WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson answered questions about the Demon Deacon offense during and previewed Saturday’s matchup with Virginia during his weekly press conference Tuesday.
On why Virginia is playing better in the last few weeks
Clawson: “I haven’t watched all their film, though I have watched the last few games — their Louisville game and their Duke game. Their Duke stat line is almost exactly like our Duke stat line. Whenever things are new, there’s going to be some inconsistency. They have a new offensive staff, a new quarterback who transferred from East Carolina. He won the starting job in 2015, then tore his ACL, so this is really his first time starting. He’s in a new system. You just have some of that inconsistency. They’re certainly getting progressively better, and they lost two games early in the year they’d like to have back, against Richmond and UConn. But they beat Duke and then topped Central Michigan right after Central Michigan beat Oklahoma State. Then they (Syracuse) took Louisville right down to the wire. They’re playing much better. They’re good coaches and they have good players. Virginia has always recruited well. Their recruiting classes are always highly ranked, and those players are still there.”
On if he disappointed with the lack of positive progression on the offensive side of the ball
Clawson: “I think the yardage is similar. It’s almost identical. How we’re getting the yardage is much different. Whenever you throw the ball more, your yardage totals are going to be higher. When you’re behind in games and you’re getting cheap yards by throwing it at the end — I think our yardage this year is more meaningful. We’re running the ball for 50-60 yards more per game than a year ago. We’re scoring more points, about 3-4 more points than a year ago. We’re turning the ball over less. Those are really the points of emphasis after last year. We can’t turn the ball over. We can’t beat ourselves on offense and we have to run the ball better. Check, check, check.
“Now, the disappointment continues to be the lack of explosive plays in the passing game. I think it’s very evident we’re running the ball better. For two years I was asked, ‘Why can’t you block anybody?’ Did anybody ever ask me that here? We’re blocking people, we’re not losing yardage and we’re giving up half as many sacks. Why we haven’t made that jump is because we’re not creating explosive plays in the pass game. Last week we rushed the ball okay, but we took 11 deep shots and completed one ball. That was against an Army team that had given up some deep throws against people. We thought we had favorable matchups for us. We’re not where I want us to be. I’m glad we’re running the ball better. I’m glad we’re giving up less sacks and not turning it over as much. I’m disappointed we’re not making explosive plays in the pass game. I thought with what we had coming back, and what we saw in spring and camp that part of our offense would be further along than it is. It’s a work in progress. We have to keep working at it, and we have to get better at it. That’s where the shortcoming is.”
On if the problems are schematic or execution
Clawson: “Everybody we play out there is a freshman or sophomore. I think we have guys who are capable of making plays, but we haven’t done it consistently. We haven’t beaten man coverage consistently. At times we beat the coverage and then we throw the ball out of bounds. We didn’t play well at the quarterback position Saturday. And there were plays to be made at times that we didn’t make. One was a touchdown that we should have had. You start adding those things up, and they get you off schedule. We wanted to run the ball against Army, but once we started running it they started blitzing people and putting the safety in the box. They brought the corners in and we had one-on-one matchups on the outside. If you’re going to be a good offense, you have to win those matchups and protect, which we did. I thought our offensive line protected very well. We had time. Then we have to get open, and you’ve got to put the ball on the money. We weren’t as accurate throwing it as we needed to be, and receivers didn’t get the separation they needed.”
On Wake’s struggles closing out seasons
Clawson: “Since 2008, there hasn’t been a whole lot to play for. I wasn’t here for four of those years. Maybe there were injuries or depth issues. Maybe it was the teams you were playing. If you look at last year, three of the four games were Louisville, Notre Dame and Clemson. Sometimes the schedule gets backloaded. To me, we still have a lot to play for. This time last year there wasn’t as much. I think the motivation of your team and the excitement of your locker room have an impact on how you play late. That’s why I say every year one of my goals is to get to November with something to play for. Then you have more of a motivated and engaged team. We’re trying to break that history.”
On Jaboree Williams
Clawson: “I’d say he’s doubtful. He didn’t practice today. You’re always hopeful, but if we get to Wednesday and he don’t practice, there’s a chance we won’t have him.”
On if he’s happy with the focus of the team coming off the loss to Army
Clawson: “Today was way better. Our guys had a focus and a purpose. Every rep meant something. I told the team, that when we lose, we lose collectively. Maybe as a coach, I didn’t manage the bye week as well as I should have. Maybe I presented them Army too early. I felt like late in the week it was, ‘Enough of Army, let’s go play.’ There wasn’t the attention to detail on Wednesday and Thursday of practice that we’ve been used to. I was very concerned and I told them that last Wednesday. I did not get that sense today. At Wake Forest, I don’t know that we’re ever going to be at the point where we’re so loaded, and have all these five-star guys running around that we can just show up and win the game based on talent along. Very few teams are. Maybe Clemson and Florida State. Maybe they aren’t locked in and they still find a way to beat a good Troy team. If we don’t do things right, prepare well, and stay locked in, it’s going to be hard to win games. But that should be one of our advantages here. We get players that have maturity and a sense of purpose. They came here to play football at this level. The response from our players was that they were humbled. I think we’ll be a much better prepared football team this week because of it.”