Deacons face obstacles in first bowl game since 2011

Wake hasnt been to a bowl since 2011 and is playing in one for only the 11th time in the programs 128-year history. Its an accomplishment coach Dave Clawson wants to his team to enjoy ... but only to a point

Marc Lebryk—USA Today Sports
Quarterback John Wolford completed five of seven passes for 132 yards and led his team to both of its touchdowns during Wake Forest's spring football game Saturday

Wake Forest football coach Dave Clawson and his staff spent the past two weeks watching and evaluating film, just as they did after each of their first two seasons with the Deacons.The difference is this time, they’ve been watching somebody else’s team rather than their own as they prepare their Military Bowl showdown with Temple on Dec. 27.”We’re up there watching Temple film and I’m like ‘this beats the heck out of watching cut-ups right now,’ because normally at this time of year you’re breaking down your previous season,” Clawson said at a pre-bowl press conference Tuesday. “I’d much rather be game planning.”Clawson knows what he’s talking about when it comes to the postseason routine, having taken Bowling Green to bowls in each of his final two seasons there —including a trip to Annapolis in 2012.His players, on the other hand, are new to the postseason experience.Wake hasn’t been to a bowl since 2011 and is playing in one for only the 11th time in the program’s 128-year history. Its six wins are as many as it had the two previous seasons combined.It’s a level of success Clawson wants to his team to enjoy, but only to a point.”You have to appreciate the opportunity,” the coach said. “We want this to be something that happens every year. Historically, that hasn’t been [the case].”Going to a bowl for this football team, that was a big goal this year. The goal wasn’t just to get to the game. I don’t want them to lose focus on what they accomplished, the opportunity we have and to make the most of it.”The Deacons (6-6) will have their work cut out for them to make that happen against Temple.The 23rd-ranked Owls (10-3) come into the game having won seven straight, including a rout of Navy in the American Athletic Conference championship game on the same field on which the Military Bowl will be played.Not only are the Owls one of the nation’s hottest teams, they’re also one of the best defensive units in college football, ranking third in the FBS at 279.5 yards allowed per game. They’ve held their last four opponents to 10 points or less, with two shutouts. That makes this an especially unfavorable matchup for a Wake team that comes into the game ranked 125th out of 128 FBS teams in total offense and scores an average of 19.3 points per game.”They have a really good defense,” sophomore offensive tackle Phil Haynes said. “We just have to do what we do. We have to be more physical than they are.”Despite being a 12-13 point underdog, Wake does have at least a few things going for it against Temple.For one thing, quarterback John Wolford has had time to rest and heal after ending the regular season at less than 100 percent.The Owls will also be led in the game by an interim coach. Long-time assistant Ed Foley will be in charge for the Military Bowl in a move that became necessary when now-former coach Matt Rhule left to take the job at Baylor.Teams with lame duck interim staffs traditionally don’t play well in bowl games. On the flip side, they can be more difficult to prepare for because of the uncertainty that comes with their abrupt change in leadership.”You never know what to expect,” senior cornerback Brad Watson said. “They have a new coach, but I think Temple is used to winning. They’re 10-3, so I think they’re going to stick to what they’ve been doing all season. You can always expect something new, but we’re just going to do what we do.”The good news for the Deacons is there’s a good chance their opponent won’t be tipped off ahead of time on “what they do.”That, apparently, hasn’t always been the case.According to a statement issued by athletic director Ron Wellman on Tuesday, results of “a thorough investigation” determined that radio analyst Tommy Elrod, “provided or attempted to provide confidential and proprietary game preparations on multiple occasions” to Wake’s opponents since 2014.Elrod, a former Deacon fullback and assistant coach, has been fired from his broadcast position and is banned from the school’s facilities.Clawson, in a statement, said he’s disappointed in the situation that could easily have cost his teams wins. But he said the controversy won’t be a distraction as he and his players get back onto the practice field at the conclusion of final exams.”It’s incomprehensible that a former Wake Forest student-athlete, graduate-assistant, full-time football coach and current radio analyst for the school would betray his alma mater,” Clawson said. “We allowed him to have full access to our players, team functions, film room and practices. He violated our trust which negatively impacted our entire program.”I am glad we have taken steps to ensure it will not happen in the future. At this point, this is a matter for Ron Wellman and others to act on. “My staff and I are focused on Temple and preparing the team for the Military Bowl.”