BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Wake Forest knocked off Indiana 33-28 Saturday to improve to 4-0, raising the question of whether the long downtrodden program is rebuilding or rebuilt.
Dave Clawson, in his third season as head coach, dodges such talk like a pitcher in baseball clams up in the eighth inning of a no-hitter. What he doesn’t need is a team that has been behind for so long getting ahead of itself.
“We’re 1-0 in the week, baby,’’ Clawson said, repeating this season’s mantra. “That’s all we want to do. You can’t go 4-0 in a week. You can only go 1-0.’’
But here Wake Forest stands, bearing down on October, as one of the four undefeated teams remaining in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The others are Clemson, Louisville and Miami, placing the Deacons in fast company.
Clawson is all too aware of the work that remains, as early as next Saturday at N.C. State. And the case can be made that the Deacons haven’t played the stiffest of competition, though that argument lost some starch when Duke — the same Duke that lost to the Deacons at home — stunned Notre Dame 38-35 Saturday in South Bend.
What the Deacons have proven to be while off to their first 4-0 record since 2006 is both resilient and resourceful.
They’re resilient enough to overcome the kind of injuries that would have crippled them in seasons past, beating Indiana with quarterback Kendall Hinton, running back Cade Carney, rover Demetrius Kemp, safety Cameron Glenn and defensive linemen Shelldon Lewinson and Elontae Bateman sidelined by injuries.
And they’re resourceful enough to win defensive struggles — such as the unsightly 7-3 victory over Tulane — as well as shootouts such as Saturday’s victory at Indiana. Clawson maintains he didn’t despair when Indiana zapped Wake Forest with a 75-yard touchdown pass on the first offensive play of the game.
“I just said ‘It’s a long game,’ Clawson said. “When they hit that first touchdown, there’s still 59 minutes and 45 seconds left.
“We’ve been in every type of game this year. We’ve come from behind before. We’ve played with the lead. We told the team before the game, ‘Guys, this is a game that the only play that matters is the next play.’
“I knew we’d keep playing. If you’ve watched us at all this year, I think that’s a trait this team has. They’re not necessarily looking at the scoreboard but just playing.’’
The Deacons kept playing even after losing Hinton to a knee injury in the first quarter of last week’s 38-21 victory over Delaware. Hinton, a sophomore from Durham, had looked so good against Duke and the early stages against Delaware, and his loss could have been a serious blow — especially coming just one week after freshman Cade Carney, the starting running back, was lost to a knee injury suffered at Duke.
But Clawson also knew he had, in junior John Wolford, a quarterback who had already started 24 games. Pressed back into the starting lineup against Indiana, Wolford made three plays the Deacons needed to pull off the victory.
The first was a 26-yard strike to Chucky Wade with less than a minute remaining in the second quarter, staking Wake Forest to a 21-7 halftime lead.
The second was his left-handed shovel pass, as he was being tackled, to Matt Colburn that picked up 10 yards and a first down and resulted in Mike Weaver’s 30-yard field goal for a 27-14 lead.
And the third was his 11-yard scamper through the flagging IU defense for a 33-21 lead with 9:59 remaining.
Wolford said he remained resolute even after Hinton was proclaimed to be the starter last week against Delaware.
“That’s just how football is — it’s week to week,’’ Wolford said. “People see you throw two picks one game and then ‘This kid’s awful. He’s never going to be good again.’
“And you throw five touchdowns the next, and it’s ‘Oh my gosh, he’s going to win the Heisman.’
“So as far as outside people looking in, they’re going to judge you based off performances in games. The way I have to look at it and the way this team has to look at it is as a process. Week after week after week, you don’t want to have to care what other people have to say. One of my things is I don’t read the media. I try to avoid that.
“But the important thing is we win games. It’s about this team.’’