Before Jamie Newman’s pass to the end zone was plucked out of the air by Kendall Hinton on Friday night, Coach Dave Clawson was ready to say that if a football team can’t gain one yard, it doesn’t deserve to win.
Clawson still said it, but in a hypothetical sense. The reality was that Hinton came down in the back corner of the end zone with Newman’s pass, helping deliver a thrilling 38-35 season-opening win over Utah State.
And now the Deacons have examined why they came so close to the hypothetical becoming reality.
“I think at times we were a little bit too robotic with our snap count,” Clawson said, specifically noting the fourth-and-1 quarterback sneak that was blown up when three Utah State defenders jumped over the line of scrimmage.
“That was a situation that, you know, the ball finished in bounds and you’re trying to go fast and the official is standing over the ball, and we’ve gotta — we can’t run that play. We have to have the ability to not run it.”
Wake Forest converted seven of its first nine attempts at critical short-yardage situations — third- or fourth-down with 1 or 2 yards to go. The issue was that Wake Forest failed to convert four straight chances in the second half, and nearly lost the game because it couldn’t punch into the end zone on three runs from the 1-yard line in the closing minutes.
While blame might automatically get assigned to the offensive line in those late-game runs, Clawson said tape revealed something different.
“There were times the play was blocked correctly, that the back just, on his own, went somewhere he shouldn’t go,” Clawson said. “It was almost like in the heat of the moment, they had already predetermined the cut instead of just reading the play.
“Two of those three calls (on the goal line), you just read the play correctly, we’re walking in. There was a seam and a place to hit the play, and we just cut it back to where we weren’t protected.”
Senior running back Cade Carney wound up with 105 yards on 25 carries — but had 72 yards on his first eight carries, and only gained 33 yards on the other 17 carries. Of Carney’s 16 career rushing touchdowns, eight have come from 1 yard out — including the game-winning score in last season’s opening victory at Tulane.
“Just situations, and it’s just about executing,” Hinton said. “Not like we’re changing anything up or building a whole new system. It’s just getting back to the basics and executing.”
One of the other factors in Wake Forest’s ineffectiveness in short-yardage situations late in the game was the volume of how many such plays the Deacons faced.
By Clawson’s count, Wake Forest ran 17 short-yardage or goal-line situation plays — a number that usually is between 30-40 throughout the course of a season. Play-callers enter games with a set number of plays based on the game plan that’s formulated throughout the week, and Friday night seems to be an indication that Wake Forest will need to expand its arsenal of short-yardage plays.
“You’re not developing a game-plan menu for 17 short-yardage calls,” Clawson said. “We probably, because of that game, need to have a little more on the call sheet in case — because the first seven or eight times, we were fine.”
And, there’s also the aspect that Utah State’s defensive front presented what figures to be one of the stiffest challenges of the season. Clawson said last week on his radio show with Stan Cotten that the Aggies looked “like a Power 5 team up front on defense.”
“We played a good front, they were physical. … They were able to time things up and get in the backfield and at times we just didn’t execute well,” Clawson said. “But obviously not converting the quarterback sneak, not converting the Cade run (on fourth-and-goal in the third quarter), and almost losing the game because of our inability to get a yard on the 1-yard line are all problems that we’re very aware of that we know we have to get fixed.”