Defense controls at Wake Forest University spring game
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — One of many changes new coach Dave Clawson has implemented in the Wake Forest football program is the requirement that all players attend both sessions of summer school.
“They will get the breaks that the NCAA mandates, and no more,” Clawson said.
Based on the Deacons’ performance in front of 6,018 fans at Saturday’s Black and Gold spring game at BB&T Field, Clawson is going to need all the time he can get to forge an offense capable of moving the ball against ACC defenses.
The Gold — made up of the first-team offense and second-team defense — gained 252 yards while rolling to a 31-12 victory, but Clawson readily acknowledged that the statistics were deceiving.
The Gold scored its first touchdown on Thomas Brown’s 30-yard interception return, and its next two touchdowns on short drives set up by interceptions. Starting tailback Orville Reynolds did gain 53 yards on 21 carries, but 33 of the yards came on one run that led to a 46-yard field goal by Chad Hedlund.
But the inconsistency of the offense was reflected by the Gold’s 10 total first downs on 60 plays.
“We’re better on defense right now,” Clawson said. “We should be ahead on that side of the ball. Offensively we’ve got a lot of work to do.
“The spring has given us a really good opportunity to evaluate guys, and there’s probably a couple of positions where (freshmen) coming in are going to have a chance to help us.”
Clawson didn’t exactly take the reins of an offensive juggernaut. Last season, Coach Jim Grobe’s 13th and last as head coach, the Deacons ranked 114th among 122 Division I teams with 18.3 points a game and No. 118 with 290.7 total yards a game.
For Clawson and offensive coordinator Warren Ruggiero to substantially improve those numbers, the Deacons are going to have to make great strides by the Aug. 28 opener at Louisiana-Monroe.
“I don’t know one position right now on offense where we can say ‘Hey, we’re where we need to be,’” Clawson said. “We’ve got to get better on the O-line. We’ve got to get better at the skill positions.
“I’m hoping this is just the nature of a spring game. Are you good on defense or are you not good on offense? I think we’re pretty good on defense. Those two corners that we have (Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel) are good, proven players, and I think it helped our receivers to go against that caliber of player all spring.”
The offense took two more hits during the game, one far more significant than the other. Starting center Cory Helms, who started 11 of 12 games last season as a freshman, was helped off the field in the first half not to return. A possession later, James Ward, a converted safety playing tailback for the Black, was lost to injury.
Helms sprained his ankle and should be available for workouts when the Deacons report to the first session of summer school May 26.
“If we played next week, he might be questionable,” Clawson said. “But we don’t play for four months.”
Ward might be limited this summer.
“We think he has a fracture in his lower leg,” Clawson said. “We’ve got to wait and see, but it’ll probably be six to eight weeks before he’s back doing things.”
There might not be quarterback position in college football more wide open than Wake Forest’s.
Tyler Cameron, the backup to senior Tanner Price last season, struggled with his accuracy all day, finishing with nine completions on 26 attempts for just 83 yards. He also threw an interception and was sacked twice.
Kevin Sousa, splitting time with Cameron on the Gold team, performed far better, completing 16 of 32 passes for 178 yards and showing impressive speed and mobility with 68 yards on nine carries. But he also threw two interceptions.
Both will have to fend off the challenges of Travis Smith and John Wolford, who signed in February and will arrive this summer.
“Sousa makes a lot of plays with his feet, but he also had two bad turnovers,” Clawson said. “So that position is fluid. We’ll make a decision 10 days to two weeks before the first game. We told the freshmen we recruited we’ll give them a chance to compete, and we’re certainly going to give them a chance.”
Clawson said he was impressed by the performance this spring of Marquel Lee, a linebacker for the Black who led both teams with nine tackles. Cornerback Brad Watson and linebacker Teddy Matthews led the Gold with seven tackles each, and Jaboree Williams, a freshman who arrived in January, had six tackles.
The most impressive defensive player on the field might have been Brown, playing safety for the Gold. He had two interceptions, broke up a pass and made five tackles. Defensive end Desmond Floyd of the Black had 3.5 tackles for losses and five total tackles and broke up a pass.
“I wish we had 15 more (practices),” Clawson said. “But we’ll get them stronger, we’ll get them in shape and come back to work in August.”