The Demon Deacons, however, have trended in a downward spiral since Oct. 29, losing four of their last five games. Their lackluster play in the conference slate culminated with a sixth-place finish in the ACC Coastal Division with a 3-5 record in league games.
At the helm of Wake Forest is head coach Dave Clawson, who is in his ninth season with Wake Forest. He has guided the Demon Deacons to seven consecutive bowl games, which is no small feat considering the ACC competition they’ve had to face each year.
Wake Forest’s bowl streak stayed alive and well this year, as the Demon Deacons learned on Sunday that they would face the Missouri Tigers in the Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, Florida, on Dec. 23. Clawson, who knows Mizzou head football coach Eliah Drinkwitz well from the latter’s time on the North Carolina State staff, discussed the upcoming matchup and what to expect from the Demon Deacons earlier today.
Missouri’s balance stands out
“They’re (Missouri) very balanced on offense and defense,” Clawson said. “(Drinkwitz) has always done a great job on offense, very creative. They’ve always run the outside zone play extremely well. That’s always been the bread and butter of his run game...They have an efficient quarterback.”
Mizzou averaged 25.5 points per game on offense throughout the regular season, rushing for 158.7 yards per game and adding 212.8 yards through the air. Leading those respective charges are quarterback Brady Cook and running back Cody Schrader, both of whom are expected to return to the Tigers next season.
Adding to the talent is Mizzou’s wide receiver room, which Clawson deemed “dynamic” with some “very high-end players in the SEC.” Luther Burden III, who has already announced his plans to remain a Tigers, and fifth-year starter Barrett Banister highlight the position group following the departure of All-SEC first-team wide receiver Dominic Lovett.
On the defensive side, Mizzou allowed just 25 points per game and showcased improvement in nearly every defensive category from last season. Those metrics are something that caught Clawson’s eyes.
“They’ve been statistically near the top or certainly in the middle of almost every statistic,” Clawson said. “There was nothing that jumped out to me that they didn’t do well on defense, so I think this is going to be a really balanced team.”
The Tigers boasted the nation’s No. 28 third down defense, No. 42 passing defense, No. 34 rushing defense, the No. 28 total defense and the eight-most tackles for loss. Against an offensive minded team like Wake Forest and quarterback Sam Hartman, those statistics will be put to the test.
More important than any statistic, however, is Missouri’s ability to “play hard,” especially down the stretch.
“They finished 4-2, and won their last two games,” Clawson said. “When you finish like that, obviously you’re trying to get to a bowl game, and they were motivated to do that. So, if they’re motivated to get to it, I’m sure they’re going to be motivated to play in it.”
Clawson gives an outlook on the Wake Forest program
I asked Clawson what Mizzou fans should know about the Demon Deacons before the Tigers face off against them on Dec. 23, and here’s a little snapshot into what he said.
- “I think we play a very exciting brand of football. We're very unique and creative on offense, with our RPO system. We’ve certainly played in a lot of exciting, high scoring games and it’s a bunch of players that maybe came here not as heralded as some other programs, but have really worked hard to develop themselves into some really good football players.”
- “It’s our seventh straight bowl, and you earn bowl bids with wins, so we’re in a good spot.”
- “I think (fans should know) how much respect we have for Missouri and Eli (Drinkwitz), and the job that those guys have done. I know we’re both in very competitive leagues and very competitive divisions that (mean) it’s not a layup to get to a bowl. You got to win some good games to be in this position, so should be a great game.”
Like Clawson said, Mizzou and Wake Forest are not that different. Oftentimes overlooked in the SEC and ACC, respectively, both programs have remained consistent and showcased signs of extremely strong football programs in recent years.
The Demon Deacons, similar to the Tigers, nearly pulled off a monumental victory early on, falling to eventual ACC champion Clemson in a 51-45 overtime thriller. Likewise, Mizzou fell four points shy of the biggest college football upset of the season, narrowing losing to eventual SEC champion and No. 1 Georgia, 26-22.
Each program finished 3-5 in league play, and played multiple close games that could’ve turned their records from a pair of the leagues’ worst to some of the best. The tumultuous season for both, however, will end with a meeting between the two who are looking for another bowl win to add to their resumes’.
Other Notable Quotes/Notes
- “To me, the greatest benefit of the bowl game is the camaraderie and the relationships that it helps build on your football team,” Clawson said.
- “We’ve had a handful of guys go in (the transfer portal),” Clawson said. “But I think, relatively speaking, we’re probably on the low end.”
- Clawson mentioned that there may be a player who has entered the portal who may still play for them at the bowl game, which is a unique storyline to follow as the game approaches.
- “You really have no idea of what your roster is going to look like for next year,” Clawson said. “It’s a complete juggling act and it’s a challenge...again, it’s part of our job, that’s what they pay us to do. But the timing of all these things happening at once is certainly less than ideal.”
- “I certainly thing the reaction to the bowl announcement was very celebratory,” Clawson said. “I mean guys weree fired up to go to Florid and have good weather. The Gator Bowl was a great experience last year, and I thought our guys rebounded great after the loss to Pitt in the ACC Championship game.”
- Wake Forest’s bowl streak is the second-longest in the ACC, and more than double Wake Forest’s longest streak prior to this one.
- Clawson said he doesn’t expect Wake Forest to be that shorthanded, and Sam Hartman will be playing in the bowl game, as he said following the Duke loss to end the season. “We’d love to see him break the ACC touchdown pass record,” he added.
- Clawson also mentioned that Hartman’s intention is to enter the NFL following this season.