Wake Forest looks to become bowl eligible with win vs. Army
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Army coach Jeff Monken and Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson have spent three years building their programs toward bowl eligibility.
Their teams meet Saturday with the host Demon Deacons a win away from qualifying for a bowl, while the Black Knights are having one of their best seasons in years to put them at least within reach of that same goal.
After two straight 3-9 seasons, Wake Forest (5-2) can become bowl eligible for the first time since 2011. And Army (4-3) has already matched its best season win total since last having a winning season and bowl trip in 2010.
With both coaches in their third year, Clawson sees parallels in each program's growth.
''I speak from experience: when you're in your third year, the kids understand the offense and the defense,'' Clawson said. ''So they've had the same offensive system for three years and the same defensive system for three years. They're not playing a lot of guys they've recruited that have bought in, and now they're more multiple on both sides of the ball.
''So they're not only doing what they do better, they're doing more things that make them hard to prepare for.''
The Demon Deacons are coming off a bye week following a loss at Florida State, while the Black Knights have lost three of four since a 3-0 start. Still, Army has reached four wins before November for just the second time since a 10-win season 20 years ago.
Army is coming off a 35-18 home loss to North Texas that included the Black Knights committing seven turnovers.
''Show me a team that isn't down after a loss and I'll show you a bunch of losers,'' Monken said. ''When you care and you lose, it's going to hurt, and it should hurt. Hopefully it will tick them off, and we'll come back and play better. When that's the case, then you know you have guys that care.''
Some other things to know about Saturday's Army-Wake Forest game:
HINTON'S STATUS: It's unclear whether mobile Wake Forest quarterback Kendall Hinton will return after a four-game absence due to a knee injury. Clawson said the sophomore is ''making progress'' but hasn't looked fully ready at times during practice. Hinton's mobility would certainly help loosen things up for the offense, though junior John Wolford has 28 career starts.
NATIONALLY RANKED: Army ranks second nationally in rushing offense (357.6 yards) and leads the country in possession time at roughly 36 minutes per game, led by Andy Davidson (615 yards rushing, seven touchdowns) and Ahmad Bradshaw (494 yards, four TDs). And that ball-control offense is a big reason why the Black Knights also rank third in total defense (255.9) and 10th in scoring defense (17 points).
TURNOVER MARGIN: Turnovers could be a big factor. Army's seven turnovers led to 21 points in last week's loss to North Texas, and the Black Knights are tied for 76th nationally in turnover margin. Wake Forest is tied for 18th and has had two turnover-free games this season. With an up-and-down offense, Wake Forest can't afford to lose possessions and give Army extra chances to get its clock-eating offense in a rhythm.
SERIES SUCCESS: Wake Forest has beaten Army in four straight seasons, winning each of the past two by three-point margins since Clawson and Monken had taken over their respective programs. ''We just haven't been able to find a way to beat them,'' Monken said.
BOWL MENTALITY: Clawson said the team talked in the preseason about the ''realistic'' goal of becoming bowl eligible, but he said the coaches wouldn't bring it up this week. Senior defensive lineman Josh Banks said the players know the program could make a big step by reaching six wins, but added: ''By far we want to win more than six games.''
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