw an uncharacteristic -- for Dooley -- nine times on first down against N.C. State.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Elkins, after a slow start, has completed 60 percent of his passes for 389 yards and two touchdowns in the last two games. His favorite receiver has been sophomore Ricky Proehl, a 6-0, 185-pound sophomore who has 23 receptions for 394 yards, which is an average of 17.1 per catch. Proehl and Maryland running back Bren Lowery lead the league in receptions.
Wake Forest has been troubled at the tailback position, which is vital in Dooley's offense. Senior Darryl McGill sprained an ankle early in the season and returned last week against North Carolina only to injure it again. McGill's replacement, Mark Young, also has been hobbled by an ankle injury and missed the Tar Heels game completely. Wake Forest's third-string tailback, Tony Rogers, then bruised his shoulder and Johnny Artis, a seldom-used redshirt senior, finished the game.
Nonetheless, the foursome has accounted for almost 700 yards in five games. Both McGill and Young have had 100-yard games and Rogers just missed one, netting 93 yards against the Tar Heels before the injury.
The offensive line, which lost six of seven starters from 1986, was considered a question mark at the start of the season. The seventh then was injured and will miss the entire season. But the replacements, who only had two starting assignments combined when they lined up in the opener, appear to have jelled as a unit.
Inexperience, in fact, is the thread that runs through the Demon Deacons team. There are only 12 seniors on Wake Forest's active roster, and three start on each side. Wake Forest's defensive line -- which managed three sacks against North Carolina quarterback Mark Maye last week -- is composed of a true freshman, one sophomore and three juniors. The freshman, 6-5, 270-pound Marvin Mitchell of Eastville, Va., is Wake Forest's leading tackler with 23, all but three of which are unassisted.
Before the North Carolina game, Wake Forest ranked second nationally in scoring defense. The Demon Deacons didn't give up a touchdown until the third period of the third game of the season.