I don't know about you, but it was sort of nice to relax this Saturday and enjoy some football. If you are a fan of great football, you no doubt enjoyed LSU/Bama this weekend. Two of the better defenses in the past decade were on display, and for me at least, it was a nice change of pace from the shootouts we've grown accustomed to in college football. Certainly it could be argued that both of those defenses looked better because they were playing offenses that aren't particularly strong, but man was it was nice to watch two relentless defenses dominate under the lights.
As for Clemson? It's game week once again, and a big one at that. Win this weekend and it's off to Charlotte. Lose and Clemson will have to beat NC State and get some help from Maryland to get into the title game. The Tigers are currently big favorites this weekend (16.5 points) and for good reason. Wake Forest has cooled off from their great start to the season, losing three of four and now face their third road game in four contests against a pissed off Clemson team coming off a bye. Clemson has dominated Wake recently at home, having defeated the Demon Deacons by a combined 76 points in their last three trips to Death Valley (38-3 in 2009, 44-10 in 2007, and 37-30 in 2004). The 2009 thrashing at home? It came off a bye week.
Clemson coaches do not have to look far for evidence on how quickly a season can fall apart. In 2000, Clemson was 8-0 before losing to Georgia Tech and then closing with two losses in three games, squandering an ACC title and Orange Bowl berth. The Tigers need to put the loss behind them quickly and there should be no shortage of motivation: the program can win its first ACC title since 1991, earn its first Orange Bowl trip since 1982, and first 10-win season since 1990.
If Clemson is to avoid a shootout this weekend, this defense is going to have to play better. It's no secret that Kevin Steele's defense has struggled, but this squad has to force some three and outs, and let this offense go to work. There is no excuse for this defense not to stop the run this weekend. To say Wake Forest has struggled to run the ball is putting it nicely. The Deacons are dead last in the ACC is rushing offense, averaging just 104 yards on the ground this season. Tanner Price, Wake's young gunslinger is quietly having a very nice season. If Clemson can make this team one dimensional, it will bode well for the Tigers.
The problem, some of Wake Forest's offensive stars said as the clock neared midnight, is all the momentum they carried into the locker room at halftime was snatched away rapidly by Notre Dame in the third quarter. Wake Forest (5-4) was inside the Notre Dame 10-yard line twice in the second half, trailing by a touchdown.
The Demon Deacons came away with no points either time, and it was their doing. "It's getting old," Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price said. "It's really hurting us, and we've got to stop it from happening. But the season isn't over."
When the schedule came out this year, Clemson's fans were a little upset that the bye week came before Wake Forest, a team the Tigers have handled as of late. But at this point, it works out well for the Tigers who have two weeks to get ready for a team that if they beat will send them to the ACC title game. Clemson knows that BCS hopes are gone, but there should be no hangover from the Georgia Tech game. This bye week has given this team the ability to get guys healthy and spend two weeks hammering home a game plan for Wake Forest. If Clemson can get out to an early lead and put the pressure on a shaky Wake Forest offense, Clemson should win this ballgame.
Hopes for an unbeaten season and national championship are gone, but plenty of opportunity remains for a memorable season. The Tigers (8-1, 5-1) can wrap up their second ACC Atlantic Division title in three years with a win over Wake Forest on Nov. 12. A win in the ACC Championship game on Dec. 3 would guarantee the Tigers a berth in the Orange Bowl. "All of our goals are still there, and we're four quarters from another Atlantic Division title," Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said.
As for around the ACC? In the Coastal Division, a big showdown between Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech puts the winner in the driver seat for the other spot in Charlotte. As a Clemson fan, if we win this weekend, I want no part of Georgia Tech in the ACC Championship. Some Clemson fans have pointed out that they wouldn't be worried because Clemson could play the "revenge factor," but I don't buy it. Remember 2009? Clemson lost to Georgia Tech early in the season, only to lose to them again in the ACC title game. Clemson's defense matches up much better with the Hokies as they proved in Blacksburg earlier in the year.
Clemson vs. Virginia Tech: Both fan bases would draw huge crowds, bring a great tailgating scene to Charlotte, and make the most of their time in the city. Clemson would be playing for its first ACC title since 1991, and the Hokies would be looking to redeem themselves from their 23-3 loss during the regular season. The offense under quarterback Logan Thomas has made significant strides since that game, and you can almost guarantee that Virginia Tech would find the end zone this time around and be more efficient on offense. The question is whether the injury-laden defense could make enough stops to contain the Tigers. Based on what we’ve seen to this point in the season, it’s a matchup Clemson should win.
While Clemson fans will be watching closely on Thursday night as the Hokies and Yellow Jackets square off, Clemson's focus is beating Wake Forest this weekend and getting to Charlotte. This team needs to come out and hit Wake Forest in the mouth. This defense has to play better, get off the football field, and let Chad Morris, Tajh Boyd, and Sammy Watkins do what they have been doing all season, put up lots and lots of points.