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Dave Clawson is no stranger to gut-wrenching losses.
The Wake Forest coach has experienced a few of them over the more than three decades that he’s been in the business. So, he understands the challenge facing Florida State coach Mike Norvell who is preparing his team for this weekend’s showdown with the Demon Deacons following the Seminoles’ heartbreaking, last-second loss to Jacksonville State last weekend.
“I’ve lost games like that,” said Clawson. “I’ve lost two of them like that and the team went on to win a championship. You lose that game on the last play of the game and it breaks your heart, and you come in on Sunday and you’re wounded and you’re mourning it.
“I’ve been on both sides of it but the next day you’ve got to get up and coach your team.”
FSU returns to action Saturday against Wake Forest (2-0, 0-0 ACC), hoping to avoid an 0-3 start for the first time since 1976. The Seminoles dropped their first two games by a combined six points, including an overtime loss to then-No. 9 Notre Dame, 41-38, and a 20-17 loss to the Gamecocks on a Hail Mary.
“They’re two plays away from being 2-0 and being nationally ranked,” added Clawson. “In my mind, Florida State is still Florida State. It’s still one of the iconic brands in college football. When I got to Wake Forest, they were the team to beat. They’ve had to play two fourth-quarter games and we haven’t.”
The Demon Deacons aren’t looking past them. Instead, the players expect the Seminoles to rise to the challenge in what is the conference opener for both teams.
“We know how good this team is. We know what team we have in front of us and to go play in the ACC, you’ve got to bump it up an extra gear,” said Wake Forest redshirt junior guard Sean Maginn.
Added junior linebacker Ryan Smenda Jr.: “We’re not taking that Jacksonville State game as if Florida State is not a good team. If we go in like that, they’re going to hang a lot of points on us. We’re going in there with the mentality that they’re coming here to try and beat us.”
One challenge facing Wake Forest is facing off against a dual-threat quarterback in FSU’s McKenzie Milton, who is making his second start for the Seminoles.
“When you prepare for an opponent, you always prepare for the best version of them,” Clawson said. “Here is a guy that hasn’t played for [three] years and has had this incredible, courageous comeback from an awful injury and I’m sure with every game, he’s going to get more confident.”
Smenda, who has 11 tackles for the Demon Deacons, knows that FSU has options. Jordan Travis opened as the starting quarterback before Milton took over.
“It’s good to see players like that come back,” he said. “I respect the two-quarterback system that they have there. [Milton is] a very talented player so we have to game plan for both.”
Milton understands the challenge awaiting him and the offense.
“They’re a well-coached football team,” Milton said Wednesday. “We’ve got to go out and execute and we can’t keep shooting ourselves in the foot. We’ve just got to go make plays and stay ahead of the sticks and score some points.