Wake managed to be at least occasionally competitive in Dave Clawson’s first two seasons as head coach because of its defense.
If the Deacons become the team Clawson envisioned for his fifth season, it will be in spite of their defense.
What appeared to be the case in an unsettling non-conference victory over Towson was all but confirmed in Thursday’s sobering 41-34 home loss to Boston College.
Sure there are issues with the offense. Sam Hartman, playing like the freshman he is, threw two interceptions – the fourth and fifth of his three-game career – while completing only 20 of 45 passes. And an offensive line missing mainstay Justin Herron (torn knee ligament) allowed Hartman to get sacked four times and be harassed throughout.
Yet still the Deacons amassed 512 yards en route to four touchdowns and two field goals, which should be enough to win most ACC games. What made the loss so sobering is the realization that Wake won’t be winning many ACC games this season playing the caliber of defense that was played against BC.
Nobody, not even Dave Clawson, should have been surprised to see AJ Dillon, the ACC’s preseason player of the year, carve 185 rushing yards out of the Wake defense. The Deacons may not face a better back this season.
But what had to gall Clawson was watching Anthony Brown, almost certainly not the best quarterback Wake will face, shred the Deacons defense for 304 yards and five touchdowns. Clawson, to his credit, is not one to hide his feelings on such matters, and his post-game message came across loud and clear.
Jay Sawvel, the second-year defensive coordinator, was publicly put on notice. And though I’ve never met Lyle Hemphill, who coaches safeties, or Ryan Crawford, the cornerbacks coach, I would hazard to guess that neither is feeling an abundance of job security along about now.
Much was made – much of it, indeed, by Clawson himself – about how bare the offensive cupboard was when Clawson took over from Jim Grobe. And Clawson and Warren Ruggiero have gotten all the credit they deserve for building a potent ACC offensive from scratch.
But what shouldn’t be forgotten is how solid the defense was in Clawson’s first two 3-9 seasons, solid enough to rank ninth and seventh in the conference in yards allowed. Grobe’s defensive coaches recruited well enough to leave Clawson with the likes of Brandon Chubb, Tylor Harris, Kevin Johnson, Brad Watson, Marquel Lee, Duke Ejiofor and Josh Banks, and Mike Elko coached them well enough to earn both huge accolades and a fat contract at Notre Dame.
And Wake can’t be faulted for losing a coach that not even Notre Dame could keep. Texas A&M, recently crowned by Forbes as the most lucrative cash cow in the NCAA stockyard, lured Elko away for what was reported to be $1.8 million a season – the highest salary of any college defensive coordinator.
We all had to wonder what the impact would be when Elko departed, and now we all have to wonder if the answer has become all too apparent.
As Clawson stressed, the defensive problems did not appear overnight. The Deacons played some pretty strong defense early last season, but became fodder for opposing offensive coordinators down the stretch of an 8-5 campaign.
Since FSU managed only 270 yards in an odd 26-19 victory on Sept. 30, 2017, the last 11 opponents have plundered Wake for an average of 31.1 points and 521 yards a game. BC, a team has appears to have vaulted the Deacons in the ACC Atlantic Division pecking order, became the sixth team over that stretch to pile up at least 500 yards against Wake.
Towson, a team picked to finish 10th in the 12-team Colonial Athletic Association, exposed Wake with 410 yards and 20 points.
Grobe caught flak from certain elements of the Wake fan base for his perceived loyalty to his assistants. Clawson all but insulated himself from the same criticism after jettisoning Adam Scheier, the special teams coach he couldn’t say enough nice things about early on, after the third season.
Our family loves the movie “Burn After Reading,’’ and we’ve laughed ever since it came out about how Linda (Frances McDormand) absolutely demanded that the goofball Chad (Brad Pitt) be a “Can-Do Guy.’’
Dave Clawson has proven in his coaching career to be a “Can-Do Guy.’’ It’s got him to where he is today, as head coach at Wake.
But can this “Can-Do Guy’’ do enough to shore up a defense that, last seen, laid in tatters on the artificial turf of BB&T Field? I imagine the fate of his fifth season at Wake defends on it, and I imagine no one knows that better than Dave Clawson.