Sustaining drives crucial to Deacons’ success

October 18, 2017

Wake Forest’s offense has had 40 possessions in the past three games combined that didn’t end in a kneel-down. Twenty-six of them have lasted less than two minutes and 18 of those have been three-and-outs.

Heading into a matchup against a Georgia Tech team that’s second in the country in forcing three-and-outs at 47.5 percent, the Deacons know how the importance of staying on the field — and keeping its defense off of it.

“We can’t do our defense dirty like we have done, especially the App State game with all these three-and-outs,” junior center Ryan Anderson said. “All these possessions are incredibly critical and if we don’t score we have to hold the ball for at least a little bit and give our defense a break.”

The App State game, Wake Forest’s last victory, was notable because the Deacons went three-and-out five straight times in the first half and another three times in the second half. But there were also four such possessions against Florida State and six against Clemson.

Georgia Tech boasts many of the same characteristics that have made it a difficult matchup in previous seasons — though it’s been seven years since these teams met. The Yellow Jackets can swallow up time of possession — they’re second in the country, averaging 35:52 per game — and shorten a game in an age of football when quick-strike ability is prioritized.

“When you have it, you better do something with it,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said.

That something needs to be touchdowns, asserted running back Matt Colburn II. The junior said three times in a row that he knows the Deacons will “move the ball” against Georgia Tech. And then comes the important part.

“It’s just guys have got to be on the same page and when we get in the red zone, guys just have to emphasize, focus, like, ‘All right guys, we’ve gotta get some freaking points,’” Colburn said. “We can’t send our kicker on the field and we can’t come away with three points. … Because Georgia Tech is going to move the ball. That triple-option is no joke.”

The Yellow Jackets are piling up rushing yards per usual in their triple-option offense, averaging an Atlantic Coast Conference-best 362 rushing yards per game. But within that, Georgia Tech leads the ACC in two other categories that better represent the Deacons’ challenge this weekend.

Georgia Tech’s 49.3 percent third-down conversion tops the league, as does its 22.4 percent rate of allowing opponents to convert third downs.

The best way for the Deacons to sustain drives and keep its defense off the field is with a proficient rushing attack — something that’s been absent for the past three games. Through the first three games, Wake Forest averaged 232.3 rushing yards per game. In the three games since, that number drops to 132.3.

Clawson said Tuesday that he expects quarterback John Wolford (shoulder) and running back Cade Carney (ribs) “will be good to go,” and that’s probably the best news for the Deacons trying to sustain drives. Wolford leads the team with 332 rushing yards and four touchdowns despite missing the game at Clemson, while Carney’s bruising running style has been missed.

The past few weeks haven’t signaled to the Deacons that an overhaul of the offense is needed.

“It’s not so much that — it’s not become more of an emphasis. It’s that we’re sticking to our game plan, we’re not getting out of what we usually do, we’re not trying to overdo anything,” junior tackle Justin Herron said. “We’re going to stick to our offense, stick to our game plan and just finish better than we did the last couple of weeks.

“We have not changed anything, we’re sticking to our game plan and we just have to execute better.”

Against Georgia Tech, there might not be another option.