WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Victories at Wake Forest in recent years have been few and — for the offense, anyway — forgettable.
The Demon Deacons started the season with another one of those on Thursday night.
Kendall Hinton ran for a short early touchdown and Wake Forest overcame some offensive struggles and held on for a season-opening 7-3 victory over Tulane.
It brought to mind that 6-3, double overtime victory over Virginia Tech in 2014. Or the 3-0 win at Boston College last year.
“The result is, it looks a lot like the other games we’ve won here,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “We’re 1-0, we’re excited, there’s a lot to teach off of, but clearly, we have to be a lot more productive on offense. That was certainly the disappointment of the night. But again, I’d rather be coaching those mistakes after being 1-0.”
Nothing came easy for the Demon Deacons (1-0) against a Tulane team playing its first game under new coach Willie Fritz and breaking in his run-heavy offense that produced the Bowl Subdivision’s top rushing team in each of his two seasons at Georgia Southern.
Wake Forest managed just 175 total yards — 59 yards and three first downs in the second half — yet won a matchup of teams coming off consecutive 3-9 seasons.
“Obviously, on offense, we weren’t as productive as we need to be,” Clawson said.
Tulane (0-1) finished with 280 total yards for the game and held a nearly 10-minute advantage in time of possession.
“The defense was phenomenal, man,” quarterback Glen Cuiellette said. “They kept us in the game.”
The only touchdown came on Hinton’s 1-yard run on the third play of the second quarter.
Andrew DiRocco capped Tulane’s opening drive with a 41-yard field goal, but had a 43-yarder blocked early in the fourth quarter. That loomed large late because Tulane came up empty on its final two possessions: The Green Wave were stopped inside the Wake Forest red zone with 4:22 left, and got the ball back before Julian Jones stripped Cuiellette on fourth down near midfield with 50 seconds left.
TULANE: The Green Wave rode their new option game as hard as expected and out of a range of formations, including out of an “I” in the shotgun. Tulane had 47 carries to 23 pass attempts, with none of the four running backs in the rotation carrying it more than seven times, while Cuiellette added 54 yards rushing in his first college start at QB.
“I felt comfortable — honestly, people were texting me, calling me, ‘Are you nervous, are you good?’ My mom was like, ‘Are you OK?'” Cuiellette said. “Overall, I felt fine. I wasn’t really nervous. I was just ready to just play and show people what I could do because it’s been so long. I was just ready to lead these guys.”
WAKE FOREST: It’s only one game, but there are already some huge questions about the offense. To put the Demon Deacons’ yardage numbers in perspective, they averaged 216.3 yards in 2014 — when they ranked last in the Bowl Subdivision in total offense. The leading passer — John Wolford — was 9 of 17 for just 79 yards, while the leading rusher — Hinton, his backup — managed just 24 yards.
It’s going to be worth watching how Clawson handles his quarterbacks the rest of the year. Wolford started but both he and Hinton played, just as Clawson said they would, with the pocket-passing Wolford even lining up at receiver once while Hinton took the snap. But little seemed to work.
“They were playing a lot of man coverage and a lot of blitz, and when you do that, you’ve got to make plays on the outside,” Clawson said. “I think we’re really improved at receiver, but we didn’t make those plays today. … (Tulane) won the one-on-ones against our receivers today.”
Wake Forest ran just 26 plays in the second half — and two of those were kneels by Wolford to end the game. … The Demon Deacons didn’t have a play cover more than 16 yards — a pass by Wolford to Matt Colburn in the first quarter.
TULANE: The Green Wave return home to take on Southern, a Championship Subdivision school from just up Interstate 10 in Baton Rouge.
WAKE FOREST: The Demon Deacons jump into Atlantic Coast Conference play when they visit instate rival Duke, which they haven’t beaten since 2011, in their league opener.
AP college football site: http://collegefootball.ap.org