After a very disappointing loss to Pitt last week, the big question was how Clemson would respond against Wake Forest, another team like the Panthers that they were expected to beat handily. They responded with a convincing 35-13 road win over the Demon Deacons to claim the ACC Atlantic Division crown.
The first half saw the Tigers play like a team that deserves to be in the College Football Playoff. The Demon Deacons’ first drive showed their commitment to the run and the Tiger defense sent them off the field in short order. The Tigers responded with their own version of dedication to the run and were rewarded with a 42-yard touchdown run by Wayne Gallman on 4th-and-1. He would end up with 162 yards on 22 carries for the night, giving him a record 16 career 100-yard games. I get the feeling that having him fresh for the late season run is going to pay dividends.
Throughout most of the first half, the Tiger defense made life tough for the Wake Forest offense, with several 3-and-out possessions for the Demon Deacons. The Tigers had a good drive that saw a nice run fake by Deshaun Watson where he pulled up at the line and hit tight end Jordan Leggett. Watson finished the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.
The Tigers then executed a nice onside kick, well, except for the fact that they were offside. But the Tiger defense forced another 3-and-out. Ray-Ray McCloud muffed the punt but quickly recovered it. The Tigers moved the ball down the field well, including a well thrown Watson pass to Deon Cain. The drive resulted on a 15-yard catch by Mike Williams to put the Tigers up 21-0.
At the beginning of the second quarter Gallman had a nice 27-yard run on a 3rd-and-3. Watson later got into the end zone with a 2-yard touchdown run. The Tigers were up 28-0 and it looked like we had the answer to the question about how they’d respond to the Pitt loss. But then McCloud muffed another punt after another 3-and-out, and the Demon Deacons recovered this time. They ended up getting a field goal.
The Tiger offense then appeared to lose its steam. Having seen it from Pitt over and over, the Tigers decided to try the tight end shovel pass and Leggett got good yardage on it. But the drive stalled.
Wake then decided to try something that other teams have exposed in the Tiger defense: throw to the tight end with Ben Boulware in coverage. It worked to the tune of 41 yards. Wake then went back to the run game and pushed the Tiger defense around sufficiently to get a touchdown. The first half ended with the Tigers up 21-10. The question was whether the momentum would stay in favor of the Demon Deacons at the start of the second half.
Gallman came out running hard in the second half and the first Tiger drive started well, but Watson missed an open Cain on a 3rd and 8 throw. Because they were heading into a stiff wind, the Tigers went for it on 4th and 8 instead of kicking a field goal, but Watson had to throw it away due to good coverage. The defense started the half well, forcing the Wake Forest offense off the field again. The next Clemson possession ended when Cain dropped a pass on 3rd and 2.
Then Wake forest must have cast some spell on the Tiger defense, because they suddenly forgot how to tackle. The Demon Deacons got a 51 yard gain out of a short pass when the Tigers missed multiple tackles. I have to give it to Ben Boulware on that play, though. He hustled down the field to keep the Wake Forest player out of the end zone. Wake ended up settling for a field goal and making the score 28-13.
A couple of uneventful possessions by both teams ensued. I saw something happening with Clemson’s offensive line that surprised me. On running plays, I noticed that several of the lineman weren’t continuing with the play on runs. Gallman was still trying to gain yardage when wrapped up by several defenders, and several Tiger linemen were just spectating instead of joining the pile and pushing. That cannot happen when a team expects to compete against the likes of Alabama.
Later, Watson was running well on designed run plays. Leggett made a great effort on a 3rd and 11 to convert and keep the drive alive. Gallman capped the drive with a 1-yard TD run to make the score 35-13. And that score is where the game would end, with the Tigers capturing the ACC Atlantic Division crown.
So, the Tigers responded well to the Pitt loss. Next up come the USC Gamecocks in Death Valley, a game that fans of both teams spend all year look forward to. STS will have complete analysis of the Wake game, and previews of the showdown with the Gamecocks, where the Tigers will go for their third consecutive win in the series. Check back with us for that coverage.