The Wake Forest game against Elon was exactly what we thought it would be. Over at halftime. Wake Forest rolled Elon 37-17 in the home opener for the Demon Deacons. We also got a lot of people missing the game.
The game was billed as a sellout, and surely it was. It’s just that only about half the people who bought a ticket showed up at Allegacy Stadium. Couple that with Spectrum subscribers losing all ESPN products, including the ACC Network around 8:30pm and there was a lot of football missed by many. With the game seemingly out of hand at the half. The crowd that was conservative in attendance was downright sparse after that early part of the third quarter. Wake had given them all they needed to see.
Elon went three and out in its first drive. It was the norm for much of the first half. The Demon Deacons took quick advantage. Mitch Griffis, going in just his second career start threw a 21-yard pass to Wesley Grimes in the left side of the end zone. The defensive breakdown by Elon was so bad, that the only way Grimes could have been more open was if he and Griffis were playing catch by themselves.
Elon’s offense did not stall out so much as it was snuffed out. Jacob Roberts sacked Phoenix quarterback Matthew Downing for a nine-yard loss and Elon was a three-and-out offense again.
Matthew Dennis added a 34-yard field goal to extend the Wake lead to 10-0 near the end of the first quarter.
Was it lopsided? Wake had 148 yards of first-quarter offense. Elon had -3. The Demon Deacons had seven first downs. The Phoenix had none.
Wake Forest tacked on another touchdown in the second quarter. Under pressure, Griffis found Jahmal Banks in the end zone. Banks, while having one arm held down still managed to cradle the ball into his body with his free hand for the 33-yard touchdown and the 17-0 lead. Griffis said after the game he was confident Banks could make the catch. “There’s no 50-50 balls with Jahmal,” he said. “It’s all 90-10.”
Elon made a change at quarterback and had a viable offense for the lone time in the first half as a result. Justin Allen came in and led a 78-yard drive that was aided by a pass interference call on Wake’s Demarcus Rankin. But the drive ended the way the other Elon drives ended in the first half, with no points. Rankin made up for his mistake with an interception in the end zone killing Elon’s best offense of the half.
Wake ended the half with 252 yards of offense compared to 66 for Elon. And Elon’s number included the 78-yard non-scoring drive. Yeah, you do the math.
Different Half, Different Story
But as dominant as the half was, Wake went stale in the third quarter. They got all the way down to the Elon 11-yard line before the drive stalled out and they settled for a Dennis 29-yard field goal for the 27-0 lead.
And if you keep giving teams life, sooner or later they will capitalize. The one remaining high-end element from last year’s Elon offense is thousand-yard rusher Jalen Hampton. He got in his shot with a 49-yard burst up the middle. There was not a defender within reach for the last 15 yards, and Elon had its first score at 27-7.
Wake’s offense was going nowhere in the quarter, except in the opposite direction. Griffis threw an interception to Caleb Cushion who returned it 47 yards for a touchdown. All of a sudden, the crowd that left was missing a game that was closer than it should have been at 27-14.
Wake got another field goal from Dennis, this one from 29 yards for the 30-14 lead at the end of the third quarter.
After a night of an unimpactful running game, Demond Claiborne busted through on a jumbo package formation for a 10-yard touchdown run.
Elon added a field goal at the end for the 37-14 score.
Head coach Dave Clawson had said during the week that the takeaway from playing against an FCS team in the opener was to come away with a clean game. There is still plenty of film to watch, but overall he said he was pleased with the result if not every element of the process getting there. “It’s like all game ones,” he said. “There was a slew of mistakes.”
He acknowledged that the two halves felt very different for the offense. ”Offensively I thought we played well in the first half,” he said after the game. As for the staleness in the second half, “We just got bogged down. We had a chance to put the game away in the third quarter and then we got the pick-six.”
Griffis was sacked three times on the night. The film review will tell more about the reasons behind the number and if it was offensive line protection. Clawson had early thoughts before they get to the film. “I thought he did some good things, but I thought he was inconsistent. I thought there were times when he held on to the ball too long.”
Griffis acknowledged as much as it pertained to the sacks. “Usually when I make mistakes it becomes something I remind myself of before practice,” he said. “We have 30 minutes before practice. That’s something I will take into pre-practice and continue to work on.” He finished the game 19 of 30 passing for 329 yards, three touchdowns, and the one interception.
Clawson has a sense of something else the film will show. “I think we’re going to go back and look at the offense and say, ‘Holy cow. We really missed some opportunities here.’”
A Career Win
The win was the 150th for Clawson’s career. “Those first few years at Fordham, I didn’t think I’d get double digits much less triple digits or 150,” he joked. “It’s a lot of players. A lot of coaches. The head coach is just one of many.”
Wake plays host to Vanderbilt next Saturday at 11 am.