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Wake Forest’s Dave Clawson: ‘We have to find a way’ to win

ACC Kickoff Wake Forest Football
Chuck Burton - AP
Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson said his Deacons will have to work to find ways to win in his first season in Winston-Salem.

GREENSBORO Two hours after the ACC preseason rankings were announced, Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson feigned ignorance of the results.

“Were we picked to win it? I didn’t see those,” Clawson deadpanned Monday at ACC Football Kickoff. “Were we unanimous first? The bulleye’s on us, huh?”

No, the Deacons were not the unanimous pick to unseat reigning national champion Florida State. Media covering the ACC picked Wake Forest to finish last in the Atlantic Division, and the Deacons received the fewest points (136) of any team in the conference.

Clawson, who in December replaced Jim Grobe after 13 seasons, is a realist. Wake Forest went 4-8 last season and didn’t win a game after Oct. 19. The Deacons graduated a four-year starting quarterback in Tanner Price, lost the school’s all-time leading receiver in Michael Campanaro and haven’t been able to establish replacements for them just more than a month before the season opener.

Clawson doesn’t cloak Wake Forest’s troubles in coach speak. He knows this season will be a challenge, and he hopes the Deacons can at least be competitive.

“We can win games this year. The formula might have to be a little different,” Clawson said. “We have to find a way to get in games against good teams, and find a way to be in games in the fourth quarter and find ways to pull them out.

“There’s not a huge margin of error this year – I get it.”

The Deacons’ secondary may be their saving grace. Kevin Johnson and Merrill Noel return as starting cornerbacks, and they’re joined by safety Ryan Janvion as three of the five returning defensive starters.

But Wake Forest’s offense looks grim. The quarterback competition is wide open, Clawson said, and not in a good way.

Redshirt junior Kevin Sousa and redshirt sophomore Tyler Cameron didn’t do enough in the spring to win the job outright. In April’s spring game, the two combined to go 25-of-61 for 261 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.

Clawson promised freshmen John Wolford and Travis Smith an opportunity to win the job at camp, and he expects the starter won’t be decided until at least two weeks into fall practice.

The starting tailback and top receiver positions are also wide open as the Deacons go from an option offense under Grobe to a no-huddle, pro-style offense with Clawson and offensive coordinator Warren Ruggerio.

Wake Forest doesn’t have the offensive firepower to be a spread offense, so Clawson will employ the spread to work to the team’s strengths at fullback and tight end while also controlling the tempo of the game.

But make no mistake, the Deacons have a long way to go before opening the season at Louisiana-Monroe on Aug. 28.

“We can’t get enough reps,” he said.

Jones: 704-358-5323; Twitter: @jjones9
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