After heart-breaking loss, Wake Forest has little time to pick up the pieces
Success for Dave Clawson at Wake Forest isn't about simply getting to bowl games -- something he did for the first time last season -- it's about taking that next step as a program.
From that end, the Demon Deacons' 26-19 loss to Florida State on Saturday in Winston-Salem was a heart-breaker. It's no consolation that Wake Forest, in its bid to reach 5-0, largely outplayed a team that was preseason-No. 3 (even if it is without its best offensive player in Deondre Francois).
Wake Forest piled up a school record 18 tackles for loss in allowing 270 total yards and limited the Seminoles to a touchdown and three field goals in its red zone attempts.
What proved costly were miscues (two turnovers after one in the previous four games and the big plays, including the decisive one as quarterback James Blackman -- making his second career start -- hit Auden Tate for a 40-yard TD with 53 seconds to go. Then Florida State's All-American-caliber secondary followed in knocking away John Wolford's final shot at Scotty Washington in the end zone in the closing seconds.
The previously-winless Seminoles couldn't afford to lose this one and fall to 0-3 for the first time since 1976, and earned some confidence going into next week's matchup with unbeaten and 14th-ranked Miami.
Desperation simply outweighed one of the biggest surprises of the season in the ACC. Now, Clawson has to try and avoid history repeating itself.
Last season, the Deacons opened 4-0 and then fell to NC State by 17. In all, they would drop six of the final eight games before righting the ship in the Military Bowl with a win over Temple.
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This team may be a more complete one than last year's Wake Forest in starting 4-0. Wolford has been a steadier hand at the helm of the offense and defensively, the Deacons entered Saturday ranked eighth in scoring defense (11.5 points per game, which changed vs. the Seminoles) and 11th in pass efficiency defense (94.59).
But in 2016, Wake Forest played just one ranked team -- then-No. 14 Florida State -- before November. Now, they'll face defending national champion Clemson on the road in Week 6, followed by one-loss Georgia Tech on the road on Oct. 21, No. 17 Louisville (in Winston-Salem) and a trip to No. 22 Notre Dame.
There's a very real chance that 4-0 turns into 4-5 by the time the Deacons head to Syracuse on Nov. 11. That would mean needing two wins vs. the Orange, Atlantic dark horse NC State and Duke just to get back to a bowl game.
Clawson delivered on the postseason last year, and now he has to do something that could be just as impressive: getting this team to rebound from a demoralizing loss with the schedule kicking into high gear.