Wake Forest is nationally ranked for the first time under Coach Dave Clawson, and now the Deacons will attempt to do something else they’ve never done in Clawson’s previous five seasons:
Win a game after an off week.
The Deacons are 0-6 in the past five seasons — the 2014 season, Clawson’s first at Wake Forest, was similar to this one with two off weeks — after a break in the schedule. It’s an aspect that Clawson studied extensively in the offseason, and hopes to have solved ahead of Saturday night’s game against visiting Louisville.
“That was one of the things I did a deep dive on this offseason,” Clawson said Monday. “No. 1, the injury thing that we had last year, things we could do to prevent that, and secondly, what can we do better in a bye week so that we play better coming out of the bye weeks.”
The 19th-ranked Deacons are one of 18 undefeated teams in the country, and are in a three-games-in-five-weeks stretch — all without leaving Winston-Salem. After playing Louisville, Wake Forest will face Florida State on Oct. 19 — another 7:30 p.m. kickoff, just like this Saturday — have a second off week, and then play host to N.C. State on Nov. 2.
So the Deacons have two chances in the next month to turn Clawson’s offseason research into results, starting with Saturday night’s game.
“We looked at what we’ve done in our other bye weeks and quite frankly, we probably gave the kids in the past too much time off,” Clawson said. “So we gave them one less day off, we made sure that our workload was greater than it was.”
The six losses after off weeks under Clawson can be examined on a game-by-game basis, but it’s worth noting that two of the losses were to ranked teams — 34-20 to No. 19 Clemson in 2014 and 28-7 to No. 6 Notre Dame in 2015. As Clawson said, “some of those losses were early when we weren’t good,” and those two certainly qualify.
And it’s worth looking at the past two seasons, when Wake Forest lost 38-24 at Georgia Tech in 2017 and 38-17 at Florida State last season. Neither of those teams finished their seasons with a bowl appearance.
“Some of those losses, we just flat out didn’t play well,” Clawson said. “You know, I think nationally or statically, people who come off of a bye week usually win at a lesser rate. … Most teams don’t play well out of a bye week. So that’s a challenge, and we shared that with our team.
“It’ll be two weeks since we’ve played football and we’ve gotta be ready to go early, because this is too good of a football team to fall behind to.”
Entering this week, teams across the country are 38-34 coming off an off week. ACC teams are 2-3 — six teams in the league, including the Deacons, had their first breaks last week. Louisville actually has one of the ACC’s two wins following an off week, as the Cardinals were off before beating Boston College 41-39 on Saturday.
The oddity here is that Wake Forest has won its season-opening game in five straight seasons and has won bowl games in three straight seasons. Extended breaks don’t appear to have the same effect on the Deacons that one-week breaks do.
There already seems to be one main difference between this off week and last season’s for the Deacons, and it’s the other topic that Clawson did his deep dive into during the offseason. Wake Forest limped into its off week last year, and entered the game at Florida State with one healthy scholarship linebacker.
This season, thanks in part to fortune and to a revamped fall camp workload model, the Deacons are carrying a relatively clean bill of health.
“I would say the plan that we came up with in preseason for the bye week, we were actually able to follow it because we were healthy,” Clawson said. “Now, we purposefully and intentionally used to give the kids more time off.
“And then we looked at that and we just saw that in the bye weeks, the workload got so little in the bye weeks that when you came back and had a game week, the increase was so great that you probably weren’t at a peak performance level when it came game week.”
So Saturday will be a measuring stick of sorts for how well the Deacons’ adjusted approach to the off week worked.
“We don’t want to get out of a rhythm. We had a really good practice (Sunday) night, we got after it, and had a good workload,” Clawson said. “We’ll find out Saturday if we handled it well.”