WINSTON SALEM, NC – In the first game action for the Deacs’ since their Gasparilla Bowl victory over Missouri, the Demon Deacons (white jerseys) triumphed 27-24 over Wake Forest (black jerseys) in Wake’s inaugural spring game. The friendly contest capped off a productive spring in which both sides of the ball saw significant improvement.
“Everything good is tempered by everything bad,” head coach Dave Clawson said after the game. “I think we’re a better team now than when we started, which is always the goal. Got a lot of reps, a lot more live work than a year ago, and I think our football team needed it.”
As with any spring game, the day was filled with ups and downs. Units on both sides of the ball flashed, but there’s still plenty of work to be done as the summer portion of the offseason approaches. Specifically, the secondary needs to get cleaner and sharper.
“Positives from today, I thought we threw the ball very efficiently,” Clawson said. “I thought our receivers made contested catches. Positives on defense, I thought we did a good job on third downs getting off the field.”
“Negatives,” Clawson continued. “Too many pass interferences and holdings on defense. I think a lot of times our guys are in good shape to make a play on the ball and panicked and grabbed when they didn’t need to. We have good corners, they can cover. They’ve got to trust themselves and not grab at the last minute.”
Quarterbacking the winning side was Wake Forest’s newly-minted starter Mitch Griffis. After a slow start that saw Griffis throw four-straight incompletions, the redshirt sophomore settled in nicely, finishing the day with 315 yards and two touchdowns on 19/29 passing.
“Mitch has done a great job,” Clawson said. “All spring he’s been very efficient. Over the spring, he completed somewhere between 75 and 80% of his balls, which is the highest percentage we’ve ever had in the spring. But every time he can go out there in a game atmosphere, and quite frankly struggle a bit and have to come back from it, that’s what’s going to happen during the season. So 19/29, 300 yards, no interceptions, that’s a pretty efficient day, considering that Donavon [Greene] only played about 15 plays.”
“It’s always good to get that first first down, that kind of settles everybody,” Griffis added. “Usually after the first play, the jitters go away. Usually, once we get our first first down, we start rolling.”
Though Greene only played the first portion of the game, he made his presence felt, finishing with 111 yards and a touchdown on three catches.
Big day for Donny— Wake Forest Football (@WakeFB) April 15, 2023
One touchdown pic.twitter.com/JogfaX36j5
With Greene and Taylor Morin both seeing limited action and Jahmal Banks and Ke’Shawn Williams completely sidelined, the Deacs had a chance to flash their depth at wideout. Wesley Grimes made the most of his opportunity, hauling in 10 catches for a whopping 157 yards.
“It’s huge for Wes, we’re going to need Wes to help us win games,” Griffis said. “We saw it in spring ball, guys are out, it’s going to happen during the season. It was really good for Wes to go out there and play ball and gain confidence for himself. Wes works really hard. Wes is really intentional with what he does. He’s made so many strides since our first practice in March.”
“The next phase — and this is not unusual for a receiver — is just consistency,” Clawson said of Grimes. “It’s taken Donavon Greene a few years to get there, A.T. Perry a few years to get there, Jahmal Banks a few years to get there. I’d like him to come out of the spring realizing the player he can be, but at the same time, realizing all the work he has to do. Playing the position is being able to do that and execute the offense day in and day out again.”
On the other side of the ball, there are still a lot of questions to be answered. The Deacs have a ton of depth in the secondary with Chelen Garnes, Brendon Harris, Malik Mustapha and Caelen Carson all returning, along with Nick Andersen’s homecoming to the active roster. With the linebackers, though, things are less certain. The rest of the offseason will be key in determining which players rise above the rest of the pack.
“We know what we have with Chase Jones,” Clawson said of the linebacker group. “We’re throwing numbers at the position, right? We take Jacob Roberts from NC A&T. You got Quincy Bryant, who’s back for another year, and you move Trey Boll there. I don’t know if we have a Ryan Smenda yet. Quincy Bryant had a really good spring. Trey Boll got better. You’re going to get Dylan [Hazen] back, you’re going to get Draco [Eldrick Robinson] back. I think our depth at the position is better. We just have to get those guys to elevate.”
The story is much the same on the defensive line. With the losses of Kobie Turner and Rondell Bothroyd, returning players Kendron Wayman and Jasheen Davis will have to shoulder the load. After that, it remains to be seen who will earn the lion’s share of the reps. In the mix will be Kevin Pointer, BJ Williams, Jaylen Hudson, Justin Williams, Wyatt Crespi and Villanova transfer Bryce Gainous.
“Still concerned,” Clawson said of the group’s depth. “I thought Kendron Wayman [did] a great job today. He flashed. BJ Williams has done really well. Huddy [Jaylen Hudson] is starting to come on and get more comfortable with the position. Defensive tackle is just a position that we’re throwing numbers at. We need two, three, four, five of those guys to compete and we’ll have depth there. Certainly in the market to add numbers there and just hope the cream will rise and get you to a winnable level.”
As the spring session of the offseason draws to a close, the team is slowly starting to learn more about its identity. Steps are being made every day on both sides of the ball, and the new pieces are figuring out how to fit together. However, with over three months left until the Deacs open the regular season, the group has a lot more ground to cover.
“I tell the guys, there’s four quarters of preparation for the season,” Clawson said. “Winter program is quarter one, spring ball is quarter two. Summer’s quarter three, preseason camp’s quarter four. Guys elevated in the first and second quarter, now there’s more elevation that has to happen.”