Jesus man. There was no reason to expect Clemson to be upset, but you never expect to beat a team in your conference by sixty points on the road. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a head coach up and say this after a loss.
Dave Clawson "Clemson wasn't trying to run it up. They were just trying to run out the clock."— Matt Connolly (@MattatTheState) October 6, 2018
I expected Wake Forest to have some trouble moving the ball. I didn’t expect an offense that was averaging nearly forty points per game to have 77 yards at the half. Clemson was able to run the ball with pretty much whomever they wanted to. Etienne put up video game YPC numbers. He’s second in yards per carry in the country and seriously should be in Heisman contention.
The tempo Wake Forest operates at can be an edge. Everyone runs the no huddle nowadays. Not everyone runs it nearly as fast as Wake Forest, and when it works it contributes to their ability to grind teams down. When they can’t move the ball? Things get grisly. Running more plays can amplify a talent disadvantage. Slowing the clock down can be a recipe for upsets, or even just mitigating blowouts. When there’s fewer drives per game each big play becomes more impactful. Each bit of luck or mistake the team that’s supposed to win on paper makes means more.
Clemson doesn’t blow Wake Forest out like this without some help from the design of their scheme. There are few quicker ways off the field against this defensive line than “run first no huddle”. The secondary problems Syracuse and A&M were able to exploit? Not being exposed by Sam Hartman.
Entering the second quarter Clemson was only up 7-0. A fumble and a bit of a slow start for Lawrence gave the impression that the Tigers might be in another longer week than they expected. Wake Forest was packing the box early, leading Clemson to throw a lot of screens that are still pretty hit or miss. Packing the box is reasonable against fourth and one, especially double tight I formation. It also leaves you without a safety to clean things up should Etienne burst outside like he likes to.
Clemson felt comfortable leaving the Demon Deacons receivers in single coverage. This meant the Tigers could, and would, send bullet blitzes liberally.
K’von Wallace was attacked in coverage on the first drive, but mostly because Hartman was forced into throwing to slot receivers on hot routes. He managed to tackle the receiver before giving up much YAC both times.
The offensive line is still working on blitz pickup. Lawrence is brought down by the middle linebacker, who has to split the difference between the slot and the tackle. In what looks like a man pass protection scheme that’s Stewart’s job to handle. You rarely want to see your 310 pound guard pulling in space to pick up an edge rusher, and it doesn’t go great.
Of course a beautiful throw to Justyn Ross on the ensuing third and ten (Clemson’s first third down conversion of the day) ensured the sack didn’t really matter. Wake was in cloud cover three, with the corner to the trips side playing the flats. Clemson is running four verticals. The free safety was left in a two on one situation and Lawrence made the right read.
Wake was able to get a first down on a quick pass to Dortch up the seam. They gained their first rushing yards of the game on a dart handoff. These rushing yards were lost, and then some, on the jet sweep the following play. Xavier Thomas is unreal and appears unblockable. Hartman’s next pass fell incomplete.
Clemson’s linebackers continued to have some trouble in their pass sets. Wake was able to get their tight end behind Tre Lamar on a play action pass. Wake wasn’t able to take advantage of this or the field position a nice Dortch return gave them. The Demon Deacons went for it on fourth and one and got stonewalled.
Clemson was able to drive the ball against the Demon Deacons defense and score with a twenty yard pass to Higgins. With how Wake’s offense is performing this game was all but over at halftime.