Death Valley

Deathbed Regrets And Surviving Death Valley

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I’m feeling fully alive — about Death Valley — where Wake Forest will play on Saturday against Clemson.

This will be our game.

Even though Clemson is favored by 21 points. A wonderful Wake Forest football victory is coming our way.

You’re not misreading this.

I got these vibes today listening to Wake’s football coach, Dave Clawson, during his weekly press conference.

From his words, I derived strength. I saw a man with cool confidence and resolve. A tenacity and ferociousness beneath his gold sport coat I could sense. It was visceral yet almost tangible.

Deathbed regrets

Reflecting on the crushing loss last Fall to Clemson in overtime, he said this:

“You never get over certain games. I’ll be on my deathbed and that game will still bother me.”

Deathbed regrets. Sounds serious.

Good.

Perfect.

This man hated losing that game and always will until his last breath. So did you. So did I.

It haunts. Glory was ours until it wasn’t.

I remember the pain. So do you. So does Dave.

He doesn’t want to feel that pain again. Breathing his last few times, he doesn’t want to be thinking about losing another game to Clemson on October 7th, 2023 in Death Valley.

Feeling faithful

None of us do. I have faith in this man. I believe in this human being. He’s earned our trust to come through when – let’s tell it straight – the season is teetering. Could be good; could go south.

He won’t let this blow up.

He was asked during the presser how he expected his team to be situated four games into the season.

“I expected us to be 4 and 0,” he said. “At the start of the season, I expected us to be 12 and 0. We have expectations to win here.”

An ambitious fellow, and this has served him well so far as he’s brought Wake Forest to its highest stature as a football program.

“Very busy bye week”

The team had a bye week last weekend after a massively disappointing loss to Georgia Tech. Clawson said it was a “very busy bye week.” You get the sense it was one of the busiest bye weeks of his extensive coaching career because he’s not happy with how his team has been playing and won’t stand for it.

He studied the film of his team’s first four games focused on all the things they were not doing wrong and skipping the good plays.

“I’m a glutton for punishment watching film of our games,” he said. “I’m looking for the explosive plays we gave up and why, how we could coach better, looking for who missed the assignment.”

Rising from the cauldron

The man punished himself because he wants to win so badly and detests losing so much that he knows he’s going to, as he dies, be haunted by those excruciating experiences. That’s the kind of ferocious hunger I want in our leader as our team goes to one of college football’s most unimaginably intimidating cauldrons, Death Valley, to not die.

To win.

There is no doubt in my mind he’s going to make this happen. You could just tell listening to him talk today. He was his usual decorous self but there was an edge, a frustration, and determination to fix the problems the team has consistently displayed in the first four games.

Too many negative plays

What did he learn from all the film?

One big takeaway, he said, is his team is making too many negative plays on offense — 35 to be exact. Too often his quarterback, Mitch Griffis, has been sacked. Want the specifics? You got them. The offensive line has given up nine sacks, the running backs five, and the tight ends two.

And of course, the team, especially Griffis, has heaved six interceptions which, Clawson says repeatedly, is exactly what his team cannot do to win games.

“Nobody is more upset about these first four games than he is,” said Clawson. “Mitch is gritty.”

As a coach, he admits he needs to do a better job helping him, and he looks at himself and what he’s doing. But he says it’s important not to overreact in pressuring Griffis to get the ball out quicker – which he says has been a major problem from the first game.

“We have to minimize the losses on plays and we haven’t,” he said. “We’re getting behind the sticks (first down markers) too much.”

No more “new” starters

He also sent a message to his crop of younger players, 15, who became new starters this season. “After playing four games they’re not new starters anymore.”

In other words, “we’re inexperienced” excuses will no longer be tolerated.

Adding to his blunt and rather displeased mood, he spoke about the transfer portal and the fact that Wake Forest cannot compete financially with the offers some of the players he’s interested in bringing onto his team.

“We’re not in that market. But I’m not philosophically against the transfer portal.”

His team has gone after players to fill specific needs. “College football has changed so much in the past 18 months. It’s pay-for-play. We’re not competitive for certain players” because of how much money other schools are offering them.”

The key will be for Wake Forest to retain its best players and “we’ll be in great shape. We’ve got to figure out a way, and I’m very positive we can do that. A Wake Forest degree is worth a lot more than a lot of colleges we’re competing with.”

What about Clemson?

They’re loaded, he says, as usual.

They’re rushing for 267 yards a game led by Will Shipley, and the quarterback, Cade Klubnik, has thrown 137 passes without an interception.

But Clawson wasn’t nearly as focused on Clemson’s wealth of talent as he was preoccupied with fixing his team’s problems. You got the sense he’s done everything in his power to remedy all this heading into Saturday’s game.

This game won’t be about Clemson or Death Valley. This will be about Dave Clawson’s ferocity, determination, and hard work paying off with a clean game, minimal mistakes, and a rousing and unforgettable victory for the Demon Deacons.

Because of Dave. Because he knows he doesn’t want to be haunted on his deathbed by any more Clemson games.

That’s a motivator even Death Valley can’t kill.

“We better be better,” he said.

They will be.

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