In Dave Clawson’s rule of 24 hours to celebrate a win or mourn a loss, the goal is to get Wake Forest to turn the page on what happened last Saturday, and look forward, for better or for worse. The college football season is fast and furious. We are two-thirds of the way through the season, and there is no time for lingering in the past. So, it only makes sense that at Tuesday’s weekly press conference the majority of the question-and-answer talk was about…the blowout loss to Louisville.
Wake Forest To Turn The Page
The Demon Deacons travel to Raleigh this week for the rivalry game against North Carolina State. Both teams go into the game at 6-2 overall and 2-2 in ACC play. They are tied for third in the ACC Atlantic, one game behind Syracuse, and the equivalent of light years behind Clemson, which has all but wrapped up the division. The one thing that separates them though is Syracuse. NC State has already lost to the Orange, while Wake still has them ahead on the schedule. In simple terms, it means Wake controls its own destiny in getting the second-place spot in the division and a better bowl game.
But first, there was the need to complete the exorcism of last week’s loss. Clawson, unprompted, wanted to step in and defend the play of Sam Hartman from last week. The starting quarterback suffered through one of the worst statistical performances of his career. He completed only 57% of his passes, threw for one touchdown, three interceptions, and three fumbles lost. Of course, as the quarterback, Hartman gets tagged with everything that went wrong.
In Hartman’s Defense
Saturday after the game, Clawson said Hartman needed to feel the pocket presence to avoid some of the sacks. As they say in college football, “Upon further review…” Tuesday Clawson felt compelled to come to Hartman’s defense. “You go back and watch the film, and he’s probably responsible for one to one-and-a-half of those turnovers,” Clawson said. He went into further detail about receivers not completing their routes or bobbling balls that were right in their hands, accounting for interceptions. Those in attendance also got details of missed blocks, missed reads by offensive linemen and running backs, and assignment confusion that led to sacks, rushed passes, and other offensive calamities.
“I’m not going to get up here and tell you he had the best game of his career here,” Clawson said. “Turnovers aren’t just because of the quarterback. We had protection issues. We had route issues.” That was not to say Hartman was faultless. Clawson was asked point blank why he felt the need to come to his quarterback’s defense on Tuesday. “I just think sometimes there is this lazy narrative out there that people don’t watch the game. They just say ‘ok, here we go again.’” He said the storyline that Hartman was having another one of “those games” was “just not true.”
He continued to emphasize his point. “I think Sam’s a standup guy. When things don’t go well, he’s certainly going to take it. I just felt as his head coach, that narrative that he had one of those games again, you know I can’t let that out there. It’s not accurate. It’s not true.”
Once “we” got all that off our chest, there was the focus on NC State to deal with. The Wolfpack has had two different seasons this year. There was the season with star quarterback Devin Leary where they were 5-1 and averaging 30.5 points per game. And then he got injured in the Florida State game and there has been the aftermath where they are 5-1 and averaging 23 points per game.
Still, there is nothing to be assumed by Wake. NC State has won 15 games in a row at Carter-Finley Stadium. Head coach Dave Doeren indicated MJ Morris will likely get the call at quarterback this week. He went 20 of 29 for 265 yards and three touchdowns in the one-point win over Virginia Tech last week. Jack Chambers is also likely to get some snaps according to Doeren. He is 30 of 57 on the season for 239 yards and one touchdown.
Wake Forest defensive lineman Kobie Turner said it is a matter of preparing for the scheme as opposed to the individual. “These two quarterbacks have been able to come in and still be able to run their offense. They don’t have to pull a bunch of plays because of these young quarterbacks.”
It’s A Rivalry, Afterall
Turner described Tuesday’s practice as intense. There is overcoming the ugliness from last Saturday combined with a week of preparing for a heated rivalry. The possibility exists of getting too amped up this week. “Coach Lambo [defensive coordinator Brad Lambert] does a great job of talking to us about what our intensity should be, where we should be and making sure we’re all the way up to the line but not crossing it.” It being NC State on the other side of the line of scrimmage adds a whole other component. “For a big time rivalry game like this, if you’re not playing up to that line, then you’re not bringing everything you have.”
“There’s a lot of energy, and a lot of chippiness,” he said. “And you have to really play up to that line. You have to play with a long of intensity and play with an edge. So, we’re working on that but making sure it’s controlled in the same way.”
Clawson said after last week’s top 10 ranking followed by the loss that the team was humbled. “This sport will do that to you.” He said he is confident that the state of the program is such now that Wake goes into most games without a talent deficit. That clearly has not always been the case around the program. It gives him and the players something to lean on, when he says, as he did Saturday and Tuesday, that he knows who his team is. Now they have to go out and prove it.
This is the 115th consecutive year for this match-up. That streak ends next season when the conference goes to non-divisional play. The conference did not see fit to include this as one of the mandated three games every year.