Four Downs: Wake Forest Spring Game
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Wake Forest began the Dave Clawson era — as he jokingly put it afterwards — with a 1-0 record as the Gold Team beat the Black Team 31-12 in the Wake Forest spring game.
It’s far, far too early in Clawson’s tenure at Wake to draw any broad conclusions from this game, but it did reveal some interesting things to watch moving forward.
1. Clawson the rebuilder is going to need time.
Wake fans have plenty of it, naturally, and the fans had to know Clawson’s reputation of a slow but steady rebuilder coming in. But it’s not going to happen overnight. Not even next season, in fact.
Wake lost a lot of important pieces from last season, and the Deacs still finished a disappointing 4-8 last year. The defense was usually pretty competitive but the offense was downright ghastly more often than not.
That doesn’t mean he’s not going to work hard to be a bit ahead of schedule, though.
When asked if his players were going to be attending both sessions of summer school, Clawson said that they would.
"They will get the breaks that the NCAA mandates," a straight-faced Clawson said, "and no more."
2. The Wake offense showed some flashes, but ultimately, those were not as substantive as Clawson would like.
Wake Forest did not score a touchdown in last year’s spring game at all, and the last offensive touchdown in a Wake Forest spring game came in the third quarter of the 2012 contest. When an earlier spring scrimmage ended with one offensive touchdown, it seemed to indicate more of the same coming for this year.
Every coach comes in nowadays and says they want to run an up-tempo offense, seemingly. Clawson is no different. If Wake is going to do that effectively, the Deacs have a ways to go physically and mentally to get there.
"We struggled to get through practices the way we should’ve this spring so we’ve got a ways to go in that area," Clawson said.
Wake is down its starting quarterback from a year ago, and its starting tailback and wide receiver. The offensive line isn’t going to be much better. There’s some talent at receiver, but plenty of question marks when it comes to running back depth and at the quarterback spot.
The defense returns more talent, so it was always going to be ahead of the offense. That was still the case in the spring game, but Wake did score four offensive touchdowns, which was four more than last year’s spring game.
Clawson cautioned everyone not to take too much away from that, though.
"There were certainly more flashes from the offense. They made explosive plays and they moved the ball. We just don’t move the ball consistently," Clawson said. "Most of our good offense came in chunks today. So right now, probably our offensive numbers are decent but we did not sustain drives the way a good offense has to. We didn’t convert third and shorts and third and mediums the way a good offense has to."
3. The quarterback race is far from over.
Tyler Cameron — last year’s backup quarterback –against QB-turned-wide receiver-turned-QB Kevin Sousa was the extent of this spring’s quarterback race. Some of the freshmen will no doubt enter said race when they get to campus, but neither did a lot to pull away from the pack.
Sousa certainly looked like the more competent quarterback for much of the game, completing 16-of-32 passes for 178 yards and a touchdown (and two interceptions). He also ran for 68 yards and a score on nine attempts.
Cameron, meanwhile, struggled to get going early and finished 9-of-26 for 83 yards and a touchdown (to one interception).
Regardless, Clawson and the offensive staff seem to have made things a bit easier for the quarterbacks.
Clawson is known for adjusting to his personnel the best he can, and it already shows as the Wake quarterbacks were making the plays that were there.
Oftentimes last year, senior quarterback Tanner Price and the rest of the offense had the uncanny ability to make even an easy play look insanely difficult.
Wake cornerback Kevin Johnson said that things are very different in that regard.
"Just the ability for the offense to execute. For some reason, things — when they want to throw it to one side, it’s open. I think the scheme is doing a good job with letting the quarterbacks make the easy reads, and they’re just making quick reads, making good reads," Johnson said. "It’s able to move the ball down the field."
When asked if it was less complicated than last year’s scheme, Johnson said that since he’s not on offense, he can’t really speak to that. "But that’s what it seems like," Johnson said. "It seems like the quarterbacks are doing a great job of making reads and making plays."
4. The Wake defense will have to carry the team, and then some.
It’s impossible to evaluate the Wake Forest defense in the context of the spring game itself, just because the offense it was going against is so green.
But the defense returns a lot of pieces, particularly in the secondary, like Johnson (a senior) and fellow senior cornerback Merrill Noel. They’re joined by senior safety Anthony Wooding, Jr. and sophomore Ryan Janvion — both returning starters.
Wake loses defensive tackle Nikita Whitlock, who absolutely dominated up front, but with that secondary and some depth up front, the defense has the potential to get even better.
"What helps, we have two really good corners. We’ve got two excellent corners. When you can cover people there, there’s a lot of things that you can do to gang up against a run game," Clawson said. "We’re going to put a lot of stress on those guys next year because we believe they’re good players and they can handle that."
Of course, the defense could be the ’85 Bears and it won’t matter if the offense can’t move the football.
The defense is used to having that kind of responsibility put on it, though. And Johnson said that they’re ready.
"I would say that as a secondary, our goal is to be the best secondary in the country," Johnson said. "As a defense, we’re going to do whatever it takes to be the best defense we can be and we’re going to try to carry our offense as far as we can."