The No. 3 Clemson Tigers (10-0, 7-0), having wrapped up the ACC Atlantic Division title last week, return home to face the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (7-2, 3-2) this Saturday at 3:30 PM EST. Unfortunately, with the Deacons’ 36-17 loss at Virginia Tech last week, this game loses a little bit of its pizzazz, as the division championship is no longer on the line. Nevertheless, there is obviously still plenty on the line for the College Football Playoff-seeking Tigers.
STS: With the possible exception of Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond, Clemson will have to face the most talented quarterback they’ve seen all season in Jamie Newman. What has made Newman so effective this year?
RR: Newman has picked up right where he left off at the end of last year with his play, and has elevated himself to an All-ACC caliber quarterback. Wake runs a ton of RPOs, and Newman is exceptionally good at hanging on to the ball as long as possible, which makes it very difficult on defenders to commit to either stopping the run or the pass.
He throws an excellent deep ball, and he’s also very skilled at throwing sideline passes with the precision that just our tall receivers can grab it. With those passes, it really becomes an extension of our running game.
STS: Most casual ACC observers know about Newman and star wide receiver Sage Surratt (66 catches for 1,001 yards and 11 touchdowns), but unfortunately for the Deacons, Surratt is out for the season after suffering a shoulder injury in this past Saturday’s loss to Virginia Tech. With that being said, who can help fill the void for Surratt? And beyond wide receiver, who are some other Wake players we should watch for on Saturday, on either side of the ball?
RR: We hope that Scotty Washington can help fill the void for us. He’s another big receiver at 6’5”, who can make big plays, but also has some issues with drops and is coming off of an injury. I’ll get to him more a bit later, but I believe that slot receiver Kendall Hinton will be utilized more.
Two players I’d look for on defense are defensive end Carlos “Boogie” Basham and cornerback Essang Bassey. These guys are both going to be pros. They’ll have difficult matchups, but I don’t think they’ll back down from the elite competition and I believe they’ll play well.
STS: Wake Forest is known for its solid offense, ranking 13th nationally in total yards per game (487.3) and 25th in points per game (35.7). When Wake has the ball this Saturday, which individual and/or position group matchups, if any, do you think they can exploit? And which give you the most concern?
RR: Our hope is that quarterback-turned-wide-receiver Kendall Hinton continues to be an explosive playmaker in the slot. I’d look for him to hopefully keep possessions alive as he’s done consistently this year and to help us get some chunk plays. As you mentioned in a previous question, Wake is now without probable All-American Sage Surratt for the season, so the slot receiver now becomes that much more important.
My biggest concern is that Clemson ranks 13th nationally in rushing defense in terms of yards/play allowed, while Wake is 87th nationally in rushing offense. I worry that we’ll be too conservative on first/second downs and then be in third-and-longs. Wake has no chance if they’re consistently in third-and-longs against Clemson.
STS: Defensively, Wake does not rank as highly, yielding 407.8 yards per game (77th-worst nationally). So when Clemson has the ball this Saturday, which matchups give you the most concern? And which, if any, give you some optimism?
RR: My biggest concern is trying to stop Travis Etienne, especially now that Justin Strnad (our team’s leading tackler) is out for the season with a torn biceps. I’m also very concerned about your receiving corps in general, specifically who Amari Henderson is defending. He had an unbelievable game against NC State, but he’s also gotten in burned in coverage several times this year.
Regarding optimism, Carlos “Boogie” Basham is a pass rusher who is expected to be a first-round draft pick in 2020. I know that Clemson’s offensive line is very good, but Boogie should still be able to hold his own in this one.
STS: Wake Forest, with a 7-2 overall record, has had a strong year, emerging as arguably the second-best team in the ACC despite last Saturday’s stumble up in Blacksburg. Head coach Dave Clawson has led the Demon Deacons to three straight bowl appearances and victories. So, a two-part question regarding Clawson: 1) How would you assess the job he’s done this year and overall in his tenure? 2) In spite of his recent contract extension that takes him through 2026, how likely do you think it is that another program will poach him either this offseason or next?
RR: Through the first nine games of the season I’d probably give Clawson an A or an A-. We’ve been fortunate to win a number of close games (Utah State, UNC, Boston College, Florida State), but Clawson also deserves credit for being in contention in all of those games and having us ranked at several points in the season. I knock him a few points because of the start against Louisville and the lackluster showing against Virginia Tech on Saturday.
For his entire tenure, I’d give him an A+ and also some extra credit. He inherited a program that was totally lackluster, and essentially had to start over. Now, he’s coming off of three straight bowl victories, and already has seven wins this year with two very winnable games remaining in the regular season. I just cannot say enough good things about him and the program he’s built here. I hope he gets his own statue one day.
I know that Clawson is very happy here, but Wake fans understand that there’s a possibility that he could leave. That other programs would want him says a ton about what he’s built here. The job he’s done here, and the resources he now has, have trimmed down the list of schools that he would jump to. If he were to leave, I’d say it’d be more likely that he’d go after this year than next year just because our schedule is a lot harder next year.
STS: The Demon Deacons face a tall order in traveling to Death Valley to take on the Tigers, especially with the Atlantic Division champs in their “championship phase” and as focused as ever. Clemson will be ~33-point favorites. What can Wake plausibly do to keep things interesting and at least give themselves a chance at pulling off a major upset?
RR: It’s going to be extremely difficult with all of Wake’s injuries to go along with all of Clemson’s talent. For Wake to win, it’s going to take a heroic effort. Our “realistic” best path to victory involves getting red zone stops and holding Clemson to field goals instead of touchdowns. The opposite is also true, as Wake simply must get seven when they get to the red zone. Wake is also going to have to be aggressive on fourth downs and take chances when they can to keep drives alive instead of punting it away. The Deacs are also going to need a handful of explosive plays. That may come in the form of a special teams return, a defensive turnover where field position gets dramatically flipped, or a bomb in the passing game.
We hope you enjoyed this Q&A. A big thanks goes out to our guest, Robert, for answering our questions. Again, please consider following him on Twitter (@Robert_Reinhard), along with our host, @tom_dianora.