This week the Tigers take on Atlantic Division rival Wake Forest Demon Deacons, a team that while the historical division doormat, started out 4-0 this year and took a talented Florida State Seminoles team to the brink last week. Before taking a look at the three things to Watch this Saturday, here’s a little history:
- Clemson leads the all-time series 64-17, including winning every game since 2009.
- The last time the Deacs were able to beat the Tigers was in 2008 when Riley Skinner threw a touchdown pass in the last seconds win the game. That game, along with the previous week’s defeat against the Maryland Terrapins, caused Clemson to fire head coach Tommy Bowden, and name wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney interim head coach for the rest of the season. Seeing as how Clemson has gone on to win a National Championship and three ACC championships since that day, it’s safe to say that Wake Forest’s last upset over the Tigers actually caused things to change in Death Valley for the better. So can Wake pull another upset over the Tigers that would shock the football world, or will Clemson continue to dominate and march to the ACC championship? Here are three things to watch:
Can Wake Forest Contain the Tiger Offense?
So far this season, Wake Forest hasn’t exactly faced a decent offense. Every opponent the Deacs have played have an offense that is ranked outside the top 60 in total offense, including Florida State and Boston College Eagles, each at 116th and 118th out of 128. It’s safe to say, Clemson is by far the best offense Wake has played this entire season. The Tigers are ranked 26th in total offense, even after going against stout defenses in Auburn and Virginia Tech. Kelly Bryant has been good at quarterback for the Tigers, throwing for over 1000 yards and three touchdowns, while rushing for seven. Bryant hasn’t been the best passer but is a real dual-threat quarterback who could really hurt the Deacs.
Last week, one of the few areas where Wake’s defense got beat was in the running game. Florida State ran for over 200 yards against the Demon Deacons, and their defense will have to face a strong Clemson rushing attack this Saturday. The Tigers have a plethora of options to use at running back, including CJ Fuller and Travis Etienne, both of whom have had big games in the last few weeks. Tavien Feaster is also a main part of the rushing attack, and he’s ran for 278 yards plus two touchdowns this year, which are both top-three on the team. But the rushing attack runs through Kelly Bryant, and if Wake cannot figure out how to stop Bryant, it will be a long day.
Clemson might just have the best defensive line in the country. Led by Christian Wilkins and Austin Bryant, the Tiger defensive is a wrecking crew. They helped hold Virginia Tech to only 90 yards on the ground and were able to get decent pressure on Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson. Against Florida State last week, the Noles only got two sacks but did get 10 tackles for loss, something that Wake Forest cannot allow this week. John Wolford has played very well this season, and his number one target, Greg Dortch, has another big game against FSU to continue his strong start. Dortch is Wake Forest’s number one playmaker by far, and he must come up big for the Deacon offense in order to pull the upset. Most of Wake Forest’s rushing game goes through Wolford, and against Florida State, the rest of the backfield only ran for 26 total yards. They will face an equally talented and better coached front seven this week, and if the running game is not established then it will be very hard for Wake Forest to throw the ball against a stout Clemson defense.
Can Wake Forest Win the Turnover Battle?
As common sense dictates, one of the key factors in winning a game is winning the turnover battle. When it comes to pulling an upset against a much more talented team, this becomes even more paramount. Wake has been very good this season at forcing turnovers, already forcing seven on the season, while only giving up three, putting them at 26th in the country. If Wake has any chance of upsetting the Tigers, they must force Kelly Bryant to make mistakes. John Wolford has played very well all season in that regard, only throwing one interception through four games, and it came on a dropped pass. Wolford doesn’t make too many mistakes, and if the Deacons have any shot he can’t let Clemson bait into forcing throws. Otherwise, the Tigers will run away with this game.