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November 8, 2017

Dave Clawson

Greensboro, North Carolina

DAVE CLAWSON: We're looking forward to head up to Syracuse, play an ACC rival. We need to bounce back after Notre Dame, which is a game that I thought our kids played hard, competed, did some good things offensively. Just didn't get enough stops on defense.

The challenge will be tough this week. Syracuse is a much improved football team. You can tell they're in year two in the system. They're playing extremely fast. The quarterback I think is a great player, a competitor, a winner. They've got two receivers that are putting up video game numbers. I think they're improved in every aspect of their program, offensive line, defense, special teams. They're always very difficult, even more difficult, in the Dome. This will be another good challenge for our football team.

Q. Syracuse and their improvements, what have you seen from last season to this season on film?
DAVE CLAWSON: I mean, their improvement is across the board. I think when everyone talks about Syracuse, the first thing that comes up is the offense and the speed of it. But they're running the ball a lot better. I think their offensive line is improved. I think the backs are improved. The quarterback has always been a good player and a competitor. Now he's even more comfortable with the system. He gets rid of the football so quickly. He knows exactly where to go with it.

Ishmeal and Philips are probably as good or dynamic as any 1-2 combination that you see. They're putting up huge numbers. The ball is thrown in tight spaces. I think their defense has really, really improved. They've taken a major step on defense. Their front is better. Their linebacking crew is experienced. Bennett, Franklin and Thomas. I think they're improved in the secondary.

Across the board, when you watch them, they're better in every single way. You don't beat Clemson or compete with Florida State or Miami unless you're across the board. They have been in so many close games, and they've won some. Like us, they've had some near misses.

It's a really good football team.

Q. On your side, the way the team has played so far this season, where are you seeing your team grow the most, and what have you taken away from being in a lot of these games and pushing teams like Notre Dame?
DAVE CLAWSON: Well, we're better. I think we're certainly a lot more competitive against the better teams in our schedule. We're not winning and finding ways to win as many of those games as we'd like, but we're in them. Some of these games we haven't been in the past. We're not happy to be in them, we need to figure out ways to win them.

I think that is going to be a great challenge this week. This league, this conference, probably top to bottom, is as competitive as it's ever been. Syracuse is a team like us that's trying to fight and work its way up, compete with elite teams, beat elite teams. I think we're in very similar spots.

Q. What is your assessment of your pass defense?
DAVE CLAWSON: Well, overall this year it's been good. I think we're one of the better teams in the conference in terms of pass efficiency defense. Statistics can lie. In two out of the last three weeks we really have not defended the run very well. When you play Georgia Tech, then Notre Dame, which are two of the better rushing teams in the country, those teams don't really have to throw the ball. We did not defend the pass at Notre Dame as well as we need to.

We had some good breakups, got some good pressure. Notre Dame got some big plays on us, and dropped a few. With the caliber of players we're seeing this week, with Dungey, the receiving corps, the backs, the tight ends that Syracuse has, we're going to have to play really well to be close to the ball and prevent explosive plays.

Q. How would you describe Eric Dungey as a quarterback, the things that he does?
DAVE CLAWSON: I mean, there's certain guys when you watch them, and we've played against him now three straight years, but he's just a competitor. He's a winner. I'm sure he's an extremely type A, highly competitive guy. You look at some of the throws he makes, the way he hangs in the pocket, the way at times he will extend plays, throw his body around to get a first down or get a touchdown. I really admire the way the guy plays the game. I think he plays it the right way.

Again, I don't know him well. I've met Eric one or two times after the game or at Media Day. But I'm sure that the people at Syracuse just absolutely love coaching him. I think he's a ball guy. I think he's one of those guys that probably lives it. At times he just wills the team to move the football. I have great respect for him as a competitor and as a player.

Q. He appears to have little or no regard for his own body the way he throws it around sometimes.
DAVE CLAWSON: I think that's what competitors do. We have a quarterback like that, too, in John Wolford. John has taken a lot of hits here. He goes out and plays the next play, is going to do what he needs to do to try to win the game. We love that we have John Wolford. We love coaching him. His competitive drive and fire at times becomes the personality of our team, which is a really good thing for us. I would say the same things in terms of Eric Dungey and Syracuse, that you can tell he's a competitor and a fighter and a winner.

Like I said, there's a lot of good quarterbacks in the league. This is one of the best. Again, not only do I think Syracuse has done a great job with him, I think they've utilized his skill set well. I mean, he knows the offense. He knows where to go with it. He's really efficient with it. If you didn't have to play against it, it would be a lot of fun to watch.

Q. The development of your offensive line, your run game, do you feel like you guys are where you expected to be right now in terms of the improvement and the development there? Have you exceeded expectations?
DAVE CLAWSON: I think we're right on track. I think it's a unit -- I mean, our first year it was a little bit of a mix and mash group. We redshirted all these guys. They all played as freshmen, took their licks, improved last year. Now they've taken the next step this year.

Offensively you need to be able to throw and run it when you're given the looks to do that. I think now if people line up and put nine guys in the box, we feel comfortable throwing the football. If teams are going to spread out with us, we feel comfortable running it. That's where you want to get to in an offense. You don't necessarily run it for 250 every week, throw it for 300, but you have the ability to do either of those things on any given week.

We are a really, really improved unit on offense across the board. Part of the reason we're running the football better is that our quarterbacks and receivers are playing better, our O-line is protecting better. Then you get better surfaces to run the football. You're not always trying to run it uphill, with bad numbers.

It all goes hand-in-hand. But I think our offensive line is improved. The great thing about it is we're not playing one senior up there. Everybody comes back for another year or two years. I expect us to continue to get better.

Q. Probably the least recognizable coach on any college football staff is the strength and conditioning coach. On a scale of 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest, how important is the strength and conditioning program to staying or becoming successful on the field?

Q. I like that answer. As late as the early 1990s, players still weren't lifting in season at some places. That philosophy changed in 2017, hasn't it?
DAVE CLAWSON: Yeah, I think that philosophy changed in 2000, even 1990. Yeah, I mean, it's not our goal in the season to maintain. We have the expectation that all of our kids make gains in the season. They're not going to be the gains they make in the off-season, but that is a priority in the season, that we make sure they get two to three lifts a week. We still take heavy weight. We test them at the end of the season to see what the gains are, and hopefully there's minimal losses.

But our strength coach here, Brandon Hourigan, he's been with me at three different schools. There's no way that we would have developed players, won football games, had the success we've had if it's not for the job that he does. He's as important as any coach on our staff. He is invaluable.

Q. Both defenses are very strong. Given how potent Wake and Syracuse offenses have shown they can be, would you anticipate a high-score attack on Saturday?
DAVE CLAWSON: I don't know. I think both teams have to execute. Sometimes when you anticipate that, the defense gets sick of hearing it, they step up and play their better game.

Right now both offenses are playing at a high level. I think Syracuse has really improved on defense. You never know how the game's going to play out. But a lot of times you anticipate those high-scoring games, sometimes it becomes the opposite.

Q. You held Syracuse last year to 9 points. What was the key to that?
DAVE CLAWSON: The key was probably that there was a hurricane. I know that helped us a lot. It was really bad weather. It was raining sideways. That helped our defense a lot.

That game was 14-9, and they had the ball with six minutes left in the game. Even though the score finished out I think 28-9, I mean, that was a competitive, four-quarter football game that either team could have won.

Again, last year we were kind of more of a conservative run it, drain the clock type of offense, and Syracuse was a little more throw it and go fast. I think certainly the weather helped us. Whenever it rains, I think it favors the team that plays a little slower, doesn't have the ball in the air as much.

We were very fortunate last year to win that game. That game could have gone either way.

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