Wake’s Unsung Hero
By Matthew Osborne
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Wake Forest offensive coordinator Steed Lobotzke deserves tremendous credit for all of the Demon Deacons' recent successes.
Since Jim Grobe took over as head coach of the Wake Forest football program in 2001, the Demon Deacons have been lauded and admired for their ability to almost always maximize the potential of the players on the roster.
Unlike many other schools, which are associated with one particular scheme or philosophy, Grobe has never hesitated to adjust his scheme in order to best utilize the talents of his current collection of players. In fact, if Wake Forest’s offense has become associated with anything, it would likely be unpredictability.
While Grobe rightfully receives a great deal of credit for his ability and willingness to adapt to his team’s strengths, the man who frequently goes unnoticed in all of Wake Forest’s offensive success is longtime offensive coordinator Steed Lobotzke.
Lobotzke, who is coming up on his 10th season as Wake Forest’s offensive coordinator, has been the primary person responsible for orchestrating the Demon Deacon’s unorthodox and constantly evolving offensive system.
Although many members of the coaching community view a team changing its offense to fit their talent and personnel as a high school tactic, Lobotzke knows that he can thank his adaptive nature for many of his greatest coaching successes, including his 2006 ACC championship ring.
“When I first got here in 2001-2002, we were a great ‘I’ football team, and we brought the orbit (wide receiver motion behind the backfield) to this league,” Lobotzke explained. “Offensively, I think the big evolution for us was in 05-06, when we really abandoned the ‘I’.”
The 2006 season that Lobotzke referenced marked the beginning of one of the greatest three-year runs in program history, as the Demon Deacons won 28 games from 2006-2008. The biggest transition which occurred for the offense at that time was a shift to a shotgun offense, which incorporated many principles of the traditional spread offense.
“The biggest problem I had with our offense was we were turning out 1,000-yard rushers, but we weren’t winning the ball game,” Lobotzke recalled of the old “I-formation”. “That’s been the big difference, I think, transitioning from an ‘I’ team to a spread team. I think that has given us the threat of the quarterback run, which the ‘I’ doesn’t have, and it’s given us a chance to play short quarterbacks and be successful. The second thing it has given us is the ability to throw more route-concepts out of the gun.”
The goal of any offensive unit is to maximize its efficiency, but few teams have experienced the offensive efficiency that Wake Forest has maintained during Lobotzke’s tenure.
For proof, you need look no further than last season, when sophomore QB Tanner Price was one of just four FBS signal callers to throw 20 or more touchdowns with six or fewer interceptions. In case you were wondering, the three other quarterbacks on that short list were Baylor’s Robert Griffin III, Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson and Wisconsin’s Russell Wilson.
Even with the productive and efficient Price returning at quarterback this fall, Lobotzke is remaining true to form and will be looking to make slight modifications to his offense in 2012.
“The focus of the spring and this summer camp will be to get the spread running game going,” Lobotzke stated. “We’ve got the spread throwing game where we want it and we feel good about Tanner’s proficiency in the offense. We are going to tailor it to our personnel for sure. We will tweak some things to get the right guys the ball. The big push for us is to get the running game going, and to take pressure off of Tanner to be the hero and take pressure off of the offensive line and all of the pass protection they have to do.”
Wake Forest has become notorious for their ability to redshirt the vast majority of their recruits, and the Demon Deacons have thrived off of utilizing starting lineups consisting almost entirely of fourth or fifth-year players. The 2012 season will present a new challenge, however, as Wake Forest returns just three starters on offense, including just one starter along the offensive line.
As always, Lobotzke’s main focus for his inexperienced group of offensive linemen will be simplifying the playbook to match what his personnel does best.
“Right away, you’re thinking that we’re probably not going to protect as good as we did last year, so we may need to put more stuff in there to help this offensive line. We may need to get more running game going. So, what do we have to do there? Do we have to be more of an ‘I’ football team? Do we have to use more fullbacks? Do we have to use more tight ends? Do we use more option? All of these questions have to be answered.”
Though it has yet to be seen exactly which offensive scheme the 2012 Wake Forest offense will most closely resemble, you can take it to the bank that it will be the offensive scheme that maximizes the player’s talents and gives the Demon Deacons the best chance to win games.
Lobotzke may never receive the credit he deserves, but as long as his offenses keep producing points and his teams keep winning games, don’t expect to hear too much complaining coming out of his mouth.