Play with fire and eventually, you get burned. Dig enough holes and eventually, you get buried. Whatever scenario you want to come up with, Wake Forest lived it Saturday night. The Demon Deacons get dumped by Georgia Tech 30-16, at home, after having a 17-point halftime deficit for the second week in a row.
Last week it was a 17-0 halftime deficit at Old Dominion before the come-from-behind win in Virginia. Saturday, they could not get off the mat after a 20-3 halftime deficit in the ACC opener for Wake. The Demon Deacons dropped to 3-1 overall and 0-1 in ACC play.
Here We Go Again
Last week it was the Wake Forest defense that held firm waiting for the offense to regroup in the second half. Saturday the Wake defense gave up four plays of 30 or more yards in the first half alone, (five for the game), and the offense never had its footing.
Wake Forest quarterback Mitch Griffis finished the game with a paltry 16 of 30 passing for 162 yards, a fumble lost, and three interceptions. For the game, the Wake offense generated only 386 yards of total offense. They were an anemic seven of 13 on third-down conversions.
“The team keeps making the same mistakes over and over and over and they’re not learning,” Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson after the game. He said it was the same message he had delivered to the team after the game. “That’s a sign of a team that’s not really well coached,” he added. “We’re not going to beat anybody if we turn it over three times, let alone five times.”
No “There” There
The Deacs had their entire offensive “explosion” on their first drive of the game. That’s not to say it went smoothly. There was a fumble by Griffis, recovered by Wake Forest, and a bad center snap recovered by running back Demond Claiborne. Add in a 29-yard run by Justice Ellison to the Georgia Tech 10-yard line. But Wake got stuck in the mud and had to settle for a Matthew Dennis for the 3-0 early first-quarter lead. And that was it for the offense.
GA Tech had no problem putting up enough plays. Quarterback Haynes King completed a 38-yard pass to Luke Benson at midfield, and Benson picked up another 15 yards after the catch to the Wake 35-yard line. King finished the game 16 of 27 passing for 222 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception.
Three plays later, King threw a picture-perfect fade pass in the left corner of the end zone to Eric Singleton, Jr., who made the over-the-shoulder catch for the 31-yard touchdown play and the 7-3 lead.
It’s not as though Wake didn’t have its chances. They went for it on fourth and three at the Georgia Tech 26-yard line, but Griffis’ pass was batted down. And it’s not as though Griffis wasn’t having other challenges. He was sacked nine times on the night. GA Tech’s defense had one sack on the season going into the Wake Forest game. Some of it Saturday night was poor pass protection. Some of it was his continuing habit of holding on to the ball too long in the pocket.
King did not have as many of those issues. In the second quarter, he found a wide-open Abdul Janneh, who had gotten behind Caelen Carson. Neither of the safeties had rotated over and Carson was stuck in no-man’s land. The result was a 33-yard GA Tech touchdown play and the 14-3 lead.
Add two Aidan Birr field goals, (25 and 48 yards respectively), and the Deacs faced another huge mountain to climb. One of them came when Taylor Morin muffed a punt at his own 14-yard line.
Another Second-half Comeback?
Wake got into the end zone on the first drive of the second half. The Deacs went 75 yards in 12 plays. Clairborne capped the drive with a seven-yard sprint to the right side. But even a routine PAT went awry, and the Yellowjackets’ lead was still 20-9.
At the start of the fourth quarter, the pocket collapsed around Griffis. He was hit and fumbled the ball away at his own 25-yard line. GA Tech converted that into a 27-yard field goal for a 23-9 lead.
Wake Forest put out one more effort at a comeback. Griffis hit Wesley Grimes for a 16-yard touchdown pass where the receiver had to use all of his body to hold off the defender along the right side of the end zone. The 75-yard scoring drive made it 23-16 GA Tech.
After holding the Yellowjackets to a three-and-out on offense, Wake had one more shot. They took over on their own 35-yard line with 4:01 left in the game. With the help of an offsides penalty on GA Tech as well as a pass interference call on the defense, the Deacs had it down on the GA Tech 21-yard line. On first and 10 Griffis was flushed from the pocket. He rolled to his right and forced a throw intended for Grimes, which was intercepted at the 11-yard line by Kennan Johnson, ending the threat.
Georgia Tech took it downfield for the “put away” touchdown, a 26-yard touchdown run by Jamal Haynes.
The Same Mistakes
Clawson said he needs to look at the tape to see how much of the issue on offense was protection from the offensive line and how much was Griffis still holding on to the ball too long. He said Griffis’ internal clock still needs a lot of work. And as for the last interception, he said, “It’s first down, throw it away. Cut your loss,” he said of Griffis’ throw. “I appreciate the competitiveness, but sometimes you’ve got to cut the losses and live for another down.”
Griffis met with the media after the game, something his predecessor rarely did last year after a loss. “We didn’t finish drives and that’s on me,” he said. He put none of the onus on his offensive line. “The offensive line played their tails off,” he said. “They always play their ass off. We have a damn good offensive line. Sacks come up as the O-line,” he added. “It’s not on them, it’s on me.”
Wake Forest has a week off, and clearly, it is a much-needed one as there is a lot of learning and regrouping to be done. They head to Clemson in two weeks as the schedule starts to get much harder.
Photo courtesy: Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports