WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Back-to-back games against top-10 teams battling for position in the College Football Playoff.
That’s what the Deacs (6-4, 3-3) are right in the middle of as they host the Clemson Tigers (9-1, 6-1).
Wake coach Dave Clawson took questions from the media during his weekly press conference Tuesday.
On how the team comes back from disappointing 4th quarter to hosting Clemson, while also battling through injuries
Clawson: “That’s the level we aspire to. I think there’s no question that we are an improved football team. I think right now, of all the Power Five teams, us and Georgia Tech are the most improved in terms of wins right now, so we’re clearly making a step. But there’s three teams in our conference, as we get the luxury of playing those three teams every year, that have really been the elite teams in our conference, and that’s Florida State, Louisville and Clemson. You could make an argument for any of those teams. If we aspire to get to this level, this is the only way to do it. We have to play these people. That’s what they have to do. They are elite, because they show up every week and play. Elite programs and elite teams do that. You don’t control the schedule. We knew going into the season that these two games back-to-back would be challenges. Again, we’ve had ten games this season and we’ve been in every game in the fourth quarter with a chance to win it. I expect us to be in that same position, but to be in that position we’re going to have to play really well.”
On still looking for a ‘signature’ win
Clawson: “Every win is important for our program. The thing about the signature win is that a week later that one might not feel like one. You’ll get that praise, but it only has meaning if it carries through. Teams beat teams early in the year, and that become a signature win but then you look back on it and it’s not as good as it looks. I told the team that they battled their butts off and they had everybody in the country turning their TVs to watch a Wake Forest football game and we didn’t finish the deal. Why didn’t we finish and what can we learn from that? I think the lesson that’s the takeaway from that game, is that to beat a team of that caliber, you have to execute for four quarters. If there’s any letup, a team like that makes you pay instantly and dearly.
“The second thing is your depth has to get ready. It was a game where we were down two starting offensive lineman. On offense, it felt like last year. We had no seniors and two juniors. We had nine freshmen and sophomore playing. Some of those guys that went through the growing pains last year were much more ready for it as sophomores, but some of those young guys went through the growing pain again. I don’t know if the words ‘young’ and ‘good’ will ever go together here. We are still building our depth. We’re still building our program. I’m proud of how hard our guys played. I told the team that they gave us everything they had from an effort perspective. Our defensive line played their hearts out. Some of the effort plays that Josh Banks was making, and Duke (Ejiofor), Chris Stewart. Willie Yarbary had maybe his best game. Marquel Lee shows up in every game. Brad Watson I thought played a heck of a game. I thought the first half was the best we’d ever ran the ball against an elite defense. We had almost 200 yards at the half, and how many of those were rushing? Then we wore down in the second half.
“We worked so hard to get in that position, and we weren’t able to finish. Some of that is the next step. Maybe that type of game and effort can win three or four times on our schedule, but it’s not going to do it against the elite teams, and they’re an elite team. This (Clemson) is an elite team. Nothing is going to be easy. We’re going to have to go in there and battle for every first down and battle for every 3rd down stop. I love the heart of our team. I think our kids love football. The thing I liked after the game is that was a wounded locker room. Sometimes when we have had those games, I don’t know if our kids really thought they could win. That game, they were hurting, and that’s a real positive sign for our program. They went on the road to face an elite team as a 35-point underdog, and those kids were heartbroken they didn’t win. So we’re past the moral victory stage of our program, which I think is a major step. Now, the next step is winning one of these game. In that regard, you’re right. We haven’t beat a nationally ranked top-10 team yet. Lucky us, we get another opportunity this week.”
On Clemson losing last week
Clawson: “You control the things you can control. I think there’s no doubt the players in our program would have liked for them to come in undefeated. We know Clemson is playing for the ACC Championship this week. If they win, they’re the division champs. This will be a highly motivated team. I’ve coached championship teams that sometimes a loss like that is what you needed. I’m sure they will be ready to go and know they will have to be at their best to accomplish their goals. That’s the one hiccup they can have with our system.”
Clawson: “Other than starting quarterback, which is always a big deal, we had stayed relatively healthy. I just comes in waves. We were down three of our top four safeties in that game. For our defense to play as well as they did with who we were missing. What happens, is that when one group is down, another group has to pick them up. I thought that’s what happened. We were thin in the secondary, and were down some of our best players. We had guys step up, and our defensive line stepped up. Those guys just played their butts off. Just the effort and intensity. When you win it’s not all good, and when you lose it’s not all bad. I thought our defensive line played so hard. We won so many one-on-ones and individual battles than we ever had against a team of that caliber.
“Offensively, it’s very frustrating we can’t score touchdowns in the red zone. We move the football. The first four of five drives were all six, eight, 12-play drives. We converted third downs. The time of possession at the end of the first half was like 21-9 or 22-8. That was the plan, and for 30 minutes we executed it perfect. We just didn’t finish. It comes down to one-on-ones in the red zone. The back has to make the safety miss or the receiver has to get open versus press coverage. That’s where against the best teams we’ve struggled. You’d never believe it, but we’re one of the top three red zone offenses in the conference. But, against the Florida States and Louisvilles, we haven’t scored touchdowns. In the other games, we have. To move the ball between the 20s and then settle for field goals — in my mind, that game could have been 28-3 at the half. It’s not the plays we run. We run the same plays. We get down there and we miss a back block. We lose a down block. The back bounces a cut instead of keeping it north-and-south. Sometimes guys are trying so hard, they’re going outside the design of the play. Good football teams can’t do that. They have to trust the plan and stick with it. A lot of good teachable moments from that film.”
On if either one of the safeties will be back Saturday
Clawson: “(Ryan) Janvion definitely not. Cam Glenn is wait and see. Janvion we hope to have back for Boston College, but he’s definitely out this week.”
On Jaboree Williams
Clawson: “Jaboree looks better. To be honest, I thought we would have him last week.”
On John Wolford not practicing much Tuesday
Clawson: “He is a little sore, and hopefully we’ll get him a little more tomorrow.”