It's a nice problem to have when you are sitting at 6-1, you just beat the kings of the ACC for much of the last decade, and you're trying to figure out why the offense struggled so bad at points. Saturday was ugly at times, no doubt. The offense sputtered putting up multiple three and outs, but when push came to shove, this team stepped up late when it had to, enroute to a third straight convincing win against the boys from Blacksburg.
Clemson's offense had one of its worst performances of the season Saturday against Virginia Tech, but the Tigers' defense came to the rescue in a 38-17 victory at Memorial Stadium. No. 14 Clemson was held to a season-low 295 yards, but it forced four turnovers and allowed the fewest points to a Football Bowl Subdivision team all season, better than the 19 it yielded to Auburn in the season opener.
The biggest surprise Saturday was the defense, in particular the secondary, a group that has been gashed yards and yards all season long. For some reason Clemson's defense (especially Meeks) has had Virginia Tech's number the last 3 games. Perhaps it's the Hokies more vanilla pro style attack that doesn't give this team problems like the spread and option teams do.
"They're a good team, a physical team," senior safety Jonathan Meeks of Clemson said after making two interceptions and returning one 74 yards for a touchdown. "We know we've got to be ready to play. We've just had their number the last couple of times."
On to Wake Forest. Am I the only one that is excited that I don't to wait until Saturday to watch Clemson play? Despite Clemson being heavy favorites (more on that in a minute), it's a big game for this program. When you are the only game on that night, it gives your team a chance to showcase itself in primetime. With so many games on Saturdays, many at the same time slots, watching this offense go to work can get lost in the shuffle if you aren't a diehard Clemson fan. On Thursday, Chad Morris and his plethora of weapons on offense will have a chance to flex its muscles and gives voters and college football fans a taste of their offense.
Will this game come down to the wire the way the meeting between the two schools did a season ago? Flash back, to last year, and remember that Clemson rallied from 14 points down to win 31-28. Chandler Catanzaro kicked a 43-yard field goal as time expired to clinch the ACC Atlantic Division title for the Tigers. Clemson has won three straight in the series. The last Wake Forest win came in 2008 -- also a Thursday night game.
Now a look at Vegas. Clemson opened at -14.5 at most books yesterday and was quickly bet down to -13 where it stands right now. If I'm reading this correctly, and I think I am, the sharps (the professional bettors) likely quickly jumped on Wake Forest getting two touchdowns at home and Vegas then adjusted the line, moving it down to 13. I understand where the sharps are coming from, they see value in a Wake Forest squad that has played Clemson tough the last few years, but as some point you have to jump on the Clemson bandwagon. This squad has covered 4 straight games (FSU, BC, GT, and VT) the last two of which were pretty handily. I still think Vegas is undervaluing this squad a little bit based on our weak schedule and hasn't correctly inflated our lines yet, which still means backing Clemson could very well continue to put money in your pocket.
Sports bettors will find that the Tigers have gone 2-0 against the spread (ATS) in their last two opportunities as road favorites of 7.5 to 14 points. Wake Forest is starting to win the battle at the line of scrimmage on the defensive end, as it held its second straight opponent to under 60 yards rushing in a 16-10 win over the Virginia Cavaliers as three-point road underdogs. The Demon Deacons earned a 28-27 straight-up victory over the North Carolina Tar Heels in their only opportunity as a home underdog this year on Sept. 8—moving them to 6-3 ATS in that situation since the start of the 2010 campaign. It’s important to note that Thursday night’s host has lost the statistical battle by 200-plus yards in each of the last three meetings in this series.
In terms of the matchup on Thursday? Clemson knows what happened last year. It took a field goal at the end of regulation to beat Wake Forest and seal the Tigers spot in the ACC title game. This year, we have two teams that are on different levels at this point. Clemson ranks #2 in the ACC in scoring offense (40.9 ppg) while Wake Forest is #10 (22 ppg). On defense, believe it or not, Clemson is still stronger than Wake Forest as the Tigers sit at #6 in scoring defense and the Deacons are #8. Wake is coming off a win against a struggling UVA team that they had two weeks to prepare for, in a game where Wake Forest was outgained by almost 100 yards, but 3 Virginia turnovers was enough for the win for Jim Grobe's squad.
Even the ugliest of wins looks better than the prettiest loss, but the Deacs' win over UVA sure tested that theory. It was a battle of which team would cost themselves last, and on this day, that team ended up being the Cavaliers. It was a tremendous showing by the Wake defense and special teams, and that was enough.
On paper, Clemson is clearly the better team. Clemson has better weapons on offense, better special teams, and their defense is better on paper. But, we all know sometimes weird things happen at BB&T Field, and Clemson has a had tendency to playing down to teams that are not on their level, especially on the road. I think I would be more worried if Clemson was coming off an emotional win, but they aren't. It's a short week, but both teams are on a short week so there is no advantage there. We'll see what unfolds, but I expect to see a fired up Clemson offense on Thursday that comes out inspired and ready to get past their very average performance on Saturday against Virginia Tech.