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“Good afternoon. First of all, I’ll just talk a little bit about Saturday night (vs. Pitt). Huge win for our guys. We have a lot of respect for Pitt, and they have a really good football team, particularly defensively. One of the best defenses we’ve played against. As I mentioned, a lot of those same guys played back then in 2020 when we didn’t do anything offensively and it was still hard Saturday night. We were able to get enough big plays in there to score some points and move the ball. You can go back and look at what Pitt did this year against Tennessee, the number one offense in the country. Tennessee had 24 points at the end of regulation, and we had 17 which is very comparable, and Pitt ended up going to overtime against (Tennessee). We got Wake Forest this week, and I went back and watched the Wake Forest offense, which is an outstanding offense, against Pitt in that (ACC) championship game last year, and we had more yards than Wake Forest did against that same defense in that ACC championship. (Wake Forest quarterback) Sam (Hartman) ended up throwing four picks in that championship game last year. It’s a tough defense.
Really proud of our defense. I think our defense had a great defensive gameplan going into that game. We had two sacks, but it felt like we had more. When you go back and watch it, we did pressure the quarterback (Kedon Slovis) in that game and rattled him a lot. I think that was huge for us and then not giving up the big plays that went for six (points). We’ve been talking about that and that was another difference in that game. Their running back (Israel Abanikanda) ended up having some yards, but I think we contained him for most of the day. It’s three or four runs where he got out but for most of the day, it was really hard, tough running for him. Yasir (Abdullah) played an outstanding game. He was all over the field, got an interception, sacked the quarterback, just playing his tail off and he’s had a really, really good year. Really proud of the way he’s been playing and getting after it.
Obviously, this week, Wake Forest, the #10 team in the country, coming into our stadium. Huge game for us. It’s a great opportunity for our team to continue to try to play really good football, coming off two wins in a row in ACC play and now being able to host one of the best teams in our league and a top ten team in the country. Hopefully, we’ll have a great crowd. If you don’t have tickets, go out and get tickets. This is college football at its best right here, coming in with the tenth ranked team. I think about home field advantage, I think about when we went to Syracuse, what kind of advantage Syracuse had playing in that environment. I think about we got to go to Clemson (on Nov. 12) what kind of environment that’s going to be with that home field advantage. We need to have that home field advantage here. We need to have the people come out and yell and be loud and crazy, because it affects things. It affects offenses, no question about it, in a hostile environment, so we need it. if you don’t have plans where you’re on the fence whether or not to go, I really need you to come out to this game.
We have a lot of respect for Wake Forest. Coach (Dave) Clawson has done an unbelievable job there. I feel like they’ve had Sam Hartman for five or six years, and I think he’s still got a year left incredibly. He’s a great player, runs that offense to a T. The slow read with the running back and then the RPOs (run-pass options) off of that. They have outstanding receivers with length out there that can catch the football. They make a lot of contested catches, it’s incredible the contested catches they make. They have faith in each other, I think they’re real confident in that. Defensively, they got a new defense coordinator (Brad Lambert) this year. They’re doing a really good job on defense keeping guys out of the end zone. I think that is probably the biggest thing I’ve seen on film this year for the Wake team. Certainly, a thing we have to do game planning wise is trying to find ways to get into the endzone. You want to score touchdowns. So, it’s a great opportunity for us and we’re excited about playing these guys this week and looking forward to it.
(You mentioned the slow read, what’s the key for the defense going against that?)
“That’s a good question. It’s hard to contain it, you don’t want to get out of your gaps. If you get out of your gaps, he hands the ball off and the running bank finds the open holes. It’s very unique, it’s something you play against (often). I don’t know many teams at all in the country that are running this type of offense. Then Sam does such a great job of knowing when to hand it and when to pull it, and it seems like the receivers always have a good little route whether it be a bender or a vertical route. It just keeps the pressure on. So, I think you got to stay in your gaps, you got to be able to pick and choose when to bring pressure. It’s very difficult to defend. I think the least amount of points they’ve scored this year is 31, and I think every game but two, they’ve been over 40 (points). So, you have to play tight covers on the outside. The big thing is again, trying to not give up the big play. Those big plays can kill you so trying to make them drive the football is something that we have to do.”
(What went into the decision-making process with starting Brock Domann at quarterback in the second half?)
“Malik (Cunningham) was still getting checked out at halftime, so we came back out and Malik wasn’t cleared yet so Brock was going to go. They’re still checking Malik out and then really probably the second play, they came to me and said (Malik’s) good to go. But we just kept Brock out there for a few more plays and then that’s when Malik came back out. I think his helmet may have come off at some point, he got early in the first half and got a little woozy so Brock comes in. So, it was really based on Malik’s injury and then Brock was in there and we just left him in. Then we put Malik back in, and we’ve got a lot of confidence in both players. I thought they both made plays for us. Big time throw Brock had on third down, down the sideline. It’ll take both of them as we finish out the season.”
(The defensive improvement corresponds with when you said you would have a little more input on the defense. Do you feel like that has been a factor?)
“Just looking at the whole overall situation there and just trying to, as I’ve mentioned the last few weeks, saying here’s some things that maybe I would try to attack that with a certain look so maybe don’t do that. Let’s give up this and not that, I think that’s the big thing. If you go back to the last two weeks, it’s really those big plays. That’s really what it comes down to. And we talked about this earlier, our defense has been getting great pressure. We are number one in the conference in sacks at 25 maybe right now. We’re at the halfway point, close to halfway and that’s outstanding. It was just those over-the-top plays, and it really has just been that. Thinking about how we can keep a post player back there or safety back, guys on top, make teams drive the ball. I think our guys have done a really good job with that. You think about what (M.J.) Griffin has been able to do in the backhand, he has two picks in the last two games and has been outstanding. He’s been back there, and we haven’t given up that big pass play that kind of breaks your back. I think our coaches have done a really nice job the last three weeks on that side of the ball and our players have bought into it. So, you know, I just think we’ve had a good plan, as we’ve had that last two weeks.”
(From your observation, what has the identity of Wake Forest’s team been under Coach Clawson?)
“They’ve been running this offense now for quite some time. I don’t know how many years, but it’s over six or seven years that they’ve been doing this. It’s different, it’s unique, it’s hard to defend, and you’ve got a week to prepare for it. I think that’s really helped them. When you think about over the last six or seven years, they’ve won a lot of games by scoring a lot of points with that offense. They’ve had really good quarterback play, they’ve been fortunate to stay healthy at that position with their guys. I remember Sam came and played in the game that we won 62 to 59 (in 2019), he played in that second half and played outstanding. That was many years ago and he’s still here doing it and really hasn’t slowed down since then. They’ve done a great job of getting some really good receivers in there. People think that Wake doesn’t have that kind of talent that some of these others have, but they’ve got a lot of talent. There’re some really good football players on that side of the ball particularly. We saw the running back that transferred out to Michigan State (Kenneth Walker III), he killed it last year. He was a second-team guy which shows you the caliber of the kind of players they’ve had. With the talent they do have and the scheme they have on offense, they give themselves a chance to win a lot of games. The other thing they’ve done, Coach Clawson’s teams don’t beat themselves. They don’t turn the football over. I think they’re number one in the conference in lack of penalties. They only get penalized for maybe 30 yards a game. I remember two years ago when they came out here and we ended up beating them, I think they were number one or two in the country in turnovers, and then we turned them over that day two times. That’s kind of how they’ve won these games, and that’s kind of a mark of a Clawson team. Don’t beat yourselves, we’re going to score a lot of points and make teams have to play great football in order to beat us. You see what they did to Clemson this year in double overtime, Clemson made some outstanding plays and contested catches and ended up winning the game. Hats off to what he’s been able to do the last few years and they seem to have it rolling.”
(What is Tiyon Evans’ availability, and will you continue to rotate Cunningham and Domann at quarterback?
“Evans is still listed as day to day. Hopefully he’ll continue to heal and get better this week. We’ll see where that’s at, we’ll have a better idea probably by the end of the week. As I mentioned earlier, I think we’re certainly going to need both guys throughout the rest of the season. We talked about the schedule that we have remaining, and we have a lot of tough teams that we have to play. What we do offensively, sometimes you’re going to get little dings here and there, quarterback-wise, so you’re going to need both guys. We’ll see how it goes. I anticipate both guys probably playing throughout the rest of the season. Last week, they both did a great job in practice of getting ready to play mentally, that’s the biggest key, and I think that will happen again this week.”
(What about Marshon Ford’s availability?)
“Ford’s got a lot better. We anticipate he’s going to be ready to go and play this week. Didn’t do much Sunday, just getting treatment Sunday and Monday. Today, he will do a little bit. Probably as the week goes on, going to be able to do more and more but he’ll be able to play. Injury-wise, I’m trying to think of anybody else that will probably be able to go. I would anticipate Evans being ready to go as well. But I think we’ll know a little bit more by the end of the week. Trevor Reid is the other one that missed the game at left tackle. He should be back, he’ll practice again today. Luke Kandra is one that will be out. He’ll be out for probably a couple of weeks with an ankle sprain, so we’ll be without him for a couple of weeks.”
(Are you pleased with the offense at this point in the season?)
“We’ve been battling on offense, I’ll tell you that. We’ve had a lot of injuries on that side of the ball. You think about the offensive line, the guys that have been in and out of the lineup, running backs in and out of the lineup, Malik has been in and out of the lineup, wide receivers in and out of the lineup. We’ve just been battling; I don’t know how else to describe it. The thing we haven’t been able to do and I’ve been mentioning this is just the big plays that we used to have and we haven’t had that much. I think a lot of it has to do with injuries and guys in and out of the lineup. We’d love to be a lot better, but what we’ve had available, certainly it’s been okay, but it’s not been the standard you’d love to have but we’re trying to get better. But whoever we have available will go out there and we’ll try to get a great game plan with those guys and hopefully, they can go make plays.”
(What has M.J. Griffin done to make a difference the last two weeks?)
“I think he’s just continuing to get better and better. One thing about him is that he practices really hard, he’s a great practice player. He goes hard, he’s getting better and better and better. Just really understands the defense, and he’s one of those guys that when he got an opportunity, he made the most of it. We tell those guys all the time, ‘when you do get your chance you better be ready, or it’ll pass you by.” But he was ready. And to your point, I think the last two weeks, he’s made some great plays for us. He really is flying around. He’s missed a couple of tackles here and there but he’s not like a veteran. I love the way he’s pulling his trigger. And then we mentioned earlier the two big interceptions are huge, huge interceptions for us. He’s been able to make those kinds of plays, and he plays with a lot of energy. I think our guys feed off of that.”
(How much confidence does the win over Pitt give you knowing that you were able to break the trend of inconsistencies with wins and losses and finally be able to rally in the fourth quarter while trailing?)
“It was big, it was a huge fourth quarter for us to be able to finish the game like that. We’ve been there many, many times and to finally be able to finish was outstanding. We’ve played complementary football, and that’s the one thing we’ve kind of struggled with is that complementary football. We got a stop on defense and then all of a sudden the offense goes down and we get three points, and then it makes it a seven point game which is obviously a little bit better. And then we go down and stop them again with the sack-fumble and now you get a touchdown. Now we’re up 14 (points) and now feel really good. So, it was great complementary football in that game against a really good football team, and we found a way to win. I think that’s huge, and that’s great confidence for our team. I think it’s certainly something that we got to build off of, because when it comes down to the fourth quarter and comes down to the end, you have to be able to make those plays. It showed that we don’t have quit this team and this team is going to continue to fight. We’ve done that and now we’ve found a way to win which is obviously awesome.”