Wake Forest wants to sustain turnover momentum
Cameron Glenn was credited with two takeaways, Essang Bassey had a pick-six that led to him being named the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Defensive Back of the Week and Jessie Bates III grabbed his sixth interception in 15 career games for Wake Forest.
All are Deacons defensive backs who deservedly receive praise for turnovers forced last week in a comfortable win at Boston College.
Just don’t forget about every other aspect that goes into those coveted takeaways.
“A lot of the credit goes to getting in (quarterback Anthony) Brown’s face because he’s not going to make the ill-advised or the bad throws if he’s got all day to sit back there and throw,” senior linebacker Grant Dawson said. “A lot of those picks, and Jessie and Essang and those guys, they know it. They know it. Credit goes to the D-line.”
Bassey’s interception return proved pivotal, coming just before halftime. On the short throw to the right, defensive end Wendell Dunn bull-rushed the left tackle into Brown, forcing him to unleash the throw high and before the receiver could make a play.
“And that’s playing good team defense and I want our guys to recognize, it’s not the guy who catches the pass or interception and runs, but it was the pass rush by Wendell that helped set that play up,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said.
Glenn said last week the team’s goal is to lead the ACC in turnover margin, and the Deacons are plus-five through two games. Wake Forest’s first-team offense hasn’t committed a turnover.
The Deacons (2-0) have a chance to increase that margin when they play Utah State (1-1) at 3 p.m. Saturday at BB&T Field.
Utah State committed four turnovers in a season-opening loss to Wisconsin. The Aggies were leading until the first turnover, an interception at the end of the first half, allowed the Badgers to tie the game. Last week, even with a 38-point victory, Utah State turned the ball over twice.
“Our D-line this year is I think the best since I’ve been here. They’ve just been playing lights out ever since we started camp in late July and they just keep getting better and better every day,” Dawson said. “We have Duke Ejiofor who, not too many people are going to stop his pass rush that I have seen.
“But we have guys like (defensive tackle) Zeek Rodney who is back and has been playing great, (defensive tackle) Willie Yarbury keeps improving every single day.”
In Clawson’s fourth season at the helm for the Deacons, there’s been at least one constant to every practice. For a fast-paced 7-8 minute stretch, Wake Forest goes through a turnover circuit — working on techniques to strip the ball, punch the ball loose, strip-sack techniques, putting a hand in the quarterback’s face, breaking up passes and hauling in tipped passes.
It’s not a large portion of practice for the Deacons, but it has been a constant priority.
“It’s nothing too, too long. But we’re getting reps, we’re getting reps and when you do that on a daily basis, you get better and better at it. It’s all about the consistency of it, which we work it,” Dawson said.
“We’ve been doing that drill since I first got here, so I think that’s paying off, starting to pay off since last year,” said Ejiofor, a fifth-year senior. “I think that’s going to be huge for us.”
Dunn said the defense as a whole has a surging confidence level — that if every defender does his job, being in the right place at the right time will have more to do with positioning than just being lucky.
“I’m confident in our defense; we’re confident. We know what we have to do, if we do what we have to do that should be no problem,” Dunn said.