Clawson faces challenges, but Wake personnel tank isn't empy
Posted July 31
One of the ranking misconceptions entering this ACC football season is Jim Grobe left the personnel closet bare when he resigned at Wake Forest after the 2013 season.
If leaving behind 54 lettermen, 12 starters and an intact kicking game equates to an empty cupboard, a lot of coaches would like to have the same “problem.”
The truth is, Dave Clawson is taking over a program that’s infinitely better positioned to succeed fairly fast than was the case when Grobe arrived from Ohio after the 2000 season. That team – Jim Caldwell’s last – went 2-9 overall, 1-8 in the ACC and failed to score more than 14 points in seven games.
When Grobe’s 2001 team went 6-5 overall, 3-5 in the league and averaged 27 points per game, it was clear Wake football had elevated its ceiling far more than anyone expected.
Clawson, whose 2013 Bowling Green team went 10-3, has his challenges, of course.
Although Tyler Cameron played a few snaps in relief of Tanner Price last season, there’s virtually no quarterback experience – a situation complicated by the fact that the offensive staff apparently will give three other candidates in addition to Cameron a shot at the starting job in preseason camp.
One of the school’s all-time best pass receivers, Mike Campanaro, has to be replaced, and the entire ground game needs reconstruction.
But as junior cornerback Kevin Johnson pointed out at last week’s ACC Kickoff in Greensboro, last season’s 4-8 (2-6 ACC) team was hardly a punching bag.
“We had a lot of adversity but we never gave up on ourselves,” Johnson said.
In fact, the Deacons would have been bowl eligible with a little better execution in the final two games – a 28-21 loss to Duke (10-4 final record) and a 23-21 loss at Vanderbilt (9-4).
The ’13 season – and maybe Grobe’s future – turned on a 24-21 loss at Miami on Oct. 26. The Hurricanes, ranked 7th nationally at the time, scored with 53 seconds left to escape.
“We just weren’t the same team after that,” Grobe said when he stepped down. “But you can always look back and say ‘What if?’”
If the offense can be retooled in time, there’s no reason to believe Clawson’s first season will be the wipeout widely expected. In the ACC preseason media poll, the Deacons were such an overwhelming pick to be the league’s weakest team that it seemed odd. Not only were they picked for last place in the Atlantic Division, they received almost 200 fewer overall voting points than No. 6 pick Boston College.
On paper, the situation isn’t nearly that bleak. And the fact that Clawson, 46, arrives with a reputation for fixing offenses should help.
But first, Clawson and his staff have to sort through the league’s foggiest quarterback mix. Cameron a 6-foot-3, 200-pound redshirt sophomore, and Kevin Sousa (6-3, 200, R-Jr.) were expected to settle the starting issue in the spring. That didn’t happen, and now Clawson says true freshmen Travis Smith (6-1, 200) and John Wolford (6-1, 205) will get a look.
Cameron, Sousa and Wolford are Floridians, and Wolford broke Tim Tebow’s state high school record for career touchdown passes with 126.
Smith, from Ithaca, Mich., also holds his career TD passing state record with 106. Clawson stopped short of calling the quarterback free-for-all disappointing, but it’s obvious he’s looking for some sort of stability as fast as possible.
“It's a battle,” he said. “As we went through spring practice, the two guys competing for it, neither of them played at a level to secure the job … it's going to start out as a four-way battle. At some point we'll get it to three, then to two, and we'll have a starting quarterback game one, but that is obviously a big question mark going into camp, and I'm more anxious to see how that plays than anyone.”
In the April 26 spring game, Sousa passed for 178 yards and completed 16 of 32 passes. Cameron completed only 9 of 26 for 83 yards.
But if the right quarterback is found, the air game should be above average at worst. Even without Campanaro, there’s a lot of talent and experience among the wide-outs, including transfer EJ Scott, who played regularly at Virginia last season. The interior line has three all-star candidates in center Cory Helms, guard Dylan Intemann (Wake Forest-Rolesville High) and tackle Tyler Hayworth.
“I was excited when I got this job,” Clawson said. “But I’m more excited now.”