"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

'Covers the campus like the magnolias'
"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

"Covers the campus like the magnolias"

Old Gold & Black

Football in freefall after loss to Virginia Tech

Clawson describes the 30-13 loss as a ‘bad performance’
Michael Kern surveys his options from the pocket. The redshirt junior replaced starter Mitch Griffis during the second quarter. (Courtesy of Wake Forest Athletics)

Every game is historic. Every game goes in the record books. But for Wake Forest (3-3, 0-3), a 30-13 loss to an inconsistent Virginia Tech team (3-4, 2-1) is one the Demon Deacons would very much wish to rewrite.

“They kicked our butts,” said Head Coach Dave Clawson. “It was a bad, bad performance.”

The term “bad performance” encapsulates the play of both offenses during the first quarter. Each team couldn’t seem to get the ball moving on the offensive end, and three consecutive three-and-outs from both teams led many fans to believe it would be a long day.

The first sign of action came from quarterback Mitch Griffis, although it occurred for all the wrong reasons. Late in the first quarter, Griffis threw a ball intended for wideout Walker Merrill on the left sideline, where it was intercepted by Hokie senior Derrick Canteen.

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Multiple plays from Griffis led to a quarterback change during the second quarter. In his stead came Michael Kern, who had previously battled with Griffis in the 2022 preseason, when Sam Hartman was injured.

“There were plays where [Griffis] just wasn’t executing the offense,” said Clawson of the decision. “It wasn’t the pick. I just thought our team needed a spark. Last week at Clemson, at times, the offense wasn’t functioning because of the quarterback.”

In the previous five games, the Wake Forest rushing attack had looked to be an important part of the game plan, and multiple games featured rushers with over 100 yards. This time, the Hokies kept the Demon Deacons’ running game in check, only allowing 35 rushing yards.

It’s not fun. We are really, really struggling.”

— Dave Clawson, Head Football Coach

Despite those struggles, running back Demond Claiborne still managed to show out. A 96-yard kickoff return midway through the second quarter saw him weave through traffic and turn on the burners to beat out the Hokie special teams, leading to the first points on the board. 

The momentum dissipated fast, however. It took two plays for the Hokies to strike pay dirt again, this time after Virginia Tech quarterback Kyron Drones found wideout Jaylin Lane down the middle of the field. After a missed tackle from the secondary, Lane rushed the ball downfield to increase the Hokies’ lead back up to 10 points.

“That was a killer,” Clawson said. “That one hurt, but we still got back into it.”

Approaching halftime, the Demon Deacons were able to sneak an extra three points on the board after Matthew Dennis hit a 28-yard field goal with 20 seconds remaining.

Although that may seem like success at first glance, it represented yet another offensive possession in which the Demon Deacons found themselves in the red zone and couldn’t capitalize with a touchdown. The Demon Deacons have only converted 8 out of 25 red zone trips into touchdowns, the worst conversion rate in the nation, per NCAA.com. (The Demon Deacons do rank second in the FBS in number of red zone field goals.)

When Kern threw a ball in wideout Taylor Morin’s direction with 30 seconds remaining in the first half, it could have been good for six, but Morin couldn’t come down with it.

“Kern threw a good ball in the corner, and we dropped it,” Clawson said. “We make that play, it changes the game.…It’s been the same story. We get into the red zone, we don’t score touchdowns.”

Sophomore safety Nick Andersen, hero of the 2020 WFU-VT game, finished Saturday’s game with 5 tackles and one pass breakup. (Courtesy of Wake Forest Athletics)

After halftime, the Demon Deacons never found a rhythm offensively. Out of six second-half offensive drives, only one put points on the board — a 34-yard field goal by Dennis with 12:37 left in the fourth quarter.

Although Kern took command of the offense, he found himself on the wrong side of a tackle late in the game. With less than three minutes remaining, Hokie defender Antuan Powell-Raymond sacked Kern, who momentarily laid on the turf before being replaced by Griffis.

“[Kern] is going to be out for a couple of weeks,” Clawson revealed in a Tuesday press conference.

Griffis returned to the field for the last possession but didn’t escape unharmed either, getting hit by Powell-Raymond on 4th & 18.

Despite the chaos at the quarterback position, it’s a situation where Clawson has been before. Postgame, he referred to a situation in 2016 when former quarterback John Wolford struggled, and Kendall Hinton replaced him before injuring himself in the next game. (Wolford then set single-season school records the next year in both passing yards and touchdowns.)

“I believe in our quarterbacks,” Clawson said. “I think they will get there. We have to get them better. Right now, they’re not playing well. They’re playing unevenly, not confidently. They look lost at times out there.”

Despite the three-game losing streak, the Demon Deacons face a struggling University of Pittsburgh (2-4, 1-2) team in a rematch of the 2021 ACC Championship Game. After both programs experienced record highs in that season, Clawson and Pittsburgh coach Pat Narduzzi are each looking for answers.

“It’s been a long time since we’ve been in this position,” Clawson said. “It’s not fun. We are really, really struggling. We need to get better, and I believe we will.”

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About the Contributor
Sean Kennedy
Sean Kennedy, Sports Editor
Sean is a junior from Long Island, NY majoring in communication and minoring in journalism and film studies. Outside of the OGB, he is the president of the Sports Analytics Club and a member of Wake Radio. In his free time, you can find him following all levels of professional sports and supporting his favorite teams — the Celtics, Jets, Yankees and Islanders.

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