There have been coaches pass through the ACC who downplayed the significance of a rivalry, citing the guise that all conference results count the same.
Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson is not one to deny the obvious.
Leading up to Saturday’s football game at North Carolina, Clawson was more than forthcoming about what a victory against the Tar Heels would mean for the team, the program and perhaps most of all, the school’s fans.
Wake Forest (3-3, 1-2 ACC) is coming off last week’s 3-0 victory at Boston College. North Carolina (4-1, 1-0) did not play last week.
“To our fan base and our football program, this is a really, really important game,” Clawson said. “Any time we play any of the in-state teams, you ratchet it up a notch. Our players know their players. We’re familiar with some that we’ve recruited. They know our guys that they’ve recruited.
“You always want in-state bragging rights. It’s exciting that we’ve got six games left in the year and three of them are those games (against North Carolina, N.C. State and Duke). That’s three games I don’t have to worry about our players getting up for.”
Clawson was asked about the impact of beating a rival on recruiting. Both schools often target the same players coming out of the high school programs in the state.
“If you’re asking ‘If we win these games would we ever mention it to a recruit’ – the answer would be yes,” Clawson said. “These are very important games.
“And they’re very important from a credibility standpoint. Our record against the in-state schools the past 10 years is better than anyone would ever imagine. And somehow that gets lost.
“But our teams want to win those games. We were 0-2 against the in-state teams a year ago, and all three of those games are really important.”
Clawson’s predecessor, Jim Grobe, is best remembered for winning the ACC title in 2006, the season he was named National Coach of the Year by The American Football Coaches Association, the Bobby Dodd Foundation, The Associated Press, The Sporting News and CBSsports.com. But closer to home, he took care of business by forging a 23-11 record against the Deacons’ in-state ACC rivals Duke (11-2), North Carolina (5-3) and N.C. State (7-6).
Yet the rise of Duke and the six straight losing seasons by Wake Forest has reinforced an impression that the Deacons are not on the same level as their rivals. It’s an impression that sticks in the craw of Wake Forest fans, coaches and players.
“I’ve learned early on that we can’t pay attention to that,” safety Ryan Janvion said. “We know what other people think about us. We know that not that many people believe in us. It brings us closer together because we know how much we work, we know the skill set that we have and we know we can go toe-to-toe with any team that we face.’’
North Carolina will play without two cornerbacks, sophomore M.J. Stewart and freshman Mike Hughes, who were suspended for a violation of team rules. The News & Observer of Raleigh reported that M.J. Stewart was charged with misdemeanor assault inflicting serious injury and Hughes was charged with misdemeanor assault and battery stemming from an incident at a fraternity house in Chapel Hill on Oct. 4.
Stewart started all five games and leads the Tar Heels with three interceptions. Hughes was listed as second-team.
For Clawson to notch his first victory against an in-state opponent, the Deacons will have to beat a mature and talented North Carolina team known for its rapid-fire offense. The Tar Heels, according to one analysis, run 3.28 plays per minute, second-most in the NCAA FBS to Bowling Green.
Clawson feels that the development of his depth on defense should help the Deacons withstand the warp-speed pace.
“It’s so much better than a year ago,” Clawson said. “Yes, the tempo is a concern. It’s a concern that we get lined up, and we don’t give them any cheap ones. It’s much less of a concern from a defensive standpoint than it was a year ago.
“The challenge against these guys is subbing. They’re tricky. They’ll line up with the same personnel group and be in all these formations. If you want to give guys a break, they’re going so fast sometimes you can’t do it. So the trick this week is how do you get a rotation going and how do you sub without burning timeouts or having 12 guys on the field.’’
Quarterback John Wolford of Wake Forest returned last week against Boston College after missing seven quarters with a sprained ankle. He was needed, because his replacement, Kendall Hinton, was severely limited by a sore back.
Both quarterbacks practiced this week, but Clawson has made it a policy not to announce starters before the game.
“We’ll let you know Saturday,” Clawson said on Wednesday.
The Winston-Salem Journal is a news partner of the Observer. For more Wake Forest coverage go to http://www.journalnow.com/sports/wfu/