Tag Archives: dave clawson

Can Bronco Deliver Before Moses?

Moses wandered 40 years in the desert leading the Israelites in search of the promised land.

Since it decided to relieve George Welsh of his duties leading it’s football program, Virginia has wandered for 16 years in the wasteland of college football. 15 years were essentially wasted chasing false prophets. Let’s hope it doesn’t take another 24 years for Bronco Mendenhall to find the promised land. Unfortunately, watching the debacle in Blacksburg on Saturday, 24 years looks about right.

Just for a little comparative ACC perspective, it took David Cutcliffe 5 years to start winning at Duke after decades of football futility. Dave Clawson didn’t start winning at Wake Forest until his third year leading the program. Heck, our own football legend George Welsh went 2-9 in his first year at Virginia. So before we all panic and assume that Bronco Mendenhall should have stayed in Provo, I think it is safe to say that fan expectations were well ahead of reality for Bronco’s first year leading the program. 

That said, I have seen some bad performances by the Virginia football team in my decades as a fan, but I would have a hard time coming up with one worse than this year’s drubbing against a pretty good, but not great, Virginia Tech team. The players made mistakes early and often on both sides of the ball. I don’t have the space nor the stomach to review Saturday’s on-field miscues.

I am most perplexed however, by the decisions of the coaching staff. When your team is 2-9, there is nothing wrong with going unconventional. There is a difference between unconventional and stupid. Calling a flanker option pass on 4th & 1 is unconventional. High risk & high reward. Rotating quarterbacks with similar skill sets based on down situations is stupid. If we were going with stupid, why didn’t we play barefooted or with our helmets on backwards. At least that would have given us a legitimate excuse for the results on the scoreboard.

I’d love to know who on the staff thought that the situational quarterback rotation with two pocket passers would be an effective strategy for an upset win. Oh, and let’s toss in a QB option run with our 3rd string quarterback, also a pocket passer. Who wouldn’t have guessed that play along with this game would end in tragedy? Maybe this was Bronco’s way of throwing in the towel. Letting Matt Johns play in his final game with the team, but not letting him be the sole scapegoat for the inevitable embarrassing loss. I can’t think of another reason for such an inexplicable strategy.

Whatever the reason for the quarterback carousel, the fanbase is not amused. Virginia fans are tired of being the doormat of the ACC Coastal, which is the doormat division of the P5 cartel. If Virginia had a solid game plan and played their hearts out but just lost to a better Virginia Tech team, I think Virginia fans could have accepted that result. However, the team played like the plan for the game was to throw the towel early. It is too bad Virginia couldn’t have just gotten on the bus back to Charlottesville at halftime and saved everyone a lot of time. There was no fight, no adjustment in game plan in the second half, just more of the same nonsense that didn’t work in the first half. In poker I think that is called throwing good money after bad or doubling down on a pair of 2s.

I suppose the good news is that what should be the worst season of Bronco’s tenure in Charlottesville is over. Like lousy corporate earnings from a prior year, the comparison for next season is based on a pretty low bar. Let’s hope that Bronco and staff can double the number of wins and show some heart in both play on the field as well as game planning & strategy.

While Virginia fans are generally a patient bunch, they do not have the patience of Job and are tired of directionless wandering. I’ll renew my season tickets for 2017, but may not have 24 year’s worth of patience left to see this program get back to relevance.

E-mail David at david [dot] rayner [at] campuspressbox [dot] com and follow him on Twitter @dmrayner.

Photo: Wikimedia

Wake Forest: Is This the Bottom?

Drake’s anthem when he was palling around with Johnny Football a few years back rang out with the chorus, “Started from the bottom, now we here.”  The 2014 Wake Forest football team is a lot closer to the bottom than the here point.

As a teenager, I rode on a boat with my aunt and uncle on Lake Travis in Austin, Texas, and we encountered either some engine trouble or a lack of gas, I really cannot remember.  We ended up in a broken down boat on the lake asking strangers for help.  The generous soul who towed us back to the marina departed with words in a Texas twang I’ve held onto for most of my adult life, “You’ve gotta have valleys to enjoy the peaks.”  The same can be said for the Wake Forest football team.

The Deacons enjoyed the peaks of winning the 2006 ACC Championship and three straight bowl appearances.  Now, Wake Forest is experiencing a valley. Instead of securing a bowl bid, like many ACC teams this time of year, the Deacs are in danger of securing a sixth straight losing season with a loss to the Clemson Tigers on Thursday night.  Yep, 6.  Ouch.

When in the midst of a valley, whether it is a financial analyst examining the stock market or an alcoholic trying to get sober, the question becomes, “Where is the bottom?”

In the future, Deacon fans may debate exactly when the program hit rock bottom in the midst of our recent football downturn.  Based on what I’ve seen, I believe the lowest of lows occurred somewhere between the Syracuse and Boston College losses in October of 2014—specifically, halftime of the BC game.

To recap, the Deacs fell to the ‘Cuse in a 30-7 home shellacking, followed up by a narrow 23-17 loss at BB&T to BC.

Against ‘Cuse, the Deacon offense did the defense no favors by turning the ball over and giving up two scores to the Syracuse defense.  One Syracuse defensive touchdown came as Wake QB John Wolford, who was knocked out of the game on the play, threw an interception to Orange DE Robert Welsh.

The second ‘Cuse defensive TD came when back-up QB Tyler Cameron, who was also injured on the play and has now left the team, fumbled and allowed the Orange another defensive end touchdown as Micah Robinson took the loose ball to the house.  Some may have thought that was Deacon bottom.

However, the Deacs followed up the Syracuse loss with a half against BC in which Wake Forest went into the locker room trailing 17-0.  The #aWAKEning, as the Deacon coaches have called the anticipated rise in the program under Coach Clawson, may have occurred during halftime of the BC contest.

Not much has been reported on what was said at the half against BC, but the Deacs came out inspired and rallied to score 17 points against a stout and bowl-bound BC Eagles defense to make the game close.

The Deacons have an opportunity on Thursday night under the lights at BB&T to show the football world that the bottom is behind them.  The Clemson Tigers have not been impressive in their last few games with senior quarterback Cole Stoudt at the helm in wins against Syracuse and BC, coincidentally the same teams Wake has just played.

But the major difference between the Tigers and the Deacs is that the Tigers still produced wins, which is why they come into the Thursday night matchup with mirror image 6-2 and 2-6 records.  Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney has said freshman starting quarterback Deshaun Watson will be in uniform and can be called upon if needed.  The fact that an opposing coach is basically poker bluffing and sandbagging a quarterback should inspire the Deacon defense.

Whether the Deacs can upset the Tigers or enjoy the peak of an ACC title again within the context of further conference expansion and the College Football Playoff is yet to be seen, but I can tell you what the bottom feels like.

Spragoo’s Spots

With the Deacons and Tigers kicking off on Thursday at 7:30 p.m., the tailgating for this game will be an evening affair.  As such, the appropriate Carolina tailgate should involve BBQ.  One of the best barbecue restaurants in the Triad is Prissy Polly’s.  So I’m recommending a Prissy Polly’s Deacon tailgate.

Prissy Polly’s offers both Eastern and Western NC BBQ.  As a SC native, I don’t have a dog in the fight between East and West.  But as a BBQ connoisseur, I think the Prissy Polly’s Eastern style just tastes better.  Pick up a tray of Eastern as you head to the game.

Is it the bottom for Wake? Will the Deacs get a chance to shuffle in the end zone? Leave a comment below or find me on Twitter at @Sprague_Law.

Sucking Wind and Pocket Poise

As the Deacs head to Logan, Utah (Elevation 4,534 feet) to take on the Utah State Aggies for their second road game in three weeks to start the Dave Clawson era, the question must be asked, “Who in the heck made this non-conference schedule?”  Did Carmen Sandiego take over the athletic scheduling duties for the football Deacons?
After the Wake Forest football captains shook hands with members of Duck Dynasty in the hot August Louisiana swamps just a mere two weeks ago, let’s hope Bear Grylls can lead the Deacon charge into the Rockies to take on the Aggies in the mountains of Utah.
Following the adventure into the depths of the Rockies, the Deacs return home to face the unique ground attack of the cadets from West Point.  Maybe former DE Nikita Whitlock should have stuck around another year so that he could have completed this schedule to get him ready for his dream of joining the military and serving in the Special Forces.
As Deacon fans that have traveled west of the Mississippi know, once you get past the fly-over states, the altitude increases and the air gets a little thinner causing havoc on a team without a lot of depth, which is an apt description of the state of the current Wake Forest squad.  In this week’s press conference, Coach Clawson stated he usually likes to play anywhere from 18 to 21 players on defense.  However, at the moment, he only feels comfortable with about a 15-man rotation.
In the previous two games, the opponents scored late touchdowns on what looked to be a tired Deacon defense.  ULM took their first lead of the contest with minutes to go after the Wake Forest defense had been on the field seemingly all game due to the inability of the offense to consistently move the ball.  Likewise, against Gardner-Webb, the defense had been pitching a shut out on the evening until Gardner-Webb scored at the end of the game, admittedly against the second-team.  Let’s hope the altitude does not force the Deacons to be sucking wind at the end of this game as well.

Pocket Poise

One of the biggest surprises on the season has been the emergence of true freshman QB John Wolford.  (Between Coach Claw and QB Wolf, there will undoubtedly be a teen wolf sighting in the student section of BB&T field soon.)  The young signal-caller from Jacksonville, FL looks to have the pocket poise and moxy of well… Johnny Moxon of Varsity Blues fame.
Last week against Gardner-Webb, Wolf-man went 30 out of 38 for the game through the air.  Coach Clawson said at the weekly press conference that the coaching staff tallied 5 drops in that total as well.  I’m sure senior WR Matt James would love to have another shot at the fade route in the back of the end zone that went through his hands.
Poise is hard to define, but as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart stated regarding pornography “I know it when I see it”, the same can be said for poise.  And Wolford’s got it.
All in all, Wolford has looked impressive.  The accuracy is apparent. The touch is there.  He can add zip when needed.  The only obstacle to his development appears to be minimizing the tipped balls.  Gardner-Webb intercepted a couple of passes last Saturday by batting the ball at the line of scrimmage.  Wolford is listed at 6’1” in the media guide, but he may be an inch or two shorter.  The Deacon offensive line and play calling will need to open up passing lanes for the young quarterback to unleash his, to-date, accurate arm.
The key to winning for the Deacons, as has been mentioned ad nauseum, is the Clawfense and the offensive line.  The offensive definitely improved against Gardner-Webb.  Offensive Coordinator Warren Ruggiero quickened the pace in the second half of the game, and Wolford and WR E.J. Scott connected for two second half scores.  Whether the O-line can continue the improved protection against a higher quality opponent in Utah State is yet to be determined.
The other key on the defensive side of the ball is whether the Deacs can stop the Aggie running attack.  In Utah State’s last game against Idaho State, the Aggies had six players with ten or more yards rushing.  Yes, read that sentence again.
The Aggies gained 311 yards on the ground, and the top rusher only had 74 yards.  And that was the dark-horse Heisman candidate Chuckie Keeton.  Again, can the Deacs adjust to the altitude with a multi-layered running attack like that?
Kickoff is set for 7:00 Eastern.  Here’s hoping the Deacons can show continued pocket poise and avoid sucking wind in the Rockies.

Spragoo’s Spots

The closest I’ve come to eating in Logan, Utah is dining at a Brazilian Steakhouse in Salt Lake City with Sam Barger after coming off the trails of Zion National Park in the The Beehive State (really?) in the early 2000’s.  Any restaurant tastes great after camping, but I can still remember the savory meats.  Having never visted Logan, Utah, I’m gonna have to rely on some others’ experience in dishing out the deets on the delicacy in Aggieland.

Here’s the scoop:

Apparently Logan’s Heroes is the spot for a sandwich before the game or to add to your tailgating spread.  The spicy Italian comes highly recommended.  Be sure to bring cash because cards aren’t accepted.  My kinda place.  Let’s just hope the Deacs don’t add another Logan’s Hero to the list due to any performance on the field.

Deacs Head to UL-Monroe Swamps for Hidden Quack-mire

Photo courtesy @WakeFB
Photo courtesy @WakeFB

The revamped Wake Forest football team, led by new head coach Dave Clawson, will take the field in a hot Louisiana swamp on national television (ESPNU) as the Demon Deacons travel to Monroe, LA to take on the UL-Monroe (ULM) Warhawks for the first-in-college-football Camo-Out tonight.   It’s Duck Dynasty meets Deac Dynasty, err at least Deac Newbies.
The camouflage t-shirts will be set out, the duck calls will be humming, the gumbo will be cooking in the parking lot, and Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame, is scheduled to preside over the coin toss. The real questions, other than whether the national television audience will be able to see the fans hidden in the stands, will be what in the world to expect on the field.
The home team camouflage will be an omen for the Demon Deacons because no one knows what to expect out of the new brand of Wake Forest football in Dave Clawson’s inaugural season.

What We Know

Coach Clawson brought a number of his staff from his last stop at Bowling Green University where Coach Clawson and company led Bowling Green to the 2013 MAC title.  The Defense will be led by Mike Elko, an Ivy League grad, who is known for his 4-2-5 defenses.  The 4-2-5 is predicated upon matchups and speed and began as a defensive answer to the Spread Offense.
The Deacon Offense will be led by Warren Ruggiero, a man of diminutive stature and a ton of experience including with the New York Giants, a great combo for an offensive mind.  Both Coach Elko and Coach Ruggiero, as well as Special Teams Coordinator Adam Scheier, the self-described “Most Interesting Man in Winston-Salem”, all came with Coach Clawson from Bowling Green.
ULM will be looking to replace four-year starting quarterback Kolton Browning.  Browning was the 2013 Sun Belt conference Player of the Year and finished his four year career as the ULM leader in passing yards, total offense, and total touchdowns.  The good news for ULM is that a lot of the other pieces from last year remain.  For those of you who attended the game in Winston last year, the overwhelming memory I have of Browning was that he was just hard to bring down.  Browning was a Ben Rothlisberger-esque QB who was difficult to tackle and extended plays to allow his receivers time to get open.
The Warhawks return seventeen starters including nine starters on defense.  The Warhawks were 6-6 in 2013 and looking to improve on that record.  The pieces appear to be in place for ULM but the question becomes… what can ULM get out of the QB position?  Which leads us to…

What We Know We Don’t Know

The big question marks on both teams start with the offense.  For Wake, we really do not know what to expect.  In pre-season, Coach Clawson continued to emphasize that he will tailor his offense to the personnel.  The problem is the personnel, like the ULM fans on Thursday, remain hidden from public view.  The most recent two deep has 5th-year graduate student E.J. Scott, who transferred from UVA, starting in the slot along with senior RB Orville Reynolds starting in the backfield.  What we don’t know is how all of the parts of the new Demon Deacon offense will mesh together.
As for ULM, their biggest question mark remains at quarterback.  The starter appears to be Pete Thomas, who was last seen in Winston-Salem looking like a lame duck in the N.C. State backfield when Thomas started for the Wolfpack as the Deacon D, led by All-ACC nose tackle Nikita Whitlock, constantly harassed him en route to a Deacon win over the Wolfpack
The question mark on D for the Deacs lies within the defensive line, who must replace the aforementioned nose tackle, who happened to be the second-place vote getter for ACC Defensive Player of the Year last year.  The Demon Deacon D backs (say that 3 times fast) should be the anchor of the defense led by corners Merrill Noel and Kevin Johnson.

What We Don’t Know We Don’t Know

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld would be proud to know that we still don’t know what we don’t know, but we’ll try to guess here.  One unknown for Wake will be the Center-Quarterback exchange.  The Deacs will be starting true freshmen at both Center and Quarterback.  Center A’Lique Terry a heralded recruit out of Hialeah, FL and QB John Wolford from Jacksonville, FL will both be starting their very first collegiate games.  So the Center-QB exchange should be something to watch for on game day.
One major hope for the Deacs is that the ULM Camo-Out is as bad as ULM Athletic Director Brian Wickstrom’s attempt to draw and cock a shotgun at the end of the marketing video for the game entitled, “Join the Hunt”.  Check out the 0:33 mark to see a newbie attempt to fire a weapon.

Let’s hope Wake Forest’s QB Wolford is a little less gun shy and can sling the ball around the swamp better than the ULM A.D. can cock a shotgun.  If not, this game could be a real quack-mire for the Deacs.