Wake Forest is two games through the ACC race and now has to refocus on playing Army West Point this Saturday at home. It is hard enough preparing for an Army offense that takes weeks to prepare for. Doing it coming off two tough conference games makes it more of a challenge for Wake Forest.
Army comes into the game at Truist Field with a 1-3 record. Give the Black Knights credit. They have played a tough schedule with Coastal Carolina, UTSA, and Georgia State on the docket. Unfortunately, their only win came against FCS-level Villanova.
Black Knights Struggling
Jeff Monken is in his ninth year at West Point. And while he has had success in recent years, the Black Knights are struggling this season. “We’re a team that needs a win, badly,” Monken said Tuesday. Saturday’s game against Wake will be Army’s only match-up with a Power Five school all season.
One thing that stands out in this year’s Army team is the season stats being skewed in a direction one would not expect in the first couple of weeks. The Black Knights threw 304 yards in week two against UTSA. That tilts the season averages just a tad for a program that historically lives off variations of the triple-option offense.
Now before anyone goes thinking there has been a revolution of sorts at West Point, in last week’s 31-14 loss to Georgia State, Army netted 354 rushing yards and 11 passing yards. Yes, 11 passing yards, on one of eight passing. Starting Cade Ballard was one of seven for 11 yards. On the other hand, they had nine runners contribute to their rushing totals. Monken said the offense is, “Not where it needs to be. Scoring 14 points last week is not where it needs to be.”
When asked about what is going well at West Point this season after several years of elevated success, Monken struggled to come up with an answer. He pointed to special teams and the kicking game as his only upsides right now. “We have pretty high expectations around here and pretty high standards of the way we perform,” he said. “This team won a lot of football games over the last four, five, six years.” He acknowledged the Black Knights are not finding their way through the pivotal moments in games as they have in recent years.
Clawson Wants To Avoid Repeat Performance
Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson knows it is still a tough offense to plan for. With so few teams running the triple option, like maybe two or three, there is not a lot of opportunity to get ready for it or practice against it. “This offense is a nightmare to prepare for,” Clawson said Tuesday. “Part of having success against it is you have to embrace it. I don’t know if we embraced it a year ago. That would be the game where the Demon Deacons gave up a whopping 56 points to Army in a 70-56 win at Michie Stadium on the banks of the Hudson.
Clawson is hoping not to need his offense to put up 70 points to get the win this season. “That was one of the most tortuous games I’ve ever been a part of. We just couldn’t get a stop,” he pointed out.
He talked about the critical nature of the Wake scout team in preparation for the game. Clawson said they have been practicing simulating the Army offense every other Sunday since the season started, as well as shoring up their skills in Spring and Fall camps. He said the Army offense puts stress on every part of the opponent’s defense. “For your defensive line, their head’s just on a swivel because you don’t know where it’s coming from,” he said.
There is also the work of team focus. That has been an ever-evolving process this season for Clawson. The team was admittedly shaken after a closer-than-expected win over Liberty. After the double-overtime loss at home to Clemson, Clawson described the locker room emotion as “Gutted.”
Now he has a team that was on an emotional high after a significant road win at Florida State. “Sometimes there’s games where you win, and you are relieved. And that game was pure joy. I think it was one of the biggest wins we’ve had here.” He added that “When those games are over, you don’t fly home, you float home.” He made sure to address, and then move on from, the extracurricular noise that came with the game. While Florida State fans said the weather concerns were a rouse, Wake had to significantly change its flight plans. The hurricane that avoided Tallahassee had gone back out over the ocean, gained strength, and then hit land over the Carolinas again, making for very dubious flying conditions, and a bumpy journey to Florida.
So now the work ahead is making sure the team, at 4-1, resets mentally and emotionally for a difficult offense to prepare for that comes in the midst of the ACC schedule. “You come back on Sunday and if you’re telling them to get over the loss and look ahead, you’ve got to get over the win and look ahead.”
Those Wacky ACC Schedulers
Even with the game being an interruption in the conference schedule, Clawson maintains that he treats each game the same in terms of importance. He just wishes the schedule worked out a little differently. “I would always love to play our four non-conference games first. It doesn’t always work out that way. We’re halfway through the season and we will be done with the non-conference schedule. Getting Clemson and Florida State back-to-back early in the year, I always appreciate the ACC schedulers when they do that,” Clawson said with a wry grin. “For them to think Wake Forest is the one team that can handle that in September and October, we’ll take that as a compliment.”
Saturday’s 7:30 pm kickoff at Truist has been announced as a sellout.