Wake Forest

Clawson hoping to get Wake Forest back on track

Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson argues with referee Pat Garvey after a flag was thrown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Boston College in Winston-Salem,  Oct. 25, 2014.
Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson argues with referee Pat Garvey after a flag was thrown during the second half of an NCAA college football game against Boston College in Winston-Salem, Oct. 25, 2014. AP FILE PHOTO

Dave Clawson’s first Fordham team didn’t win a game. His first Richmond team went 3-8, his second Bowling Green team went 2-10 and his first team at Wake Forest last season went 3-9.

“There’s a reason jobs open,” the second-year Demon Deacons coach said bluntly in an interview this week.

And there’s a reason Clawson, 47, keeps getting hired to fix them. Fordham went 10-3 and 9-3 in his final two seasons, Richmond was 11-3 in his last season before he was hired at Bowling Green and the Falcons went 10-3 in 2013 before Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman hired him to replace Jim Grobe.

There were few surprises, save for a late season 6-3 overtime win over Virginia Tech, last season for the talent-strapped Deacs. Grobe won 28 games between 2006 and ’08, and the ACC title in ’06, but Wake has posted six straight losing seasons since.

The biggest problems last season were on offense, specifically up front and at the skill positions. With little experience, or depth, Wake Forest ranked 127th out of 128 teams in scoring (14.8 points per game) and rushing (39.8 yards per game).

The Deacs were last in total offense (216.3 yards per game) and, according to cfbstats.com, were the only team in the last seven seasons to average less than 3.5 yards per play (3.38).

Those are hard numbers for a coach like Clawson, who has spent 25 years teaching offense. For Wake Forest to get better, Clawson believes, it will have to be able to run the football.

“Just as it was at the other three jobs, I think that’s the hardest thing to do,” Clawson said. “It’s hard to win consistently until you can run the ball consistently.”

On that front, Wake Forest is already in the process of making progress. Freshmen running backs Rocky Reid, Matt Colburn and Justin Strnad represent a talent upgrade from last year’s group, one Clawson plainly says was “lacking.”

All three freshmen, with a perhaps Concord’s Reid the best of the group, will “have a chance to play in Year 1,” Clawson said.

Plenty of newcomers will get an opportunity to play and develop, especially on offense, Clawson said. Freshman receiver Tabari Hines enrolled in January and adds a speed complement to sophomore tight end Cam Serigne, a bright spot last season with 54 catches for 531 yards.

A rebuilt offensive line will include a pair of new tackles in redshirt freshmen Phil Haynes and Justin Herron.

“The good news is I think we’re more talented,” Clawson said. “We have some young guys who are going to be really good but we need them to be good players this year.”

Clawson even left the door open for either Durham’s Kendall Hilton or four-star prospect Kyle Kearns to step in at quarterback.

Sophomore quarterback John Wolford survived his first college season. He was sacked 48 teams (most in the country) and hit countless other times as opponents teed off on a one-dimensional scheme. But Wolford, who completed 214 of his 367 passes for 2,037 yards, did improve as the season progressed. Only two of his 14 interceptions came in the final five games, with five of his 12 touchdowns coming over the same span.

“He earned the respect of our whole football team,” Clawson said.

But not necessarily the starting job for this season. Clawson didn’t rule out using more than one quarterback this season.

“I’m open to it,” Clawson said. “You let the competition play out. If you have two guys that deserve to play, then you play two guys.”

Clawson is definitely taking the long view in program building. The pressures at Fordham, Richmond or Bowling Green might not have been the same at an ACC school, but the process is. Clawson has proven, with time, he can build a winner.

“I don’t think you can have patience with it,” Clawson said. “You want to be as good as you can, as fast as you can.”

His timetable is to get there sooner than later but for Wake, it will have to learn how to walk before it can run.

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ACC preview schedule

Atlantic Division

May 31: No. 1 Florida State

June 7: No. 2 Clemson

June 14: No. 3 N.C. State

June 21: No. 4 Louisville

June 28: No. 5 Boston College

July 5: No. 6 Syracuse

July 12: No. 7 Wake Forest

Coastal Division

July 19: No. 1 Virginia Tech

July 26: No. 2 Georgia Tech

Aug. 2: No. 3 UNC

Aug. 9: No. 4 Duke

Aug. 16: No. 5 Pitt

Aug. 23: No. 6 Miami

Aug. 30: No. 7 Virginia

Wake Forest at a glance

2014: 3-9 (1-7 ACC)

Coach: Dave Clawson (3-9, second year at Wake Forest)

Returning starters: Offense (5), Defense (7), Special teams (2)

Plus

▪  Linebackers Brandon Chubb (109 tackles) and Marquel Lee (101 tackles) are what coach Dave Clawson likes to refer to as ACC caliber football players. The defense was “light years” ahead of the offense last year, Clawson said, and it will remain a step ahead with the return of Chubb, Lee and safety Ryan Janvion (115 tackles)..

▪  It would have been easy for a young team, with only 46 scholarship players on the roster by the end of the season, to give up but that wasn’t the case. The Deacs kept at it after an 0-6 ACC start and completed the most illogical upset circle of the college football season with a 6-3 overtime win over Virginia Tech on Nov. 22. The Hokies were the only team in the country to beat Ohio State, the 2014 national champions.

Minus

▪  In three different games (minus-3 at Louisiana-Monroe, minus-25 at Utah State and minus-22 at Louisville), Wake finished with negative rushing yards. The talent upgrade at running back will help, but it’s probably not realistic to think that a ground attack that averaged 39.9 yards per game is going to make significant strides without growing pains.

▪  It would be difficult for a program like Florida State to replace a talent like cornerback Kevin Johnson, the first-round pick of the Houston Texans, let alone one in a rebuilding mode like Wake Forest. Replacing Bud Noel at the other corner won’t be easy either.

Best-case scenario

After a fast 4-0 start, the Deacs find two more wins out of four games against N.C. State, UNC, Duke and Boston College to get back to a bowl game for the first time since 2011.

Worst-case scenario

A stumble at Syracuse, followed by a road loss to Army and Indiana leaves the Deacs taking a step backwards in the win column and Clawson pleading for more patience.

Bottom line

The early schedule is favorable and as the Deacs showed late last year, they have spoiler potential. The defense should be strong enough, and there’s enough new talent on offense in the right spots, to win four or five games in Clawson’s second season.

Newcomer to watch

Rocky Reid, RB

After Reid (6-0, 220 pounds) piled up 2,734 yards and 38 touchdowns for Concord last season, he decided it would be better to play more at Wake Forest than potentially get lost in the shuffle at Tennessee. Reid and quarterback Kendall Hinton (from Southern Durham) were both ranked in the top 25 of in-state recruits by Rivals.

Schedule

Sept. 3 Elon

Sept. 12 at Syracuse

Sept. 19 at Army

Sept. 26 Indiana

Oct. 3 Florida State

Oct. 10 at Boston College

Oct. 17 at UNC

Oct. 24 N.C. State

Oct. 30 Louisville

Nov. 7 OPEN

Nov. 14 at Notre Dame

Nov. 21 at Clemson

Nov. 28 Duke

Schedule analysis

With road trips to Louisiana-Monroe and Utah State, Wake had just about the most inexplicable schedule of any Power 5 team last year. There are no funky trips on this slate and the first four games are downright inviting.

There’s a real chance the Deacs could piece together a 3-1, or better, start. The challenge will be finding wins on the back end.

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