Wake Forest Preview 2016: Dave Clawson has built the program up, but will it all work out?
After two years of intensive bricklaying and culture shaping, Wake Forest now craves bottom-line results.
Head coach Dave Clawson inherited a challenging assignment in Winston-Salem in 2014. Winning at this tiny private university doesn’t happen without a ton of time, sweat equity and heavy lifting. Clawson, his staff and his kids have painstakingly begun to shift the sands beneath the program, even if it hasn’t shown up in the standings.
The Demon Deacons have won exactly three games in each of the last two seasons, including just a pair overall in ACC play. Now that the squad is a year older, as well as bigger, stronger and faster, the expectation is that a few additional victories will follow. Winning must become a habit for a squad that’ll carry a six-game losing streak into 2016.
Wake’s calling card will once be a defense that’s light on household names, yet surprisingly effective. In 2015, the Deacons held Florida State, Louisville, Notre Dame and Clemson below their season scoring average. And with a solid veteran corps of returning players, including eight starters, there’s no reason to believe the D won’t be feisty again in 2016.
It’s the offense that’s been a microcosm for Wake Forest’s recent troubles.
Over the past four seasons, the Deacons have been in the running for nation’s worst offense. Progress hasn’t just been incremental—it’s been painful. Wake improved by well over a yard per play in 2015, yet still ranked 115th nationally in the category. Experience and system know-how are no longer issues for a unit that lost just a single starter to graduation. Execution, though, will dictate whether or not the team can lean forward this fall.
Whether it was Fordham or Richmond or Bowling Green, Clawson has always been able to turn teams around, when he’s given time to plant roots and philosophies. And while he’ll need more than a couple of seasons at his current employer, it’s not unreasonable to expect a few more wins in 2016. After seven losing seasons in a row, it’s kind of harsh to ask Deacon fans to maintain their patience a little while longer. But for Wake to return to a bowl game, let alone approach the height of the Jim Grobe era, anything more than baby steps would be an overreach.