Clemson heads up to Winston-Salem tonight to take on Jim Grobe’s Demon Deacons. They’re always a well-coached team that seems to give the Tigers fits. Clemson has been abysmal in recent Thursday night road games. Neither of those issues is going to matter though, because the Tigers will return victorious. Here’s ten reasons why.
1. Talent. In terms of recruited talent, Wake Forest’s two-deep roster is nearly a full star less talented than Clemson’s on offense, defense, and special teams. Wake has zero players who were four or five star recruits. On the lines this won’t matter as much because of the excellent job Grobe and his staff do of coaching good technique (but this won’t be a Wake advantage like it has been in years past; see below), but everywhere else on the field, it really hurts. You can’t coach speed, size, and instinct.
2. Scheme. In the early 2000s when Grobe first took over at Wake, it was a dumpster fire and even those flames were burning out. The program was a communal punching bag for everyone else in the ACC. Given that his talent level was off the charts and not in a good way, Grobe made some key coaching moves. He preached discipline and fundamentals, he cleaned up his team’s execution, and he instituted a lethal combination of misdirection and cut blocking (legal, but annoying. Watch a GT game to see what I mean). Beginning in 2007 he moved away from the cut blocking and started implementing more of a pro-style offense with less misdirection. As he has continued to do this, his teams are still disciplined, but they don’t give Clemson fits the way they used to. Our defense has been at its best in the last three years against pro-style attacks (Virginia Tech!) and I expect nothing less tonight. Speaking of defense…
3. The Tiger Defense is still improving. Yes, we’ve been decimated by injuries, but little by little we’ve made strides. Last week against the Hokies was the best showing for the defense since, yes you guessed it, the last time we played Virginia Tech. The defense has looked sharper and sharper on 3rd down, in the red zone, and late in games. All that improvement means that even if Clemson’s offense comes out flat, Wake should have a hard time taking advantage. I don’t even need to mention that the Demon Deacon defense is statistically worse than ours.
4. Tanner Price. The mostly mediocre junior QB boasts a 50% completion percentage on the year. His problem is that even that stat is inflated by one game where he got a quarter of his completions for the year. He struggles to throw the ball deep and has just 7 touchdowns to 4 interceptions so far. Thanks to Price's prowess, Wake ranks 115th in 3rd down conversions and just came off a 1 for 15 performance against UVA. Against other teams with mostly mediocre QBs, Clemson has thrived (Ball State, Furman, Auburn, VT). Price will struggle, even to connect with his favorite target:
5. Michael Campanaro. The stand out wide out led the league in receiving until he broke his hand against Duke in week 5. He was originally listed as out until November, but Grobe announced this week that he took part in practice on Monday and will play tonight. The problem for the Deacs is that Campanaro’s "practice" consisted of catching tennis balls. Grobe said he would play, but he never said how much. This could be a ruse to confuse Clemson’s gameplan or a threat to help keep us honest in run defense. Either way, the truth is that Campanaro is not 100% and a hand injury is a crippling disability for a receiver. Campanaro still leads Wake’s team in receiving in spite of missing 40% of their games, so they certainly can’t count on anyone else to pick up the slack. He might be back, but he won’t be what he was earlier this year.
6. Clemson’s Receivers. West Virginia and the Real USC might beg to differ, but Clemson has the best receivers in the country. Nuk Hopkins is on pace to break about five ACC records and will certainly add to his record breaking season tonight. Sammy Watkins has been largely held in check by marijuana and viruses, but at last report, the Deacs hadn’t planted either on the field at Groves Stadium. Sammy got back on track last week with 8 catches and the smart money says he’s going to have a breakout game.
7. Curses Schmurses. Reading ESPN you would think that Clemson would lose to the Pendleton High School Debate Team as long as they played on the road on a Thursday night. The funny thing is that none of the traditional curses seem to apply to Dabo’s squads. He went to, then won the ACC title game (part of the "Bowden Curse") then beat the "Atlanta Curse" against Auburn earlier this season. As Tajh Boyd said last year when asked about traditional Clemson struggles, "We weren’t on those teams, so we don’t really know anything about that." This is a new team and while they aren’t without struggles of their own, don’t expect them to disappoint you tonight. People often forget that for 65 years we dominated South Carolina on the road on Big Thursday in a much tougher environment than…
8. Groves Stadium. So far this year Wake has had a hard time getting even 30,000 fans to show up for home games. Clemson comes close to that – in the spring scrimmage. This will be more like a neutral site game since I fully expect a strong contingent of Tiger fans to show up loud and proud. These might well be the cheapest tickets you’ll find all year for a Clemson game, so if you’re in the area, head on down to the game. The Tigers will put on a show.
9. The kicking game. Chandler Catanzaro is one of the best kickers in the country and after some struggles early in his career, has made 20 consecutive field goals. His range goes out to 50 yards with Benton taking over from there. Wake meanwhile is having a hard time in the kicking department. Jimmy Newman has been relegated to a part time job doing kickoffs after missing 6 of his last 10 field goal attempts. If the game is close, Wake will be fighting an uphill battle and fourth down could be rough all night for them.
10. The running game. Wake has struggled to run the ball this season with just 120 yards per game good for 101st in the country. With little to no ground game, a banged up receiving corps, and a mediocre QB, the Deacs just won’t be able to keep up with Clemson’s fast-paced, high-flying offense. Look for a blowout.
Clemson 52 – Wake Forest 10