Will Clawson Adjust, Bye and Bye?

Dave Clawson is a football coach, and as such shouldn’t be expected to know the proper usage of the English language as well as, say, a retired sportswriter blogging his way down from 40 years in the business

And this particular retired sportswriter blogging his way down from 40 years in the business wouldn’t know the English language as well as I should without the direction of Terry Oberle, the best editor any sportswriter could ever hope to have.

Terry was the one who drilled incessantly into his staff how a team with a bye is one that advances in a tournament without having to play.

So Wake has no bye after Saturday’s 63-3 undressing by Clemson in front of a sea of orange at BB&T Field. The Deacons, thankfully for the sake of everyone save perhaps a prospective opponent, are simply off this coming Saturday.

Terry also warned against the use of decimated as a synonym of annihilated or destroyed. The word, as the first syllable suggests, comes from the understanding that any Roman legion guilty of cowardice or dishonor in battle would have one  of every 10 legionnaires yanked from the ranks and killed.

Unless precisely one of every 10 Wake players has been knocked out of action because of injury, the Deacons have not been decimated. They have been ravaged. They have been devastated. And they have been gutted.

They have not, technically speaking, been decimated.

But again, as a football coach, Dave Clawson can certainly be forgiven for the kind of linguistic mistakes that pretty much 98.3 percent of all those conversant in the English language make constantly. And for me to even point out his misuse could be seen as petty.

OK, those who feel that are right. It’s petty, and I own it.

Yet that still leaves me with the question of how willing are those who still care about Wake football to forgive Clawson for the much more consequential mistakes he has made with this, his fifth team in Winston-Salem.

The mistake that is becoming more and more apparent with every passing pasting was implementing a warp-speed, RPO offense without a defense capable of shouldering its share of the load. Making matters worse, he did so with a freshman quarterback not ready for prime-time Power Five football.

In losses to BC, Notre Dame and Clemson, Sam Hartman has completed 39 of 89 passes (44 percent) for 133 yards per game while throwing more interceptions (3) than touchdowns (2).

The Deacons, through six games, have run 511 plays, 30 more than any other ACC team. Their pace, along with the inability to sustain drives, has required the Wake defense to defend 451 plays. Among ACC teams, only BC (475 defensive plays) and FSU (455 defensive plays) have asked as much from their defenses.

The work load has also contributed heavily to the ever-lengthening disabled list, which going into the off week, appears longer on defense than the list of those available to play. And like me, you’ve probably noticed Clawson mentioning the epidemic of injuries more and more often as the losses pile up.

Spending four decades covering sports can make a man rather hard-bitten. Again I admit it. I own it. But every time I hear a football coach bellyache about injuries, I recall a conversation with my fast friend Ron Morris, who spent part of his career as sports editor of the Tallahassee Democrat.

Ron would have an opening on staff, and fly a candidate in for interviews. The first words the prospect would mention upon deplaning was how hot it was in Tallahassee.

To which Ron would reply, “Well, it’s July in Florida. So yeah, you’re right. It’s hot.’’

And that’s pretty much my answer to any football coach who complains about injuries. Well, football is a collision sport. So yeah, you’re right. Players get hurt.’’

Good teams overcome injuries through recruiting and development. Bad teams don’t.

Throughout fall camp and the first games, I kept wondering if Wake had enough players on defense who were, in the words of Clawson, playable. And that’s another reason to question his decision to run a warp-speed offense.

It’s hard to recall a team in more need of an off-week, which, coming from a sportswriter who rode the Wake beat for 25 years, is really saying something. And I go into the off-week curious as can be about what adjustments Clawson and his staff will make before returning to the field at Florida State on Oct. 20.

Clawson entered the season pretty much compelled to play Hartman. One quarterback candidate, Kendall Hinton, was suspended for the first three games for the ubiquitous “violation of team rules” and another, Jamie Newman, was hurt.

But now that he has two weeks to retool his offense, Clawson has some options. He can certainly insert the more experienced Hinton, and see what his speed and elusiveness might do to jump-start a stalled-out attack. And obviously he can down-shift on offense, and run fewer plays to give his defense a chance to catch its breath between three-and-outs.

Clawson is a good football coach. Other than the ill-fated season spent as offensive coordinator at Tennessee, he has proven it everywhere he has been – just as he proved it his first four seasons at Wake.

But good coaches have bad seasons, and thus far Clawson has had a bad season. He has already pulled one lever by dispatching his defensive coordinator, Jay Sawvel, four games into the season. What other moves will he be willing to make, and will they make a difference?

To those questions, your guess is as good as mine. But I do feel comfortable making one prediction.

The identity of the starting quarterback for Wake will be as closely-guarded a secret as the nuclear code. If a coach is unwilling to reveal an injury to a back-up quarterback (Newman) going into a home game against an opponent as inept as Rice, he’s certainly not going to tip his hand as to who starts at FSU.

Where Did Cubs’ Mojo Go?

A word I use with increasing regularity these days is DONE.

That’s done, as in the last year or two I was working as a sportswriter, I was DONE. I endeavored to put in an honest day’s work, and I feel my experience and network of contacts and friends allowed me to, more often than not, do so. But long before I retired a year ago August, I was DONE.

That’s done, as in, my bride Tybee has been teaching elementary school pretty much all her adult life, she’s seen and dealt with it all, and now she’s DONE. She still loves the kids, she knows she spent her career doing what she should be doing, and she’s still a teacher any student or parent should be thankful to have. But each day it gets a little harder to haul her cart of books and papers and notebooks up the steps of our house at the end of another interminable day.

Trust me on this one. She’s DONE.

That’s done, as in even if my favorite baseball team, the Chicago Cubs had somehow clawed past the Colorado Rockies in last night’s Wild Card game, as far as the 2018 season goes, they were long since DONE.

Slugger Kris Bryant, battling a bum shoulder that may well need off-season surgery, was clearly not the same Kris Bryant opposing pitchers had come to know and fear.

Shortstop Addison Russell was put on ice for an undetermined length of time while the accusations of domestic abuse hopefully get sorted out one way or another.

Closer Brandon Morrow, nursing a bone bruise in his pitching arm, had long since been shut down for the season.

Catcher Willson Contreras, such a beast in the first half of the season, had transformed before our very eyes into a patsy at the plate who never could frame pitches well enough to for his pitchers to get an honest strike.

The bats had gone so limp, in fact, that the Cubs managed all of two runs over the final 22 innings of the season. Even manager Joe Maddon was under the weather in the final game, watching his once mighty team stagger through 13 innings to the 2-1 collapse he had to see coming.

Again, even if they had somehow pulled it out, the Cubs appeared to be no threat to the Brewers or anyone else they might match up with along the way. The Cubs were clearly DONE.

We who pulled for the Cubs hoped like hell they would somehow pull a Muddy Waters (he of Windy City fame) and finally at long last Get Their Mojo Working. But the record will show that the Cubs Mojo had long since packed and gone, leaving the Cubs, indubitably DONE.

And that’s OK. It had better be, because that’s the story of life.

The fan who expects their team to win it all all the time is destined for heartbreak and sorrow. The best we can hope for really is that our team plays well enough to give us something to follow until the end. Not every season is going to be 2016. It took the Cubs 108 years to reign again over the baseball world, and I’m thankful I lived long enough to see it.

Besides, there’s always next season. Hope spring eternal, and all that.

One great hope I had from watching the game on ESPN2’s Statcast (which I really got off on) is that Major League Baseball will, sooner rather than later, turn to the electronic strike zone. And I’m not saying this as sour grapes. My own take was that the Cubs got at least as many calls go their way as the Rockies, and besides, as I stated at length earlier, the Cubs were already a dead team walking.

Home plate umpire Chris Guccione, the stat freaks on ESPN keep noting, is said to be a “Hitter’s Ump,’’ in that he calls fewer strikes than most his eagle-eyed brethren. To hear that really, really disturbs me.

The strike zone is the strike zone. It’s to be called, not interpreted.

And it pains me to see a pitcher make the perfect pitch – especially in a “High-Leverage Situation” – and it be called a ball. It pains me equally to see the batter take the cutter two inches off the plate, and be rung up for the final out.

The three-dimension strike zone they kept showing on ESPN was, to me at least, further evidence that the technology exists for lasers and cameras and monitors to do what the human eye simply cannot always do. As I’ve written before, a pitch from a Major League pitcher darts, slides, cuts and veers toward the plate at 95 miles an hour, and the umpire is expected to determine whether it dissected at any point on its path the strike zone.

This is no knock on Guccione, who, surprisingly, turned into a pitcher’s umpire on this particular occasion. He’s only a human being asked to do what humanly cannot be done.

In time, baseball will turn to the electronic strike zone. It’s inevitable. I just wish the powers that be would go along and make the move, for the benefit of all. It’ll then be a far better game, giving managers, and players and fans something other than balls and strikes to bitch about.

The pitcher who paints the corner will get the call. The batter who has the sand to take a pitch two inches off the plate, will get the call. Baseball will be a better game.

And when baseball finally does turn to the electronic strike zone, I hope it’s done right. Wire home plate in a way that it turns a bright scarlet – bright enough for everyone in the park to see – when the pitch catches the zone.

Doing so would certainly make the rest of the playoffs more fun to watch. And speaking of the rest of the playoffs, go Braves. I was around Brian Snitker enough during his lifetime in the Carolina League to get to know and like him, and he’s a great story.

So go Braves and go Yankees. Here’s hoping for an Atlanta/Big Apple series.

The Cubs may be DONE, but the 2018 season, thankfully, roars on.

Rice Shows Up Right on Time

Of all the characters I met over my four decades of writing sports, among the most colorful, and certainly one of the most profane, had to be the Frank Howard, the coach/philosopher who was Clemson football from the time he became head coach in 1940 until long after he retired in 1969.

He was still hanging around the program when I started making trips down I-85 in the early 70s, spinning stories that were at times nakedly racist, at times banal, and at times as dead-on insightful of the human condition as any words I’ve ever heard spoken.

Frank Howard was a man of his times, and as such, he could have never had lasted coaching more than a game or two in the 21st century. The reason he lasted back then was that the sportswriting community – of which I was, admittedly, a young convert – chose to scrub the N-bombs Howard dropped with such casual regularity from the transcripts of post-game and post-practice observations, as well as talks to civic groups so well-received throughout the upstate area of South Carolina.

Should I, as a 22-year-old neophyte in the business, have exposed Frank Howard for his racist language? Looking back, the answer is probably yes.

But that’s a rhetorical question I’ll leave for another post. On Saturday I was reminded of the words of wisdom Howard had for any fellow coach hoping to scratch out a living in the dog-eat-dog world of college football.

Find somebody you can beat, Howard would prescribe in his most red-dirt of all red-dirt Southern drawls, and play them every Saturday.

Wake found somebody it could beat Saturday. In Rice, the Deacons found a team pretty much any FBS college team could beat.

Anybody watching needed only a possession or two to see just how bad the Owls are. On Saturday, in front of a sparse gathering at BB&T Field, they were bad enough to be down 45 points by halftime to a team that had spent the previous two weeks getting knocked around its own home turf.

Dave Clawson is too smart a man to deny the obvious, and I was glad to see Conor O’Neill of my old shop the Winston-Salem Journal, lead with the caveat that provided all the context the reader might need.

Still, beating Rice 56-24 had to be fun for the Deacons and their fans, all of whom had been licking their wounds from the 41-34 cuffing by Boston College and the 56-27 drubbing by Notre Dame. But was the win just a sugar-high that will wear off long before Wake kicks off against No. 3 Clemson Saturday?

And just what did we learn from the fun and frivolity?

What I personally learned was that given enough time to stand in the pocket and survey the options available, freshman Sam Hartman certainly looks the part of an ACC quarterback. Trouble was, BC and Notre Dame didn’t give Hartman enough time and Hartman, consequently, looked like the raw freshman he is.

But given the luxury of time Saturday, Hartman shredded Rice for 15 completions on 17 attempts for 241 yards and four touchdowns, while playing turnover-free football. As Conor pointed out in Monday’s follow story, Hartman’s quarterback efficiency rating of 284.96 is the best ever at Wake for any quarterback with at least 11 completions.

How close can Hartman come to performing at that level under the duress he is sure to face against Clemson? I’m sure that’s a question Clawson, offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero and Hartman himself will be asking in the hours leading up to Saturday’s 3:30 kickoff at BB&T Field.

Saturday’s win also convinced me that Greg Dortch is far too great a weapon to allow to run free through the secondary. Notre Dame kept close tabs on Dortch, and held him to six catches for 56 yards and – most important – no touchdowns. Rice didn’t, and most likely couldn’t, and Dortch torched the Owls for 11 catches for 163 yards and – most important – four touchdowns.

Brent Venable is a good defensive coordinator, good enough in the eyes of Clemson to pay $11.6 million to lock him up for five years. He’s paid those big bucks to determine which opponents are most likely to make him and his defense look bad.

Greg Dortch will be a marked man again Saturday. I’m as curious as you to see how he and the Deacons will respond.

One question that was clearly not answered Saturday was what effect canning defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel four games into the season had on Wake’s performance. Clawson was not overjoyed to see Rice score three touchdowns in the second half, but he did express satisfaction with how the Deacons’ defense got lined up.

That may well not be enough against Clemson, but it will be a requisite for any semblance of success.

The Deacons emerged from September with a 3-2 record and a litany of questions remaining – most of which, I’m willing to predict, will be answered in October. Wake gets the second weekend off, and then will hit the road again for the first time since August to play at Florida State on Oct. 20 and at Louisville on Oct. 27.

Neither the Seminoles nor Cardinals appear to be the powerhouses they’ve been known to be, so maybe Wake can pick off one or the other and roll into November at 4-4 with Syracuse (home), N.C. State (away), Pitt (home) and Duke (away) left to play. That would leave the Deacons with at least a viable path to the six wins needed for a third-straight bowl.

But to beat Clemson, FSU or Louisville, Wake will have to play better football that it has played.

Dave Clawson, to his credit, knows this, as does anybody who has been paying attention this season.

Bold and Cold-Blooded

Dave Clawson’s firing of defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel four games into Wake’s football season was a bold move.

It was also a cold-blooded move.

But was it the right move?

Clawson has forgotten more about his football team than I will ever know, and he obviously feels it was the right move or he wouldn’t have made it. And as Les Johns pointed out in Demon Deacon Digest, it’s not as though anyone should have been caught by surprise, not after Clawson clearly put Sawvel on public notice following the loss to Boston College.

Still the firing was a shock to the system of anyone who has kept up with Wake football down through the ages. My memory is not the best, so I called around to people who would know better than I do, and no one could recall a Wake football coach being cashiered during a season.

But does that in itself make it a bad move? Anyone who knows anything about the history of Wake football could make a strong and compelling argument otherwise.

Based on an informal canvassing of readers’ comments and various social media sites, it was a popular move. The Deacons have been sieve-like defensively really since the mid-point of last season, and the overwhelming opinion seems to be that something had to be done.

So four games into the season Clawson fires his defensive coordinator and shuffles his staff to compensate for Sawvel’s departure. As I’ve written before, Dave Clawson has proven to be a “Can-Do Guy.’’ He got the job as Wake’s head coach by being a “Can-Do Guy,’’ and when a “Can-Do Guy’’ says he wants something done, he gets what he wants or heads will roll.

We’ve learned already that Clawson considers his job to be winning football games at Wake and that he’s not only willing, but bound and determined, to do whatever he can do to get that done.

And if that means that a college football coach who was hired before the 2017 season is looking for a job four games into the 2018 season, well, folks have to know that college football can be a pressure-packed, ruthless, and yes, cold-blooded business.

Jay Sawvel got caught up in a smelly, unfortunate situation during Minnesota’s 2016 season, and needed a job. And when Mike Elko left for Notre Dame, Clawson gave Sawvel a shot at Wake.

The question I’ll be asking myself for the rest of this season, though, is how good of a shot did Clawson give him?

How much of Wake’s defensive doldrums have to do with schemes and calls, and how much of it was a product of talent – or lack thereof?

I ask that question after watching the Notre Dame game as closely as I possibly could. And throughout the game, I kept pondering the following:

How many players playing defense for Wake in 2018 could be either starting or in the regular rotation of a first-division ACC defense? As closely as I looked, I didn’t see anybody resembling Jessie Bates or Duke Ejiofor or Marquel Lee or Brandon Chubb or Josh Banks playing defense for the Deacons against Notre Dame.

I do like the two fifth-year senior tackles, Willie Yarbary and Zeek Rodney. And as hesitant as opposing quarterbacks appear to be to throw the ball in Essang Bassey’s direction, maybe he could crack a lineup at Duke or N.C. State.

But clearly the ends aren’t providing the kind of rush a defense wants, and clearly the linebackers aren’t stuffing the run. The argument could be made that maybe players like Chris Calhoun and Boogie Basham and Justin Strnad and DJ Taylor would be playing better with better coaching, but I imagine it will take the rest of this season – if not into next season – to determine the validity of that point.

I do feel safe in saying that the likes of Luke Masterson and Ja’Sir Taylor and Nate Mays would have to show a hell of a lot more than they have this season to get on the field elsewhere. How did Wake get in a position where it needed plays from players like this?

Nor did Clawson make it easy on Sawvel by implementing a warp-speed offense designed to run as many plays as possible. The strategy may be sound if the offense can make enough first downs to control the time of possession, but otherwise more plays by one team all but ensures more plays by the other.

In stark contrast to how he throttled back the offense to best utilize the defense over his first two seasons, Clawson has shifted to high gear since. Through four games, the Deacons lead the ACC having run 372 plays. Only one other team has run more than 300, that being Syracuse with 334.

But here’s the rub. Wake, through four games, was left to defend 305 plays. Only one team has defended more, that being Boston College with 307.

So if you’re Jay Sawvel, or anybody who has ever known him well enough to care for him, then you’re probably feeling a bit put-upon about now.

Clawson’s predecessor, Jim Grobe, caught a lot of flak from the Wake fan base for being too loyal to his staff. That seems to be one reason for the move’s popularity, in that it paints Clawson as the anti-Grobe.

And indeed, other than their occupation, there is very little similarity between Jim Grobe and Dave Clawson. But having covered college football from the early 1970s, I can safely say that there is very little similarity between Jim Grobe and any head football coach I got to know over that time.

When Jim Grobe said he wanted to foster a family atmosphere, he meant it. And no one is more well aware that Grobe’s 13-year run at Wake ended with five straight losing seasons.

But by fostering a family atmosphere, Grobe won an ACC championship and played in the Orange Bowl. And by fostering a family atmosphere, he also coached the Deacons to three straight winning seasons, something that has never been done at Wake.

Maybe there’s no room for a family atmosphere in today’s world of college football. Maybe Dave Clawson is just the coach Wake needs for today’s times.

Or maybe he’s just another college football coach who feels the need to deflect blame from a “Can-Do Guy’’ who is not getting it done.

And maybe, just maybe, the two possibilities are not mutually exclusive.

Cozmik Croquet

Occasionally a well-meaning friend who knows my passion for politics will ask if I ever considered running for elective office.

These are obviously well-meaning friends who have never seen my starring role in the production of Henry’s Hawaiian Open.

Some candidates might be hiding a skeleton or two in their closet. Even the most cursory of opposition research would unearth that boneyard in my basement.

The time was back in the daze, circa 1980.

The place was The Southern Part of Heaven, a.k.a Chapel Hill.

The sport was one we – and by we I mean folks like Moose and Crag T. and Rico and Gary O. and T.C. – invented and promulgated among all the freaks and ne’er-do-wells and layabouts and hippies and eccentrics and thrill-seekers and free spirits we were hanging out with at the time.

You know, our fast friends.

We called the sport Cozmik Croquet, and like so many great inventions, it was borne out of necessity. We were bored, and we desperately needed some fun. There was also my broken-down Ford Econoline van (with the legend Cherokee-Bryson City Florists emblazoned on the sides) that was stuck in the driveway of a house we were in the process of getting evicted from, and something just had to be done.

We considered burying the wheels in concrete and leaving it as a souvenir, but wised up in time to realize that would probably emboss us on the permanent record of any realtor or landlord in North Carolina or any of its neighboring states. The obvious solution was to push it over a cliff, but there were no cliffs nearby.

So then we came up with the grand idea of throwing a Cozmik Croquet Tournament and giving the van away as first prize. Thus came to be our founding organization, The Intergalactic Federation of Croquet and Cozmik Awareness (IFCCA).

We weren’t good for much, but we were really, really good at promulgating. We staged our first tournament, the Jones Street Invitational in April of 1975 and drew around 50 or 60 curiosity seekers. But Chapel Hill was a tight scene in those days, and before long word of our shenanigans had spread through Cat’s Cradle, and He’s Not Here and The Mad Hatter and the Cave and up and down Franklin Street, to the extent that each tournament attracted more and more attendees.

It also drew more and more attention from the wrong places, which is why holding these events at our homes was not a good idea. The morning after the second tournament, The Littlejohn Invitational, we had a note pinned to our back door demanding we vacate the premises by the first of the month.

And no one who was there will ever forget the scene at The Second Annual Jones Street Invitational, held out in Hudsonville on Mount Gilead Church Road in Chatham County. That’s when the incensed landlord and his even more apoplectic wife drove their truck up to our first wicket right during the middle of the bedlam and gave us all of one hour to collect our wickets and stakes and mallets and balls and beer cans and whiskey bottles and get the hell off their property. To drive the point home, our landlord had his buddy, the county sheriff, to park in full view to make damn sure we did what we were told.

It should go without saying that we were, once again, house-hunting by the first of the month.

What saved the sport was the bright idea of slipping unannounced onto campus and driving our wickets and stakes into one of Carolina’s many athletic fields. By then, very few of us were enrolled, but somehow we got away with appropriating the grounds for several years – long enough for the sport to grow and flourish and become the local rage our good friend Bob Landau of Maceo Productions documented with such aplomb in the movie linked above.

Within three or four years, in fact, the ensuing rage compelled us to limit the field to the first 96 Croqueteers who showed up for registration. Otherwise we couldn’t finish the tournament before having to, once again, illuminate the greensward with the light of cars positioned strategically around the perimeter.

We would stage anywhere from four to five tournaments a season, and the battles for supremacy among the myriad teams (The Jones Street Boys, The Poker-Face Crybabies, The Pair-A-Dice Palookas, Henry’s Heroes, The Rock Candy Mountaineers, The Stoned Rangers, Dee’s Boys, The Charlotte Croquet Club, Uranus B Team, Mallets Aforethought, The Media-Ogres, The Sweet Nothings, Fupped Ducks, Reckless Abandon, et. al.) remain legendary in the deep recesses of those burned-out, overtaxed medial temporal lobes still functioning in some capacity today.

Every bit as heated was the competition for Best Dressed – Male and Female. The sport, if nothing else, was a boon to all the Consignment and Thrift Stores in the Greater Spudtowne Statistical Metropolitan Area.

The tournament immortalized in Henry’s Hawaiian, as you can see, was indeed concluded under headlights, and I’m proud to say, was won by my brother Tom. T.C. always was a great mudder.

Way too many of the characters having the time of their lives are no longer with us today. But in watching the movie again last night, I was struck by how many of the people you see actually overcame their sordid past to lead productive, laudable and, in some cases, quite prominent lives.

I won’t out them. Their secret is safe with me and the hundreds of other Croqueteers they crossed mallets with on the fields of Cozmik Combat those many years ago.

Year by year, relocation by relocation, mortgage by mortgage, new job by new job, new kid by new kid – you know, LIFE – eventually took its toll. But Cozmik Croquet, like Kudzu, can never be completely eradicated.

Even today we’ll have a tournament or two and there will be anywhere from a dozen or two old Hippies show up to remind everyone and ourselves just how crazy we’ve always been and how much fun life can be when you don’t take it, or yourselves, too seriously.

And if that means I’ll never hold an elective office, I consider that a small price to pay.

Where Have You Gone Mike Elko?

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.

The Voice on Hartman We’ve Yet to Hear

Sam Hartman has been enrolled at Wake for eight months, during which time he has begun his pursuit of a degree, competed in spring practices and preseason camp, won the starting quarterback position and led the Deacons to a season-opening 23-17 overtime victory at Tulane

He’s an intriguing story, and like most of you, I’m sure, I want to know all I can about him.

So I perused every preseason profile of Hartman I could find. Conor O’Neill of the Winston-Salem Journal and Les Johns of Demon Deacon Digest did themselves proud, but the most detailed and compelling piece was written by Frankie Mansfield of the Moultrie News – which makes sense given that Mansfield obviously goes back with Hartman to his days at nearby Oceanside Collegiate Academy.

The more I read about Sam Hartman and his story, the more I want to know.

In all these thousands of words, I’ve gotten a take from around a dozen people. Those I’ve seen quoted on who Sam Hartman is and what he’s about are his father (Mark), his mother (Lisa), his brother (Joe), his high school coach (Chad Grier) his Pop Warner coach (Mark Maye), two high school teammates (Jonathan Jeffries and Gerald Shephard), two college teammates (Cade Carney and Ryan Anderson), his offensive coordinator (Warren Ruggiero) and his head coach (Dave Clawson).

The one voice I’ve yet to hear on who Sam Hartman is and what he’s about – at least not pertaining to his time since he arrived at Wake – is that of Sam Hartman.

I would have wondered if Sam Hartman is perhaps mute, but having spent my career around college football and college football coaches, I knew better.

Sam Hartman is not mute. But he has been muted.

Everyone gets to weigh in on Sam Hartman, it seems, except Sam Hartman.

The decision that Hartman, as a freshman, is not available to the media is that of Clawson. In my three plus years of covering Dave Clawson and getting to know him, I never considered him a bad guy. He’s certainly a really good coach, and Wake is fortunate to have him.

I have no doubt that Clawson, in his heart, is doing what he feels is best for Hartman and the team as a whole.

That said, by this time in Hartman’s career, he has plunged into a heavy academic load, competed day after day in practice, faced down a Tulane team intent on administering grave bodily harm and, I’m sure, from time to time stared down grizzled teammates who have tested the bounds of his authority in the huddle.

Dave Clawson has entrusted Sam Hartman to do all this, and yet he has not entrusted Sam Hartman to talk with Conor O’Neill of the Winston-Salem Journal and Les Johns of Demon Deacon Digest.

It’s the instincts of every college football coach I’ve known save one to control all he can possibly control. And I can see how that would be a sound philosophy, given all a college football coach is charged with controlling.

But there’s also the countless examples of coaches getting so carried away by their authority that they lose perspective of what is right and what is wrong, and what is fair and what is unfair. The question I ask here, again, is it right and fair for everyone to have their say about Sam Hartman except Sam Hartman?

I’ve gathered that the media moratorium on talking with Wake’s starting quarterback will prevail through the month of September, during which time the Deacons will play Towson, Boston College, Notre Dame and Rice. If he throws a touchdown pass, or maybe an interception, the media covering Wake will be left to ask others why Hartman did what he did and the effect it had on the game.

Meanwhile, the media relations department has one of the best stories in the ACC to promote, without any input from the story himself.

Will the pressure build to make Hartman available, and if so, where will it come from? Will the ESPN crew assigned to cover the Wake-Boston College game quietly accept Clawson’s edict, or will it cajole the Deacons into an interview with, again, the starting quarterback?

And when Sam Hartman is finally made available, will Conor O’Neill and Les Johns – the guys who have faithfully covered the program since spring – get the first crack, or will they have to wait in line behind those with more clout?

Not a day has passed since last August that I miss being a sportswriter. I was done, just as I’m sure those I dealt with were done with me.