WINSTON-SALEM, NC – Following a 26-6 loss to in-state rival NC State, Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson stood at the lectern for his usual postgame press conference. But nothing about Clawson’s time at the podium was normal. After the tenth game of Clawson’s tenth season at the helm, the face of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons apologized to those who watched his team play.
“I just want to apologize to our fan base, our students, everybody,” he said. “That was just an awful, awful performance. We were flat, we had no energy…that was not even a competitive football game.”
“If they want to boo me and say whatever they want about me, I’d say they’re completely justified right now.”
In the midst of the apology, Clawson pointed the finger at himself. He expressed remorse for not doing enough.
“I’ve got to do some soul searching and look at our team…” Clawson said. “It’s my job to field a more competitive team. And clearly, I’m failing this season. I’m not getting the job done right now.”
Two years ago, Clawson had the Wake Forest program at a high that hadn’t been reached in over a decade. The team returned to the ACC Championship and, in back-to-back seasons, were rated as high as No. 10 in the AP Poll. Much has changed since then.
“We’ve lost our way…” Clawson said. “I don’t mind losing the game. I don’t want us to lose our way in our culture. And today, I haven’t seen a mess like that in years.”
The next question, structured around the play of NC State quarterback Brennan Armstrong, started there, but by the end, became so much more. Midway through his answer, Clawson paused. He looked down to his right, tapping the podium in front of him while tears filled his eyes.
“I take these losses hard,” he said, recovering. “I’m responsible for it. There’s no fingers. I’ve done a bad job this year. I think I just took some things in our program for granted. You know, we’ve had a good run for seven years. And I thought some of those things would carry over on offense and program-wise.”
Clawson’s offense is a shell of what it once was. Five minutes remained in the first half when Wake Forest secured its initial first down; the Deacs opened with five-straight three-and-outs. The team’s first score had to wait until the clock was seven minutes from expiring for good.
“We’re broken,” Clawson said. “This isn’t anything like the offense we’ve put out there the last six years. I should have had us in a better spot with some of the personnel losses we had. We’re not getting the most out of these guys. I think we have good players, but they’re not playing well. And that always boils down to coaching.”
Following the third of Wake’s initial five three-and-outs, Clawson made a change, pulling the season’s starting quarterback, Mitch Griffis, for Michael Kern. It appeared Griffis had been hobbled on a run early in the game, but that had nothing to do with the benching.
“Nope…” Clawson explained. “We took two sacks. The sacks aren’t always on the quarterback, but we got to get rid of the football. One play, he was just supposed to hand the ball off. And for whatever reason, he didn’t, and then he got sacked inside the five-yard line. He seemed off.”
“We got to figure out where we are at quarterback moving forward. We gave Mitch certainly a lot of games. If Michael Kern’s healthy, we got to look at him and see where we are at that position moving forward. Certainly have to evaluate it.”
In addition to quarterback, Wake Forest was outmatched in all facets of the game. NC State outgained the Deacs 379-163, out-possessed them by over 20 minutes, won the turnover battle and were more disciplined in regards to penalties.
“I’m embarrassed how poorly we played,” Clawson said. “I’m embarrassed at our lack of discipline. I’m embarrassed we had two false starts on offense in our first three drives. I’m embarrassed we turned the ball over [two] times. I blame myself for all that.”
The few offensive bright spots were when Wake Forest’s second-string skill players took the field. An acrobatic catch by true freshman Deuce Alexander kept the game from potentially being Clawson’s first shutout with the Deacons.
“Some of our young receivers went out there and made plays,” Clawson said. “Horatio Fields, Wesley Grimes and Deuce Alexander were more productive than our starting receivers. They went out there and made plays. So, maybe we have to play those guys more.”
After its tenth game of the season, Wake Forest is a team that is shrouded in more questions than answers. Two games remain, though, and two wins would still mean an eighth-straight bowl trip for Clawson and the Deacs. In order to do that — defeat Notre Dame and Syracuse in back-to-back away games — the team must find the solution.
“We’ve got to do some soul searching collectively,” Clawson said. “The same way that I feel, I would hope that all of our coaches feel that way. All of our players, the only way it corrects is if you feel you’re responsible for it.”
“I’m the head coach, I’m responsible for the season, the game, everything we do as a program. Right now, I’m not performing at a well-enough level… I would also hope some of our players could look in the mirror and look at the film and say, ‘I’m not real proud of what I put out there today.’”