Wake Forest’s woes on the back end of its defense aren’t going to be magically fixed. Coach Dave Clawson said just that earlier this week.
“I mean, I’m not going to go over there in three days and wave a magic wand,” he said.
What can be done — what has been done, since Boston College’s aerial assault — is a multitude of things. And all of the steps taken have been done with the idea that the Deacons aren’t going to be a perfect secondary, but that they can stem the bleeding.
Clawson’s words were pointed in the aftermath of last week’s 41-34 loss to the Eagles, in which they passed for 304 yards and five touchdowns — all of them at least 27 yards. Among the problems were undisciplined eyes, and Clawson pointed out how frustrating it was that “this has been a two-year problem” and that “we’re three weeks into it and it’s not getting better — it’s getting worse.”
And junior cornerback Essang Bassey had a matter-of-fact reaction to Clawson’s assessment.
“He’s just being honest. We didn’t play our best game in the secondary. We know that, everybody on the team knows that,” Bassey said. “We know we’re responsible for it, and it’s on us. The only way to combat that is to work and improve on it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.
“We got hit, we got hit hard. You’ve just gotta learn from it and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
There’s been some learning this week ahead of No. 8 Notre Dame’s visit. Some healing, also — reserve safety Luke Masterson could play for the first time this season, Clawson said.
More than anything, though, the emphasis for the secondary to improve is for heightened focus in practice and better communication.
“If you let some things go in practice, then those show up in the game. You can’t do that,” Bassey said. “Every practice rep, you have to treat it like a game rep. So that’s what we’ve been focusing on this week, and that’s what we’ll continue to do throughout the season.”
Better focus on reps in practice comes, in part, because Clawson has inserted himself in more of a hands-on role with the defensive backs.
The communication aspect is surprising, because that’s something Clawson, defensive coordinator Jay Sawvel and defensive players were all encouraged by in fall camp. It became a problem in the second half of the season last year, partially because of an injury to Jessie Bates III, and the feeling was that despite Bates’ departure, the Deacons were on the same page as a defense.
After three games, it’s clear that hasn’t been the case.
“I want to be back there and hear the checks and make sure that I’m emphasizing the things our defensive coaches are emphasizing and, you know, sometimes when the head coach gets involved, there’s maybe a little bit more urgency,” Clawson said. “That clearly, right now, is an issue on our football team.
“I’m past the point of saying, ‘Hey, it’s just going to get better with time.’”
Communication issues have to be fixed by Wake Forest’s safeties, Clawson said.
“We’ve got a fifth-year senior back there (Cameron Glenn) and a fourth-year senior (Chuck Wade Jr.), and even though (Wade) hasn’t played a lot of safety, he’s played a lot of football and we’ve just gotta get those guys to take command of it and run the show,” Clawson said. “It has to be done at the safety level.”
Clawson isn’t breaking any news, at least to Glenn, when he says the senior safeties have to be better.
“When we came back in on Monday, and they showed us, like, OK, we only gave up (180) yards on (59) plays, and they said we gave up like 300-plus in 10 plays,” Glenn said. “That hit me hard, especially because I know I have to pick my part up, being a senior and a captain.
“I gave up a touchdown, just can’t let that happen. You’ve gotta lead by example, and you can’t lead by example if you’re getting beat.”
While this weekend’s game against Notre Dame is the next test, it’ll hardly be the last one for the Deacons’ secondary. Even the hypothetical situation of shutting down quarterback Brandon Wimbush and Notre Dame’s stable of receivers wouldn’t deter other teams from testing Wake Forest through the air.
That’s fine with Bassey. He knows the Deacons have to “be ready to be attacked every game.”
“I don’t think there’s going to be a game — especially now — but even before that, I don’t think there’s going to be a game that we could ever relax that we could say, ‘I don’t think we’ll be able to attack that much this week,’” Bassey said. “You’ve always gotta be on your toes, always ready to be challenged.”