Young Deacons show grit in loss to Clemson

After surrendering touchdowns on the Tigers first four offensive possessions, Wake Forest pulled itself together and played nearly even the rest of the way against the newly crowned Atlantic Division champions

Jeremy Brevard—X02835
Nov 19

WINSTON-SALEM — The ACC’s schedule makers didn’t do the Wake Forest football team any favors these past two weeks. Over the span of just seven days, the Deacons have been offered up as fodder to two of the top five teams in the current College Football Playoff rankings. It’s a gauntlet that didn’t provide the young Deacons with much of an opportunity to improve their record. But it did at least give them a chance to measure how much they’ve improved over the course of the past year. Last week, coach Dave Clawson’s team held No. 5 Louisville down for three quarters before falling victim to a fourth quarter blitz that made the final score look much more one-sided than it actually was. Saturday at BB&T Field, the script was flipped in a 35-13 loss to fourth-ranked Clemson. This time the Deacons (6-5, 3-4 ACC) saw the game get away from them early. But after surrendering touchdowns on the Tigers’ first four offensive possessions, they pulled themselves together and played nearly even the rest of the way against the newly crowned Atlantic Division champions. While that might be setting the bar low as far as accomplishments go, the resilience Clawson’s players showed during the final three quarters is a positive sign for the third-year coach he and his program learn to walk before giving any serious thought to running with the best the ACC and nation has to offer. “There are a couple of teams in the ACC are elite, nationally ranked teams and we are not at that level now,” said Clawson, whose team is already bowl eligible for the first time since 2011. “The fact that these games are more competitive and we battled back … we’re making progress. “You look at that game compared to a year ago. We felt like a year ago that game got out of hand and stayed out of hand. (This time) we came back, made some plays and the defense made stops. I’m proud of our guys.” Scoreboard notwithstanding, Clawson was justified in his pride. Not only was Wake playing one of the nation’s best teams, led by a Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback in Deshaun Watson and a running back (Wayne Gallman) that set a school record for career 100-yard games, but it did so without its top two quarterbacks in weather conditions that were anything but optimal. Then to make matters worse, the Deacons got hit with a punch that would have sent a lot of teams to the canvas for a first-round knockout. Still seething from a loss to Pittsburgh that knocked them from the ranks of the unbeaten last Saturday, the Tigers (10-1, 7-1) took advantage of wind gusts of up to 30 MPH to roll up 192 yards of first quarter offense. Then, after getting touchdown runs by Gallman and Watson, along with a scoring pass from Watson to Mike Williams with the wind, things threatened to get ugly when Clemson increased its lead to 28-0 by scoring again on its first possession into the wind. But that didn’t happen, thanks to a defense that simply decided it wasn’t going to allow the Tigers to impress the College Football Playoff Committee by putting up a basketball score against it. “We just knew that we had to keep fighting and pushing,” said senior linebacker Marquel Lee, who led the Deacons with 12 tackles. “The game was on us tonight. We just went out there to try to have fun, make plays and execute the way we know how. We didn’t do that at first, but we just tried to have fun.” Although Clemson outgained Wake by a whopping 456-197 margin, only 226 of the yards the Tigers piled up came after the opening drive of the second quarter. According to Clawson, the only adjustment his defense made to bring about such a dramatic change was its attitude. “Our guys have gotten knocked back for three years and they keep coming back,” he said. “We’re a good defense. Our kids have pride. They weren’t happy with how they played and they responded.” To a lesser extent, so did the Deacons’ offense. Although it would have been a tall task to rally from a 28-point deficit under the best of circumstances, the ACC’s 13th-ranked attack was faced with the prospect of doing it with a redshirt freshman quarterback making his first career start. Kyle Kearns had a rough time of things, going 7 of 18 for 126 yards with four sacks in place of injured starter John Wolford. But he didn’t turn the ball over and led his team to three scores, including a six-play, 64-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter highlighted by 41-yard completion to tight end Cam Serigne. “I thought I made some mistakes here and there, but I trie