Welcome back, everybody! After this crazy off-season it feels so good to be back to watching football, and Clemson football in particular. This week the Tigers, ranked number one in the country, traveled to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest to open the 2020 season. A lot of uncertainty in all aspects of life has played out over the last few months, and that extended to the Tiger roster coming into the game. Several big names were on the list of players that would not be available, particularly on defense. As my colleague Drew Schneider pointed out, this would give some of the talented freshmen a chance to show what they can do.
Wake Forest won the toss and deferred, kicking it through the end zone. Travis Etienne picked up 4 yards on 1st down. Trevor Lawrence tried to connect with Amari Rodgers on 2nd down but couldn’t. On 3rd down the coverage was excellent and Lawrence scrambled but ended up getting sacked. Wake took over at their 43 after a 56-yard Will Spiers punt. The Tiger defense stuffed the run on 1st down and K.J. Henry got a sack on the next play. On 3rd and long, the Demon Deacons converted with a nicely thrown pass. A couple of plays later freshman Bryan Bresee got a sack to stop the Wake Forest drive. Rodgers fielded the punt at the Tiger 8.
On 1st down, with great pass protection, Lawrence hit Rodgers out to the 45. He went back to the well on the next play, hitting Rodgers again for 16 yards down to the Wake 39. A Travis Etienne run and a Braden Galloway catch set up a 3rd down that Etienne converted for the first down. He then picked up 13 yards and Rodgers took a jet sweep for a couple more. Showing nice balance, Etienne moved the ball down to the 2, setting up a Lawrence run for the touchdown. Clemson led 7-0 at the 8:02 mark of the 1st quarter. B.T. Potter’s kickoff went out of the end zone. The Deacs had a couple of good plays running the ball but the Tiger defense ultimately forced a 4th & 2. The punt went out of the end zone, putting Clemson at the 20.
On the 1st play, Lawrence made a great fake pitch to Etienne and hit Galloway down the middle for 25 yards. He then hit Cornell Powell for 6 yards. Etienne powered his way for 16 yards to the Wake 33. A couple of plays later, Lawrence nearly hit a wide open Rodgers in the back of the end zone but Amari couldn’t hang onto it while trying to keep his feet in bounds. Etienne took a draw for 29 yards to the Wake 4. Another carry took it to the 2 and another got it inside the 1. Lawrence decided to fake it to Etienne and take it in himself for his 2nd TD. Clemson led 14-0 with 2:31 left. After a touchback, Wake took over at their 25. After a couple of stuffed running plays, Wake connected on a 39-yard pass down the left sideline. A short run led to a play where a Wake receiver appeared to catch the ball and fumble it with a Tiger recovery, but review showed it was incomplete. On 3rd & 7 at the Tiger 32, a run up the middle netted 6 and Wake tried a 44-yard kick but it went wide left.
On 1st down from the Tiger 26, Lawrence hit Powell for 9 yards to end the 1st quarter. On 3rd & 1 after a failed screen play, Lawrence ran wide left to get the 1st down. Darien Rencher had a couple of runs to move the sticks out to the Tiger 49. Lawrence hit Galloway for 19 yards to the Wake 32. Etienne picked up 3 and then Lawrence connected with Rodgers to the Wake 16, but an illegal formation penalty brought it back. The Deacs then stuffed Etienne for a loss of 4. On 3rd down, Lawrence hit Joseph Ngata for 13 yards, but he needed 16. Potter came in and kicked a FG to put Clemson up 17-0 at 10:54 in the 2nd quarter. Clemson’s defense forced a 3 & out and the Tigers took over at their 41.
A 1st down throw to Galloway was caught out of bounds. A swing pass to Etienne moved the ball to the Wake 46. He then added another 6 yards on a run on the next play. A stuffed run and an incomplete pass on 3rd down forced the Tigers to punt, and it rolled into the end zone. Wake couldn’t do much (with a wide open receiver dropping a pass that might have been a score) and punted. Clemson got the ball at their 9 after a long roll in Wake’s favor.
After picking up a couple of yards on a 1st down run, Lawrence connected with Rodgers to the 25. The next play was a 21-yard throw to Frank Ladson. Etienne got a yard on a wide run and then Lawrence hit Brannon Spector for 16 yards to the Deamon Deacon 37. Etienne then pushed it down to the 31. After a Wake timeout, Lawrence found Ngata at the 15. Rencher picked up a couple of yards. After no gain on 2nd down, Lawrence found TE J.C. Chalk in the corner of the end zone. With 1:21 left in the 1st half, Clemson led 24-0. Clemson’s defense didn’t give the Deacs anything, and good use of timeouts gave the Tiger offense the ball at their 34 after the punt.
Lawrence was sacked on 1st down but a pass to Etienne resulted in a 26-yard gain to the Wake 46. With 6 seconds left, he hit Galloway on the right sideline. Another short pass to Galloway moved the chains and gave the Tigers a chance to try a FG. Potter punched it in easily from 52 yards. Going into halftime, the Tigers led 27-0.
Wake Forest got the ball to start the 2nd half. Andrew Booth made a nice play on the ball to knock down a long pass down the sideline. On 3rd &10, the Tiger secondary gave up a 55-yard pass to the Clemson 20. The Tiger defense stiffened after that and Wake was forced to kick a 39-yard FG. At 13:21 in the 3rd quarter, Clemson led 27-3. Etienne started the Clemson drive with a 6-yard run. Passes to Rodgers, Ngata, Etienne and Spector put the ball at the Wake 2 yard line. Etienne punched it in to make the score 34-3 after Potter’s extra point.
Wake had a reasonably productive drive, nearly moving into the Tiger red zone, but the Tigers refused to yield after that and the Demon Deacons turned it over on downs at the 23. Rencher ran for 8 and then Lawrence hit TE Davis Allen for 42 yards to the Wake 27 yard line. A couple of Rencher runs moved the ball down to the 19. Kobe Pace had runs of 16 yards and 1 yard to put the Tigers at the 3. Lawrence then mishandled the snap and was tackled at the 12. He then nearly hit Frank Ladson in the back of the end zone, but the ball fell incomplete. Potter punched the 29-yard FG in to give Clemson a 37-3 lead with 3:14 left in the 3rd quarter.
Wake returned the kickoff to their 30 and other than a defensive holding penalty on the Tigers, couldn’t make much headway against the Tiger defense. D.J. Uiagalelei came in at QB and Demarkcus Bowman came in at RB. Bowman showed some nice running skills. It will be good to see him develop over the next few years. The reserves couldn’t put it together enough to score, though, and after a punt Wake got the ball at the 18. They moved down the field and came close to scoring, but ended up with a missed FG.
With the game clearly in hand, the Tigers were playing deep into the depth chart. With 7:20 left in the game, Wake scored on another FG, making it 37-6. With 2:34 left, Wake scored a TD after a pass interference penalty on the Tigers put them on the 3 yard line. Clemson led 37-13 and that’s the way the game would end.
Overall, this was a good opening game for the Tigers. There was, understandably, a little rustiness, but not too bad. The offense was clicking and the defense looked sharp. Next week, the Tigers will take on The Citadel at Death Valley. We’ll have coverage of tonight’s game and previews of next week’s game over the next few days, so check back with us. And let us know what you thought of tonight’s game in the comments section below. My apologies for the lack of photos, as the wire services did not make any available to us in time for publication. As always, thanks for stopping by.