In every single sport there is a game that defines and sets the trajectory for a season. That game for the 2019 iteration of the Wake Forest football team could very well be on Saturday night at 7:30 in Winston-Salem against the Florida State Seminoles.
This time last week, Wake Forest was 5-0 heading into a prime time game against the Louisville Cardinals, a team that is much better than it was a year ago under Bobby Petrino, but a game that the Deacons very much needed to win to keep the momentum going and show nationally that it was a “serious contender”.
What happened next is what has happened every time Wake Forest has played after a bye-week in the regular season under head coach Dave Clawson - the team came out lifeless, flat, and ultimately a hard-fought comeback in the second half wasn’t enough to prevent the first loss of the season.
No more undefeated season, no more dreams of a national title, and likely no more thoughts of possibly stealing the ACC Atlantic from Clemson in what could have been a de facto “winner take all” game down in Death Valley on November 16th. The latter is technically still a very distinct possibility, but the Deacs would have to win out to do so.
There are a lot of different reasons why Wake Forest has yet to win under Clawson in the regular season after a week off (now 0-7), and it will no doubt be a talking point heading into another bye-week after this weekend, but first up is another massive home game for the Deacs against FSU.
Daring to dream is always a fun exercise, but getting to 5-0 by winning three toss-ups games was always on the (positively) extreme end of the spectrum. In a vacuum, the loss to Louisville on Saturday night was frustrating, however if any of us had been given 5-1 through 6 games with no further details I believe we all would have taken that in a heartbeat (ok, well maybe not if the only loss was to UNC).
It is now time for the team to refocus and realize that all of the realistic goals set out before the season are still very much there for the taking. A fourth straight bowl game (for the first time in school history), a chance at a fourth straight bowl victory (for the first time in school history), a clean sweep of all three ACC North Carolina rivals and back-to-back state championships (1/3 of the way there), to play in a bowl game in Florida in late December/early January, and finally a chance to take down 10 wins for just the second time in school history (2006).
While the game Saturday night against FSU will not play into all of the aforementioned goals, it would go ahead and secure bowl eligibility at six wins and also keep 10 wins within sight. How the Deacs bounce back after its first loss will show the mental fortitude and makeup of the team, as well as how it can overcome adversity and keep taking this program where Dave Clawson knows it can be.
Clawson has yet to beat Florida State as the head coach of Wake Forest, but has had a couple of reasonable chances to do so. Last year the Deacs jumped out to a 10-0 lead early on before getting boat-raced from there on en route to a 38-17 loss in Tallahassee. In 2017 the Deacs were up 12-3 in the 2nd quarter, and 19-16 in the fourth quarter before an Audin Tate 40-yard touchdown reception from James Blackman with 53 seconds left ultimately gave the Noles a 26-19 win.
FSU has won seven straight in the series and there is no doubt Clawson would like to get this notch in his belt over what has perennially been an ACC powerhouse.
Aside from the historical background to the game, a victory would get Wake Forest back on track from the 62-59 loss last weekend and also solidify the Deacs as a top three team in an admittedly weak ACC.
It is also vitally important for the fans to come out in force, which, for whatever reason, is something that did not happen last weekend against Louisville. Florida State, while no longer the behemoth that it used to be, is still a household name in college football and beating them provides more clout for a team looking to get on as many radar screens as possible.
One thing I do find interesting about this is that the lowest ticket available for the game on Saturday night is $45. While I am far from an expert on what the floor for an ACC football ticket should be, this seems extremely high considering we are trying to get as many fans in the game as possible.
As I opined on Twitter last night, if a family of four wanted to attend the game this weekend and did not have season tickets it would cost $180 to get in, $20 for parking, and then (a conservative) $50 worth of food and drinks. I believe that $250 for a family night out is simply much too high to charge for Wake Forest.
Perhaps there are people more in the know who can shed some light on this decision-making process, or point out where I am incorrect in this observation. I know there have been deals in the past to try to get more people in the stadium, but this is a bad look for a game that we need as many people at as possible.
The Deacs are no longer undefeated and ranked, but that should not dissuade the fan base from showing any less support. This is a good, albeit flawed, football team that can still put together one of the best seasons in the history of the program.
Wake Forest has only won 8 or more games seven times in its history, and four of them have come since 2006. 9+ wins has only been accomplished twice (2006 and 2007). This year’s senior class also has a fantastic chance to be the second winningest class ever, currently sitting at 27-18 through 3.5 seasons (three bowl games, three bowl wins). The 2006-2009 class went 33-19, but only made three bowl games (winning two of them).
It is now time for the fans to show up and give the team the support they deserve, ESPECIALLY off of a loss to a team that it should have defeated. The fight the team showed in the second half demonstrated the heart that this team has and that is worth a whole heckuva lot to me. It can also cover up a good bit of physical and mental mistakes, which it almost did last weekend.
I have faith in Coach Clawson and what the Deacs can do this season and a big litmus test is coming up Saturday night against the Noles. I urge you to get out there early, cheer loud, and stay late to sing “Mother So Dear” after a victory secures bowl eligibility. This is a big one folks.