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Historical Eye of the Tiger: Clemson-Wake Forest

Since 1933, Clemson has compiled a 61-17-1 record over Wake Forest, including several memorable moments in Tiger football lore.

Wake Forest Football
Wake Forest Football

This week the 2014 Clemson Tigers take their show on the road for just the fourth time this season to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Since Demon Deacons basketball doesn't tip off the season until Friday evening, the dozens of Wake fans and alumni are expected to attend this Thursday night primetime special, and some of them may even have the patience and fortitude to make it through the end of the first quarter, creating a raucous home-field advantage unmatched in the annals of collegiate athletics. (For you bored Wake Forest fans reading this in the stadium during the second quarter Thursday night: rouse yourself with a deep yawn, rub your eyes, bid farewell to the orange-clad fans cheering all around you, and drive home safely, taking solace in the fact that hoops season starts in under twenty-four hours).

Seriously, though, the Demon Deacons are going to have the devil himself to pay if they're to even have a prayer in this one. First-year head coach Dave Clawson brings an extremely green group into this matchup with the Tigers, as seventy-four of the 105 players on the Deac's roster are freshmen or sophomores. That youth movement has equated to an abysmal 2-6 season record, thanks in large part to a historically anemic offense that ranks at-or-near the bottom nationally (of 125 teams as of Sunday afternoon) in nearly every meaningful statistic (125th in rushing yards at 34.5yds/game; in total offense at 213.5yds/game; 122nd in scoring at 14.8pts/game; 124th in first downs; 123rd in third-down conversion percentage; 121st in kickoff returns; and 106th in passing). The Deac's "D" has performed better, but obviously that isn't saying much (40th in total defense; 10th in passing yards allowed; 28th in red zone defense; 53rd in scoring defense; sixth in net punting; and 10th in punt returns). Clemson, meanwhile, enters the contest with the nation's number two defense, though its offense since the injury to Deshaun Watson has struggled to move the ball consistently and can't get out of their own way to score when they do.

Historically, Clemson has more wins against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons than anybody not named the South Carolina Gamecocks (the Tigers are 65-42-4 against the dirt peckers), and it's a close race at 61-17-1, a winning percentage of nearly 78% all time. The two schools began their gridiron "rivalry" in 1933 (also the year the Esso Club opened its doors and tapped its first kegs), and have met almost every year since (they did not play in 1934). From that first meeting in 1933 to the matchup in 1949, the Tigers and Deacs battled head-to-head to an 8-8 stalemate. The Demon Deacons even put together a six-game winning streak between 1942 and 1947, and won seven of eight between 1942 and 1949 (no doubt aided by Clemson's proud military tradition and its efforts in combating the Axis Powers of Hitler's German Third Reich, Mussolini's Fascist Italy, and Emperor Michinomiya Hirohito's Japanese Empire during World War II). But since 1950 Clemson has dropped only nine games to Wake.

The frightening stat, however, is that of those seventeen all-time losses, only seven have occurred in Death Valley. Groves Stadium/BB&T Field has been a veritable house of horrors for Clemson over the years, as ten of the Tigers' losses and the lone tie have all happened in its uninspiring 31,500-capacity-confines. The scores from these losses vividly capture the frustrating futility our Tigers have often displayed in Winston-Salem: 6-0 in 1936; 19-6 in 1942; 13-7 in 1944; 19-7 in 1946; 17-13 in 1961; 20-20 in 1968; 36-20 in 1970; 20-14 in 1976; 18-15 in 1992; 45-17 in 2003; 31-27 in 2005; and 12-7 in 2008.

Even with that historical tendency to mimic the walking dead against the Demon Deacons, the Tigers still hold a commanding 24-10-1 mark against Wake Forest away from the Valley, and some of them have even been quite memorable: the Tigers and Deacs squared off in the "Mirage Bowl" in Tokyo, Japan at the end of the 1982 regular season, one of only two games Clemson has ever played outside the United States (the other was also in Tokyo during the 1991 season, as the Tigers defeated Duke in what was by that time called the Coca-Cola Classic Bowl); the late great Gaines Adams seemingly willed the Tigers to victory in 2006 despite a putrid performance for most of the day; and in 2012 Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins highlighted a rout of the Deacs in an ESPN Thursday night prime time special.

In 1982, the tenth-ranked, defending national champion Clemson Tigers ended the regular season in a mirage, as the Tigers and Wake Forest Demon Deacons squared off in the sixth annual "Mirage Bowl" sponsored by Mitsubishi in front of 80,000 fans in Tokyo, Japan.

Mirage Bowl Program

Mirage Bowl Program

Danny Ford's Tigers jumped out to a 16-7 lead in the first quarter behind a one-yard touchdown run by RB Chuck McSwain, a thirty-yard field goal by K Bob Pauling, and a 22-yard scoring strike from QB Homer Jordan to TE K.D. Dunn. The Tigers then held on for a down-to-the-wire 21-17 victory.

Richard Butler

WR Richard Butler (#19) in Tokyo

The game capped Clemson's season at 9-1-1 (6-0 ACC) and was the only "bowling" the Tigers would do that year, as the NCAA had just the week before issued sanctions against the Clemson football program banning them from postseason play. The win still secured the ACC title for the Tigers, who had reeled off nine straight victories after dropping the opener to UGA and tying Boston College in week two. Clemson finished at #8 in the national polls, while Wake Forest finished unranked at 3-8 (0-6 ACC).

In 2006, Tommy Bowden's Clemson Tigers strolled into Winston-Salem sporting a 4-1 record and a #15 national ranking to take on an unbeaten (5-0) but largely untested Wake Forest team that remained unranked in the national polls. The Demon Deacons would prove that their unbeaten record was no fluke, as they gave the Tigers all they could handle for three quarters en route to a 17-3 fourth-quarter lead. Then Clemson's star defensive end, the late, great, Gaines Adams caused Wake Forest to botch a field goal, then proceeded to return the fumbled snap sixty-six yards for a touchdown to cut the lead to 17-9 and grab the momentum on what had been a dreary day in Groves Stadium.

Gaines Adams

DE Gaines Adams (#93)

Quarterback Will Proctor hit WR Aaron Kelly for a twenty-yard scoring strike to tie it at 17 with just over thirteen minutes remaining, then C.J. Spiller put the Tigers on top 24-17 with a seventy-two yard jaunt down the right sideline with a little over nine minutes to go in the game. A field goal by Jad Dean at the 5:45 mark capped the comeback and a 27-17 victory. Proctor finished 20/30 for 214yds and a touchdown, while RBs James Davis (95yds) and CJ Spiller (104yds, 1 td) led the Tigers on the ground, all en route to 428 total yards of offense.

Thunder and Lightening

RBs James "Thunder" Davis (#1) & CJ "Lightening" Spiller (#28)

Wake Forest rebounded from the loss to win five of their last six regular season games and claim the ACC title with a championship game victory over Georgia Tech. They lost 24-13 to Louisville in the BCS Orange Bowl to end the year at 11-3 (6-2 ACC) and #18 in the polls. The Tigers continued their winning ways in the following weeks to climb as high as #10 in the country at 7-1, but stumbled 24-7 on the road against Virginia Tech in week nine, and lost four of their last five overall, including a lackluster 28-20 setback to Kentucky in the Music City Bowl to close out the year unranked at 8-5 (5-3 ACC).

Highlights of 2006 Clemson @ Wake Forest

For video of the full game, click here.

In 2012, Dabo Swinney's Clemson Tigers rode into Winston-Salem ranked #14 nationally after jumping out to a 6-1 start, while Wake Forest entered the contest 4-3 and unranked. Quarterback Tajh Boyd threw for a then-school-record 428yds and tied the school record for touchdown passes with five.

Tajh Boyd

QB Tajh Boyd (#10)

Wide Receiver Sammy Watkins hauled in eight passes for a then-school-record 202yds as the Tigers air-raided the hapless Demon Deacon defense en route to 534 total yards (433 passing, 101 rushing) and a 42-13 victory. WRs Nuk Hopkins (6-64yds) and Charone Peake (1-2yds) each added touchdown catches, while TEs Brandon Ford (2-17yds) and Sam Cooper (1-12yds) both also hauled in one of Boyd's scoring strikes. The Tiger defense, meanwhile, limited Wake to just 290yds of total offense (239 passing, 51 rushing) and thirteen points, most of it coming in garbage time.

Sammy Watkins

WR Sammy Watkins (#2)

Wake Forest went on to lose three of their last four to end the year unranked at 5-7 (3-5 ACC), while the Tigers won four of their last five, including the thrilling 25-24 Peach Bowl victory over LSU, to finish 11-2 and #11 in the polls.

Nuk Hopkins

WR Nuk Hopkins (#6) in 2012 Peach Bowl vs. LSU

Highlights of 2012 Clemson @ Wake Forest

For video of the full game, click here.

Even with the offensive struggles the 2014 Tigers currently have, and the Tiger's history of sleepwalking in Winston-Salem, Wake's offensively bad "O" and mediocre-at-best "D" shouldn't pose enough of a challenge to pull off the upset this week. Grady "Lockdown 5-0" Jarrett, Vic "Beastley," Stephone "Clemson is Coming" Anthony, and the "no-fly-zone" boys should enhance their number two ranking this week, and the offense might finally begin cashing in on its red zone drives (it is BB&T field, after all), providing one final "Stoudt" confidence boost before number four returns to take the team down to Atlanta for next week's road test against the Yellow Jackets. But as the old saying goes, that's why they play the game, and history certainly has provided enough cause for concern to make Tiger fans anxious heading into Thursday night. Here's hoping the Tigers show up wide awake and overcome the somnambulistic environment to put everyone not clad in orange to sleep with a blowout win.