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#2 Clemson hosts Wake Forest for Homecoming

The Tigers look to put away another ACC foe

NCAA Football: Kent State at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

If you were around during the 1990s, you know how things went when Florida State came into the ACC. I remember those home tilts against the ‘Noles very well. Other than 1988’s infamous Puntrooskie game, the Tigers were undermanned in every meeting from 1992 to 1999. The crowds for those games were epic, even with Hatfield or West roaming the sideline, and usually the Tigers put up a valiant effort before succumbing to the stronger FSU teams. I mention this because the Tigers have now, essentially, become what FSU was then. Virginia Tech, a proud program with some past glory of its own, brought all its fandom to bear last week. They put up as much of a fight as they could muster, but Clemson methodically dismantled them and the game really never felt in question. Just as it didn’t seem to matter whom the ‘Noles had to replace back then, it appears it doesn’t matter whom the Tigers replace now. It is truly a marvel and something that seemed impossible to fathom around the 1990s. If you are a Tiger student now, you shouldn’t miss a minute of this glorious run. You never know when things might turn for the worse. I certainly didn’t when I watched Clemson destroy West Virginia in the Gator Bowl, ignorant to the fact it would be Danny Ford’s last game as coach. Let’s bring the noise for the Deacons and show this program the adoration it truly deserves!

Clemson offense vs. Wake Forest defense: I took in a lot of the Wake-FSU game last week. I think the biggest compliment I can give the Deacs is their defense was reminding me of our own for much of that game. They were living in FSU’s backfield and DE Duke Ejofor was a force of nature. Grant Dawson and Wendell Dunn were similarly disruptive for Wake. Clemson will need to have its act together up front, but I’m sure watching Wake’s film will have the guys’ full attention. The problem for Wake is their reliance on quicker, penetrating defensive line play can open them up for big gaps for Kelly Bryant and the Tiger running backs to exploit. Despite getting hit for tackles for loss (17 to be exact), Florida State running backs, especially Jacques Patrick, were able to bust some explosive runs. FSU finished with a tick under 150 yards rushing DESPITE all those TFL’s. This is a very different approach than the one we saw Boston College employ a couple of weeks ago. BC was not looking for TFL’s as much as they were just trying to muck up the middle and limit gains. Wake wants to get you behind the chains.

Clemson made easy work of the Deacs last year by executing at an extremely high level in the first half. The talent gap, which Ryan Kantor’s piece points out, is substantial, though a lot of Wake’s 2 and 3 star guys have been playing above that level. The problem Clemson presents, as Dave Clawson has noted, is that the Tigers are built to pound you in the run game for certain, but loading up the box then leaves your secondary in one on one situations with #WRU. I mentioned last week as a chance for Deon Cain to break out, and his solid game would have been even better had Bryant not missed him on a couple of big plays. We shouldn’t let Cain’s somewhat quiet stats fool us because he has been getting behind defenses and/or drawing safety help consistently all year. To leave him one on one is to play with fire.

I would certainly recommend some tendency breaking calls this week vs. Wake. Play action on first down can be lethal against an attacking defense looking to get you behind the chains. Clemson has been running zone read or some variation of inside zone probably 85% of the time on first down so far this year, it seems. It will be interesting to see how ScElliot choose to attack Wake. Will they just stick to script and adjust if need be? Or will they decide it is a good time to work some tendency breakers now that they have established some definite patterns on film? This is certainly a better defense than Louisville, probably along the level of what Virginia Tech presented last week (stronger up front than VT, but weaker at corner). Clemson’s ball security has been much better this year and we all know that upsets are largely sprung on turnovers and mistakes by the favored team.

Clemson defense vs. Wake offense: Much like the BC game, this is where the major mismatch in the game should be found. While Wake has done an admirable job fielding a competent offense after struggling mightily to do so in the previous three to four seasons, it is hard to imagine their finding a way to truly threaten the Tigers on Saturday. Louisville and Virginia Tech both presented more overall issues either with scheme or personnel than what Wake brings to the table. Now, Wake does have an excellent tight end, probably the best in the ACC, in Cam Serigne. He is probably the one Wake player who would likely start for Clemson. Even a great player like Ejafor wouldn’t be a sure thing considering Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell occupy the DE spots in Clemson. I expect Serigne to get a lot of attention from Dorian O’Daniel, Tanner Muse, and Isiah Simmons. Wake’s run game heavily leans on starting quarterback John Wolford. He had over half their carries for the game vs. FSU. Clemson’s defense has been dealing with Kelly Bryant in practice since the spring, so handling a running QB is nothing new. Clemson has played a lot more zone with a lot less pressures beyond five guys this season, so their are more eyes in the backfield and more bodies at the second and third level to deal with the threat of a runner like Wolford. Lamar Jackson couldn’t carry Louisville on his own and Wolford, though solid, is no Lamar Jackson.

Wake’s offense couldn’t take enough advantage of their defense’s performance against FSU, especially in the first half, to put the ‘Noles away. FSU hung around enough to find some big plays and in special teams to steal the game late. Wake has to find some kind of way to get a lead on Clemson and hope their defense is as good as it was last week. It is almost like Brent Venables is daring teams to try to piece multi-play drives against this year’s group vs. aggressively trying to force three and outs. While there have been less TFL’s than the 2014-2016 units produced, the opposition is finding it extremely difficult to get an explosive play or cheap TD. To put it in perspective, the Clemson starting defense has given up exactly ONE touchdown drive beyond 40 yards all season (Louisville’s first TD drive). Other TD’s given up were on short fields or against the backups after the game was decided. Teams can’t run inside on Clemson at all, and this has had the predictable effect of what Alabama has largely enjoyed under Saban. There is nothing I’ve seen that leads me to think Wake can muster any kind of inside run game. Wolford stands a good chance of taking serious punishment.

Special Teams: Well, this area was shaky last week. Will Spiers put a score on a silver platter with his worst punt ever and another field goal was missed. Poor Wake saw their special teams largely thwart their very real shot at beating FSU by giving up an 81 yard kick return and another long kick return to Derwin James. James took another kick to the house that was brought back by penalty (one that didn’t seem to help the return, which shows the overall coverage on that was poor). Wake threw a missed extra point in there to boot. Wake cannot afford this phase to let them down to win a game like this, and in reality need to win this phase rather handily to beat Clemson.

Overall: The ACC’s rise in football has been on the back of some excellent coaching. There are more coaches that maximize what they are working with in this league than in the SEC. Can you imagine LSU with VT’s coaching staff? Can you think what Texas A@M could do with David Cutcliffe? Dave Clawson is another guy getting pretty much every drop he can out of his guys at Wake. Unfortunately for him, the Clemson Tigers have become a machine whose only real enemy is itself. It really is going to take a team with just the right build to realistically think it can beat Clemson, especially in Tigertown. Folks thinking of the Pitt game need to recall Pitt had an outstanding OL, an NFL draft pick at QB and RB, got critical turnovers from Clemson in the red zone, and at least two horrific calls in their favor to extend scoring drives on third down just to win by one point on a long field goal. It was essentially a perfect storm mixed with some key ingredients. Wake doesn’t have enough ingredients.

Clemson 41-Wake 10