CLEMSON, SC - OCTOBER 07: Defensive end Justin Foster #35 of the Clemson Tigers tackles tight end Cam Serigne #85 of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons during the game at Memorial Stadium on October 7, 2017 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images)
Photo: Mike Comer/Getty Images
Photo: Mike Comer/Getty Images

Five questions with a Wake Forest beat writer

To provide insight on Wake Forest, Georgia Tech’s opponent in its homecoming game Saturday evening at Bobby Dodd Stadium, we turn to Winston-Salem (N.C.) Journal reporter Conor O’Neil, the team’s beat writer. This is his first year on the beat. Our thanks to Conor, whom you can follow on Twitter here and whose work you can read here.

Q. It's been a long time since Georgia Tech fans have seen Wake Forest (2010, to be precise). What's kind of the big picture of this team? Where are they headed?

A. Wake Forest is in an advantageous spot in the ACC if it can continue its trajectory under coach Dave Clawson. Playing in the Atlantic Division and having to face Clemson, Florida State and Louisville, plus N.C. State if the Wolfpack is able to make this more than a one-year flash, is never going to be easy. And Wake is never going to recruit at the same level of those schools. But Clawson and his staff have shown over three-plus years that they can identify talent, develop players when they arrive and recruit to their system. If they can continue that trend, the Deacons will start turning some of their moral victories into real ones. 

Q. Paul Johnson noted the defensive line in his news conference Tuesday, particularly defensive end Wendell Dunn. What does he and this group do well?

A. Dunn isn't typically the first player mentioned by Clawson or opponents when talking about the Deacons' line, though that has more to do with how good Duke Ejiofor has been than Dunn. Ejiofor is the standout end with stats to back it up -- team-high three sacks and 10.5 tackles for loss -- while Dunn is more the fundamentally sound anchor on the other side. It is worth noting that Dunn has played his best in the last two games, with a sack in each one. Zeek Rodney returned to the team after leaving school last year and he's been a force in the middle. The defensive line is also deep, each immediate backup has played significant snaps. 

Q. Summarize the offense with one or two statistics and explain the meaning.

A. The first number I'll use is 18, which is how many three-and-outs the Deacons have had in their past three games. That's out of 40 possible drives. Wake's offense hasn't been sustaining drives and when it has, the Deacons haven't been finishing drives in the red zone. Before two late touchdowns against some of Clemson's backups, Wake was 1-for-7 in turning red-zone trips into touchdowns in the Florida State and Clemson games combined. Another number is 232.3 to 132.3. The first is Wake's average rushing yards per game in its first three games against its average rushing yards in its second three games. Rediscovering the run game is crucial for this team.

Q. How do Wake Forest fans feel about Dave Clawson?

A. I think Wake fans are generally happy with Clawson. Going 7-6 with a bowl win last year gave him/them something tangible that was easier to grasp than two wacky wins -- the 6-3 double-OT win of Frank Beamer-celebration fame at the 0-0 score and the 3-0 win at BC -- in his first two years, both of those coming in 3-9 seasons. Most of them are aware that Jim Grobe was a great coach and the 2006 ACC Championship season was phenomenal, but also that the cupboard was bare when Clawson arrived. There's also the matter of how Clawson has handled the Wakeyleaks scandal, and that's something we'll dive into next week with Louisville scheduled for a Winston-Salem visit. 

Q. Who's the most dangerous player on the team?

A. Greg Dortch has to be the choice here. He's been a revelation in the slot for Wake's offense with 35 catches for 430 yards and five touchdowns. They'll get him involved in every way possible -- bubble screens, middle screens, outs, downfield routes, motion-to-handoffs -- and he hasn't slowed down yet. His 136 all-purpose yards per game ranks second in the ACC behind N.C. State's Nyheim Hines. The best part for Wake is that he's a redshirt freshman and Clawson and senior quarterback John Wolford have raved about the work ethic and humility he's already shown. 

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