Pete Sampson: Big picture with Wake Forest, do you see progress in the second year under Dave Clawson? There’s a good chance the Demon Deacons finish 3-9 in back-to-back seasons.
Stan Cotton: I don’t think there’s any question about progress being made here.
Even coach Clawson would probably have said last summer that Wake would be a much better team this year but maybe the record wouldn’t show it. It looks like that’s coming true. You look at the team on Saturdays, there’s progress. There are plenty of stats that point to that. The offensive production this year isn’t great, but last year it was abysmal. And Wake is doing this with a lot of young kids, so I think they feel pretty good about where they are. Obviously the record is the record, but if I think if you talked to anybody around here, they can see the progress. People are optimistic about what’s happening here.
PS: Where do you see those gains the most?
SC: The young skill players. You think about what they’re going to look like two or three years from now, how they’re going to continue to get coached, get stronger, understand what’s expected of them and get used to the system.
And I think it’s key that they continue to recruit pretty well. They’ve done a good job there with getting better players. What they need is a few more bell cows up front on the lines, but the skill positions are in good shape. Last game out against Louisville, Wake went from no big plays offensively to pop, pop, pop, with receivers that they just didn’t have last year. They have people who can make you miss, go 60 yards, go 70 yards in one snap. Then watching Wake’s defense continue to run around and make plays, it makes you feel like things are getting better at Wake.
PS: Which players have caught your eye the most?
SC: Tight end Cam Serigne (team-high 38 catches, 410 yards, 3 TDs) is playing above his years. He’s a red-shirt sophomore who caught a ton of balls a year ago and is leading there again. This sounds crazy, but he reminds me of Jason Witten. He’s not real flashy, dependable, skilled, understands the position. He’s really been a security blanket for quarterback John Wolford, and back-up Kendall Hinton is getting that now too. When in doubt, look for No. 85.
Receiver Cortez Lewis, a red-shirt freshman, is similar. Growing up a lot this season. He’s got a long reach and is starting to make bigger and bigger plays. On the offensive line, left tackle Ryan Anderson was starting coming out of spring and got suspended. He’s back and just starting to come into his own. We’ll see how he handles Saturday. The problem with the line is that they’re just babies. They’re going to grow up into good linemen, but they’re going to get schooled some until then.
PS: When you dig into Wake Forest you see the defense is actually solid. It’s middle of the pack in yards per carry allowed, yards per play allowed and scoring defense. How are they pulling this off with an offense that’s struggling?
SC: There aren’t glaring weaknesses in any one spot. They can go out there and be collectively pretty good. They don’t turn you over (tied for last nationally with seven turnovers forced), which is a problem because for Wake to beat you the defense has to score points or at least set up the offense. If Wake can get turnovers, I think this defense can be pretty good.
Personnel-wise, it starts with defensive end Duke Ejiofor (3.5 sacks in four games played). Without question he’s a good player. The defensive line does have some depth and the staff is able to rotate players. But it’s like the rest of the team, it’s a very young group (just one senior listed among Wake’s top seven defensive linemen).
PS: For people who haven’t watched much Wake Forest football this year, explain the quarterback situation where Wolford and Hinton are both getting time.
SC: I don’t think it’s something Clawson wants to do. Wolford is his guy, a year older as a sophomore than the freshman Hinton. Wolford has been in the system longer. He’s a cerebral guy and just sort of gets it. The problem is that he’s a little human being (6-foot-1, 205 pounds). You have to get the pocket moving with him or passes are going to get deflected. When he got hurt earlier this year and then badly hurt against Syracuse, I just don’t think he ever got back to 100 percent with that ankle.
With Hinton you’re getting a much better athlete, but he’s undersized as well. With the offensive line banged up you might be better with a mobile quarterback who can move around. Wake can’t protect the quarterback right now if he’s going to sit back there and throw. You have to be mobile and that’s where I think Hinton works. Wolford is underrated as a runner, though.
PS: Realistically, Wake Forest is not going to a bowl this year. It would need to win the final three games of Notre Dame, Clemson and Duke. So what’s progress to close out the year? What are you looking for this weekend?
SC: I think they’ll have a chance to beat Duke at home to end the year. Obviously, Clemson and Notre Dame are going to be tough for anybody to beat. Let’s be realistic. Right now, having lost a few games already I think that Louisville one hurts, four interceptions in a game you should have won. I think going on the road this week at Notre Dame, you just have to compete and then figure out how to win just one of these last three. Otherwise you’re going into the off-season with the same record as last year. The kids at Wake are like the ones at Notre Dame. They’re smart. They get it. They know all this. They’re better, but they know a fourth win gives the program some momentum going into next year. If they come out of this weekend feeling like they gave it their all, that they played hard, competed, I think they’ll feel like they did everything they could.