NC State sportswriter Joe Giglio discusses the Demon Deacons firing of radio analyst Tommy Elrod, who attempted to leak football plays to opponents - including Louisville Jessaca Giglio jmgiglio@newsobserver.com
NC State sportswriter Joe Giglio discusses the Demon Deacons firing of radio analyst Tommy Elrod, who attempted to leak football plays to opponents - including Louisville Jessaca Giglio jmgiglio@newsobserver.com

College Sports

Explosive Wake Forest’s best offensive strategy after Wakeyleaks: Counter-espionage?

By Luke DeCock

ldecock@newsobserver.com

September 20, 2017 1:19 PM

Whether counter-espionage accounts for the improvement in Wake Forest’s offense this season or not, Dave Clawson didn’t exactly downplay the notion Wednesday.

Since the Wakeyleaks scandal became public last December, and Wake Forest’s playbook once again presumably became private, the Demon Deacons have become an offensive juggernaut. They averaged 18.9 points per game through the first 12 games of last season, but in that bowl game and the first three games of this season have averaged 41.3 points per game going into Saturday’s game at Appalachian State.

An investigation that began after Louisville was found to have obtained Wake Forest’s playbook from a disgruntled broadcaster turned up only a few definite instances of teams having inside information, but it’s certainly possible the Demon Deacons’ playbook was being passed around from assistant coach to assistant coach, program to program, like the answer key to an eighth-grade math test – and isn’t any more.

“I don’t know if we’ll ever know we know for certain,” Clawson said Wednesday. “Certain games, stuff got out. I don’t know if we’ll ever know the full extent, whether it was 36 times or six times. We try not to think about it, I’m just glad we’re playing better now, executing better. That has a lot to do with it. If other people don’t have our game plans, what we’re doing on third-and-2 or in the red zone, that helps as well.”

There was certainly room for improvement in the Wake Forest offense anyway, as the young players who looked so overwhelmed the past two seasons grew into their roles. Quarterback John Wolford, finally given some time to throw for the first time in his career, has put the ball on target. And with some capable receivers, again for the first time in Wolford’s career, the Demon Deacons have made some big plays – freshman Greg Dortch in particular. Coach-turned-announcer Al Groh, who one wouldn’t think is an expert on excitement, called Dortch “Mr. Excitement” during the broadcast of Wake Forest’s opening-night win, and it looks like Groh might have been right.

“We’ve been playing freshmen and sophomores for three years,” Clawson said. “We’re basically playing the same guys we played a year ago with two new offensive linemen. When out of the top 18 guys who played for you, 16 are back and they’re all improved, it allows you to take a real significant jump. We have 15-18 guys on our offense who played a lot of football the last year or two. Collectively, it’s allowed us to take a big jump.”

Still, it’s hard to shake the sense that WakeyLeaks had a real and tangible impact on Wake Forest’s football program. Clawson clearly thinks so: Given a chance to downplay or shrug off the scandal’s impact on his offense, if anything he hinted it went deeper than anyone really knows.

Even if every opponent didn’t have inside information courtesy of Tommy Elrod, the former player and assistant coach who inexplicably betrayed his alma mater, and even if it was more than the few schools that got caught – Louisville, Virginia Tech, Army – it’s entirely possible Wake Forest’s players benefited psychologically from the scandal being uncovered. After all of their struggles on offense since Clawson’s arrival, here was news it might not have been their fault. Or at least not all their fault. Even if the improvement from last year to this year is easily explained by other factors, the 34-point outburst in last year’s bowl win over Temple isn’t.

“We’ve really tried to move past it,” Clawson said. “Last year when it happened, we played really loose in the bowl game. “Because of what happened, it takes on additional meaning.”

Clearly, getting out from under Wakeyleaks has been good for Wake Forest’s offense, even if it isn’t the only reason the Demon Deacons have turned a corner.

Sports columnist Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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