Wake Forest making 'incremental steps' in improving run game

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Wake Forest's rushing attack could only get better after a miserable first year under Dave Clawson.

The Demon Deacons have at least shown modest improvement in Year 2, including when it comes to play along an offensive line with a pair of young tackles. Still, they're a long way from where Clawson wants them to be heading into Saturday's game against North Carolina State, a team that's had a couple of shaky moments stopping the run in the past two games.

Clawson referred to the gains as ''incremental steps.''

''Last year a 2-yard run was cause for celebration,'' Clawson said Tuesday. ''Now a 2-yard run is a bad run for us. . We're getting 12-yarders and turning the chains, but at some point you need to make explosive plays. And that's the next step we have to take.''

A year ago, a young Wake Forest squad began Clawson's ground-up program rebuild by ranking next to last in the Bowl Subdivision 39.9 yards rushing per game - only Washington State's 38.8-yard average was worse - while finishing with an FBS-worst 1.3 yards per carry and four rushing touchdowns, according to STATS.

This year, Wake Forest (3-4, 1-3 Atlantic Coast Conference) is averaging 114.4 yards on the ground and 3.2 yards per carry, while it has already passed last year's TD total with seven on the ground. That included running for 142 yards in a 24-16 loss to still-unbeaten Florida State.

It's a small step, but at least it's in the right direction. The leading rusher is freshman quarterback Kendall Hinton (255 yards), while fellow rookies Tyler Bell (176 yards) and Matt Colburn (173) lead the tailbacks.

Some of the credit goes to an offensive line that has gone with redshirt freshmen Justin Herron and Phil Haynes at the tackles with an interior of juniors and seniors.

''I think we're getting a lot better as a unit,'' Haynes said. ''We looked at the tape this morning from last year, and it's night and day. I feel like the Florida State game was a big key moment for us. I feel like we have to get a couple more, (to show) that we can play with the big guys.''

That ground attack will face a run defense trying to fix problems that has led to some breakdowns since the start of ACC play.

N.C. State (4-2, 0-2) enters this game ranked third nationally in total defense (247.8 yards) and 12th against the run (100.2), though those numbers were buoyed by a soft nonconference schedule. In the two ACC losses, North Carolina State has surrendered 203 yards rushing against Louisville and 200 more at Virginia Tech.

Both the Cardinals and Hokies each broke free for runs of at least 59 yards in each game.

Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren said those were the product of small breakdowns, from a cornerback failing to rush on a blitz to a player being slightly out of position to leave an opening.

''When you're a younger team, your margin for error is less,'' Doeren said. ''You're trying to get guys to really be exactly where they need to be all the time. And sometimes that doesn't happen.

''Unfortunately both of those mistakes were young guys. They knew what they did wrong the minute they did it, but it doesn't take the play back.''

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap and the AP's college football site at http://collegefootball.ap.org .

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