I think everything has been said about last week's substandard outing at Syracuse. I'm going to lean on my faith in Brent Venables to get the defense tightened up, particularly his own position group at linebacker. Meanwhile, the Tiger offense continues to crank out 500+ yard performances. Let's get to this showdown with the Deacs.
Clemson offense versus Wake Forest defense: Dave Clawson has taken a very defense-first approach to his rebuilding effort in Winston Salem. Wake has actually put some pretty good defensive units on the field these last two seasons and that is where you will find most of their best athletes. Much like Boston College, the Wake defense has gotten minimal help from its offense during the course of the season. This is a pretty good test for the Tiger offense and enough to help keep things sharp going into next week's date with the chickens. Clemson certainly cannot go through the motions and expect to run up and down the field. \
Deshaun Watson has left any early doubts about his greatness in the dust as he has played top flight football down the stretch. The question for Clemson right now is the health of some key guys like Tyrone Crowder and Wayne Gallman. Crowder will be held one more week at least and the team has missed his physicality inside. The good news is Maverick Morris is getting heavy snaps and that should pay off for next year when the Tigers have to replace MacLain. Jake Fruhmorgen is also in line for a start and a bigger snap load covering for Joe Gore who missed practice time this week for personal reasons. It will be interesting to see how the team handles Gallman. I certainly think his workload will be diminished if he ends up playing. This is a great chance for Zac Brooks, who has declared himself a senior, to have a big impact in his last home game. Clemson failed to finish drives with touchdowns in the second half last week, so I know that will be an emphasis this week. Wake has been victimized by some big plays the last few weeks, so Clemson should have an opportunity to strike big on Saturday.
Clemson defense versus Wake Forest offense: The Wake offense is very young but has made improvement after being one of the most horrific units in the country last season. Of course, Tiger fans will recall that Wake actually had some unexpected success throwing the ball against the #1 Tiger defense last season. Clawson has a good system that should work better going forward, but Wake still has issues on the offensive line that has hindered their progress. Clemson's front four should have its way with the Wake line on Saturday.
The key for me and I'm sure many of you will be seeing improvement in assignments from the linebackers and safeties. Many of the big plays given up over the last three weeks have been due to guys looking to make a hero play and getting out of their gap. Wake doesn't run as much misdirection and option as Syracuse or NCST, but whatever they do have in the book will no doubt make an appearance on Saturday in hopes of exploiting that potential crack in the armor. Wake's attack last year that netted 17 first half points relied upon quick timing routes. The Tigers will need to make sure they are physical at the line with Wake's wide receivers and disrupt any timing routes they try to run. If either Wake quarterback has to hold the ball beyond a three step drop, I would expect punishment will be delivered. The Deacs actually outgained Notre Dame last week but had serious red zone problems as well as one critical turnover that was a pick six. They certainly don't have any margin for those types of errors against most teams, much less a top 5 team.
We will see if Mack Alexander plays on Saturday after hurting his knee last week. You know he will want to, but it might be smart to hold him if possible to make sure he is ready for the next two weeks. Clemson will certainly need all hands on deck defensively for the probably matchup with North Carolina's offense in Charlotte. Clemson had to play the top guys all the way through last week in a game we hoped to see backups get good time. Clemson needs to take advantage of an opponent it should overwhelm at home and work to further develop the depth on defense.
Special Teams: Thank goodness for Heugel and the field goal unit who have cast some sunshine on an otherwise dismal season in this area. The time is running out for the coverage and return teams to get their acts together before the Tigers run into opponents who will really make them pay. Not having Ray Ray McCloud healthy has not helped as he was looking like a weapon on kick return before he got hurt. Whoever is back there has had very little blocking to work with so the sledding has been tough.
Overall: I am happy that I will be able to make the trip to God's Country with my daughter to salute this fine senior class and pay homage to the great United States military. It is always great to get to Clemson for a game, but senior day adds a little extra to that. I know I am very thankful for the contributions this group has made in putting that #1 next to the Clemson name in the polls. It still is a little surreal to see that and to know that this team can play for it all. I lived through Hatfield, West, and Bowden when making the Peach Bowl was a pinnacle moment, so this ride has been awesome. Go Tigers.