July 22, 2021
Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
Wake Forest Demon Deacons
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Wake Forest. We invite Coach Clawson to the podium. Questions, please.
Q. This season as you step forward, seven years, five bowls in seven years. What can you say about the evolution of Wake Forest football, where we're heading in 2021?
DAVE CLAWSON: I think we've made a lot of progress. We're certainly proud of the fact that we've been to five straight bowls for the first time in the history of the program.
But we want more. There's a whole 'nother level that we want to get to. I think it's really good that I think our program is now one that expects to be in a bowl. But taking that next step in our league is difficult. But we think we have a group this year that's capable of doing that.
Whether it's New Year's Day bowls or being in contention to win the ACC Atlantic, obviously that's a very high standard in the ACC, but that has to be our goal. We'd love to get to that second to last game in November against Clemson with it meaning a lot for both football teams.
Q. As someone who coached in a 16-team playoff at Richmond, then later in the Group of Five, now in the Power Five, what is your view of the proposal to expand the College Football Playoff? You seem to have a unique perspective from all those experiences.
DAVE CLAWSON: Well, that's a loaded question. We got a presentation yesterday from the athletic director at Notre Dame, Jack Swarbrick, that was extremely well done. The amount of thought, study that went into this.
There's a lot of different approaches to it. Quite simply, from a Wake Forest perspective, we're for it. We're in one of the two toughest divisions to get to the playoffs. So to have the opportunity to play in games in late November that you're trying to get to the Orange Bowl but you're still in the hunt to be one of 12, there would be a lot more games of national significance.
However, if you ever want to add something, you're also taking something away. If there's a way of doing this and preserving the bowls, I think they're already starting to lose part of what they used to mean. I mean, used to come down here every year, and every team's goal was to get to the Orange Bowl. Then last year our ACC representative in the Orange Bowl had four of their best players not play in it.
Does that problem get compounded with a 12-team playoff? I think the difference is this: in FCS football, there's a 16-team tournament, but that's all there is. There is not a bowl system. You're either in the playoffs or you're not. There's fewer players at that level that are considering opting out because they're going to be high-level draft picks. For some of them, that's the end of their football career if they're seniors.
We have had so many incredible bowl experiences at Wake Forest. 2017, staying in this hotel, playing in the Belk Bowl against Texas A&M. A lot of the players who played at Wake Forest would tell you that was one of the most magical weeks of their life. For our team to be able to go to D.C. in the Military Bowl and see the nation's capital, the Pinstripe Bowl, see the 9/11 memorial, see a Broadway show, the Birmingham Bowl. Those have all been incredible life experiences for our players. It's a reward. It's a celebration of your season.
The playoffs aren't there. The competition part of it is awesome, trying to win a national championship. But it's a much different experience than a bowl experience.
So whenever you add something, you have to take something away. I think for those of us who have coached for 20, 30 years, and have had such wonderful bowl experience, we're certainly concerned about the impact that a bigger playoff system would have on bowls.
Q. It's been no secret that the program's motto this year is: good to great. In the past two to three months, what steps have been taken, can be taken, and at what point are you just waiting for games to happen, whether the results can play out on the field?
DAVE CLAWSON: I think all that stuff is true. I mean, we have always been a program that takes great pride in our ability to develop players. I think the last few years, every year it's, Okay, you lost this player, who is next? Greg Dortch is an All-American. You end up with a year later Kendall Hinton with a thousand yards. He leaves. What's going to happen? Jaquarii Roberson steps up, becomes one of the best receivers in the ACC.
The unique thing about this year is with the exception of Boogie Basham, who was a second-round draft pick, a player who transferred to another school, everybody's back. So you get all that experience from the last three or four years back, plus it's not like the younger guys stopped developing.
So it's really exciting for us. It's great to get a Luke Masterson back for a sixth year. It's great to get a Ja'Sir Taylor back for a fifth year. Those guys in normal years would be gone.
But we also have all these younger players that we redshirted in '19. Last year was their first year. Those guys are better than what they were a year ago. They had a full off-season for the first time in two years. We had 15 full spring practices. So if you combine what's coming back, nine additional players because of the super seniors, plus the development that's going on in the program, we're certainly hopeful that the combination of those two things will allow us to take that next step.
Q. With so many returning starters and veteran players, is there one position group that has stood out to you that you can lean on for leadership this upcoming season, or just one position group you'd like to be able to brag on?
DAVE CLAWSON: I mean, it's hard to just pick one because when you have 20 of 22 starters back, right, who are you not going to identify? We got a lot of good football players back.
I think the one area that we really struggled last year is we got thin in the secondary. That was kind of, from game one, a patchwork deal. We went into the Clemson game, and we moved Nasir Greer two days before to play corner. We were down to our seventh corner for COVID, other reasons, game one.
The secondary all year became patchwork.
We've wanted to move Luke Masterson to linebacker for two years. We just never had the numbers to do it. If you say, Hey, where is an area you really think you can make a major step forward? I think for us it's going to be the defensive secondary.
Again, not that we're not good in other position, but that's an area clearly from a year ago that you would say has to get better. Between who's back, the development, guys getting healthy, and some transfers, that's a position that if we can make a step forward, our team has a chance to get a lot better.
Q. Wake Forest was among the very top teams in the ACC in both yards and points. The offense loses zero starters. What should we expect in 2022 from an offense that returns intact that nobody could stop last year?
DAVE CLAWSON: I think the things that we need to get better at are just -- it not always about numbers and stats and points, right? Part of it is situational football. So there were three times last year that we had double-digit leads in games that we weren't able to hold onto.
I think our ability to adjust our offense within the course of the game, to do what we need to do to win games, is more important to me than if we score seven more points or have 50 more yards, right? We had leads at Carolina, we had leads in the bowl game, we had I think three leads last year of 14 points or more that we didn't hold onto.
Sometimes the ability to slow it down and run the football, protect a lead, keep your defense off the field, that's the sign of a great offense. It's not just points and yards, but the ability to do what's required to do to win the football game.
So those are the areas that I really think offensively, as much as we put up big numbers and yards, can we get to a game in the fourth quarter with a double-digit lead and just take time off the clock, keep our defense off the field, play the field position game.
I do believe our defense has a chance to be a very improved unit this year.
Q. You said this is a program that now expects to win a bowl game. How do you foster and enforce that expectation with your team?
DAVE CLAWSON: I think that's something that's been built over seven, eight years. This is the longest that I've ever been at a school. The benefits to being at a program year after year after year, seeing the benefits of a culture, expectation levels. Whether that's the weight room or what we do in academics or community service, are all aspects of the program. There is just an expectation level within our program that doesn't necessarily come from the coaches, but it comes from the players.
When the players are setting the example and setting the bar and setting the expectation level, the younger players quickly fall in line. That's what's made it so fun to be at Wake for now eight years, is we get such good, well-rounded student-athletes.
We're extremely proud of what we've done on the football field, but academically what our guys do after football, and they get the big picture of football and of life. So at the same time they're extremely competitive in everything they do.
This is where I think this group has really said, Hey, for so many years here it was you got to a bowl, you got to six, you celebrated. We don't want to minimize that accomplishment. But let's do more. Let's raise this thing another level and, again, recognizing how difficult that challenge is in the ACC.
Q. We've lived with 85 scholarships for a very long time. This year you're getting the benefit of having more. Any part of you that would like to see some sort of expansion of that? The theory was always that it helped parity.
DAVE CLAWSON: Again, if you go back to the history of this, right, there was unlimited scholarships. Then in 1973, they created a cap of 105. Then in 1978, that cap went to 95. In 1992, they reduced it to 85, which is where we're at now.
What did a college football season look like in 1992? It was 10 or 11 regular-season games, and maybe if you were lucky a bowl game. So the maximum amount of games you were playing back then when they put the 85 rule in is I believe 12 games. There weren't playoffs. There weren't conference championship games.
To constantly be adding games, conference championships, rounds of playoffs, and then the roster pressure you're now getting from a one-time transfer rule, the roster pressure from people who opt out, and they're not just opting out for bowl games, they're opting out in October if they don't have the role they want or their agents are telling them in November, Hey, you don't need to play anymore, you're already a first-round pick, at a certain point you just can't keep burning it at both ends.
If we're going to make this move, and it looks like there's a good chance it's going to happen, add a tournament, add games, at a certain point we have to go back and look at the rosters.
We do not have the ability to sign guys off the waiver wire of another team's practice squad when we get hurt at a position with injuries or opt-outs in November.
I really think if this is good for college football, the powers that be deem that we should add games, make it a tournament, expand the playoffs, at a certain point you have to do things to help coaches manage the roster to make it safer for players.
Thanks for teeing that up for me (smiling).
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports