From the beginning of the season, Wake Forest football has embraced a three-word theme — displayed on various forms of social media and repeated by coaches, captains and on down the roster.
Sense of urgency.
Now perhaps more than ever, though, that’ll be applied.
“I think as the season winds down, there are certain goals you’ve accomplished, certain goals that are now out of reach, but a lot of things left to play for,” Coach Dave Clawson said Tuesday. “Whatever teams can create that urgency and that sense of purpose are successful.”
The Deacons (7-3) became bowl eligible almost a month ago, but have taken lumps in the past two weeks in the form of a 36-17 loss at Virginia Tech and a 52-3 loss at Clemson. The former eliminated a chance to reach the ACC championship game; the latter was a demolition at the hands of, sure, a superior team — but also revealed some frustrating aspects for the Deacons.
They’re aspects that need to be cleaned up.
“It was just one person or a couple of people each play not making the right call on the O-line or not catching the ball on a slant or not contesting a ball on a jump ball,” senior tight end Jack Freudenthal said. “I mean, it was across the board. No one played to the capability that we could’ve played at, and that hurt our defense.
“And on defense they missed some coverages and gave up leverage — can’t give up leverage on a post. … Our game plan was get to the fourth quarter with a chance to win the game and we could’ve done that if we executed.”
Freudenthal is one of 22 players set to be honored for Senior Day, and he’s one of five senior captains.
The idea behind “sense of urgency” is to address something that didn’t happen until late in the season last year — when the Deacons had their backs against the wall and won games at N.C. State and at Duke to reach bowl eligibility.
That’s when the leadership of older players took over and stressed to younger ones how important it was for the program’s momentum to reach a third-straight bowl.
“The 2018 Wake Forest football team created that sense of urgency when we were 4-5, and whether the 2019 football team at 7-3 creates that urgency, we’ll see,” Clawson said. “You know, there’s only so much as a coach that you can preach. Either there’s an internal buy-in and that self-motivation, or they succumb to human nature.
“Hey, (if you’re) tired, ‘We can’t win the ACC anymore, we just got blown out by Clemson.’ Doesn’t matter. Good football teams, good football players show up and have consistency to them and that’s certainly our challenge this week.”
The major goals that remain are sweeping the Big Four rivals, winning 10 games for only the second time in program history and winning a Tier I bowl.
Having beaten North Carolina 24-18 and N.C. State 44-10, the first of those three goals has two-thirds of a check mark already.
“It’s always a little extra juice, even the past two, three years — any in-state rivalry, you’ve gotta bring it,” senior receiver Kendall Hinton said, “because no matter what Duke’s record is or any other school, you know they’ve got this marked on the calendar and they’re bringing it, so it’s always a big game.”
Wake Forest has beaten five straight in-state opponents. The last loss was a nearly identical situation to the one this weekend — in the final game of the 2017 regular season, a five-loss Duke team came to Winston-Salem in need of a win to extend its season against a seven-win Wake Forest team.
Duke won that game two years ago 31-23.
Those roles were reversed last year, with the Deacons playing the role of the desperate team against the already-bowl-eligible Blue Devils. Wake won 59-7.
Now the roles have reverted to what they were in 2017, albeit this being the penultimate game of the season rather than the finale.
Wake Forest hasn’t beaten all three Big Four rivals in the same season since 2007 — with North Carolina no longer an annual opponent, opportunities have become infrequent.
“Everyone else other than the seniors, all they know is bowls,” Clawson said. “And, ‘Hey, we’ll be in this position again.’ Well, you never know when you’re going to be in this position again. It’s hard to be in this position.
“I don’t know when we’re going to have another chance to play all three of the Big Four teams in a season and win the first two. It’s not easy to accomplish.”
And it’s within reach.