The #13 Wake Forest Demon Deacons came to Death Valley today looking to claim the ACC Atlantic division title. On paper coming in, it looked like a good matchup, with the teams’ strengths and weaknesses aligned: Wake’s effective offense versus Clemson’s solid defense and Wake’s at times vulnerable defense against Clemson’s anemic offense. My feeling coming into the game was that each teams strengths would have their moments, and it would be the play of the weaker side of the ball for each team that would determine the outcome of the game. That’s exactly how it played out.
Wake got the ball first and the Tiger defense promptly handed them a sack. Two incomplete passes later they punted. Clemson took over at their 31. After an incomplete pass, Will Shipley showed some nice moves to move the ball out near midfield. D.J. continued to show inconsistency, missing wide open receivers but hitting Beaux Collins on the sideline for 16 yards. Two things have been the cause of Clemson’s offensive woes this year: poor offensive line play and D.J.’s inconsistency, sometimes making beautiful throws and sometimes missing wide open receivers. B.T. Potter came in and put it right down the middle of the uprights. With 12:39 left in the 1st quarter, Clemson led 3-0.
The Deacs appeared to have collected themselves and started their drive with some good gains, but their offensive line was then overwhelmed by the Tigers and gave up two big sacks. Clemson took over at their 23 after the punt. The Tiger drive began with a couple of good catches but began to stall. But then D.J. evaded what appeared to be a sure sack a couple of times and scrambled. Using pure arm strength, he hit Beaux Collins 52 yards down the field. I think this was the first time this season where I got goose bumps on a play by the Tiger offense. A few plays later, Shipley got into the end zone. Clemson led 10-0 with 6:41 to go in the 1st quarter.
The Tiger defense continued to feast on the Wake Forest offense, pressuring QB Sam Hartman consistently. The Tigers appear to have a TD punt return but Will Brown had given enough of a fair catch signal for the officials to call it back. Kobe Pace came in at RB and showed good power on a few runs that moved the ball into Wake territory. A few more good runs ensued but then he fumbled the ball after breaking through the line and the Deacs recovered it.
It was lather, rinse, repeat for the Wake Forest offense as the Tiger defense forced another 3 & out. Clemson moved back into Wake territory as the 1st quarter expired. A false start on 3rd & 4 pushed the Tigers back and D.J.’s pass down the left sideline fluttered out of bounds. The game announcers pointed out that he had a bandage on the index finger of his throwing hand.
The Deacs got off to a better start on their next possession and moved into Tiger territory with Hartman having a little more time to hit his receivers. Wake got to the Tiger 6 for 1st & goal. The Tiger defense held and Wake settled for a FG to make it 10-3 with a little over 10 minutes left in the half. Shipley returned the kickoff to the Tiger 29. Pace continued to pick up good chunks of yardage and Davis Allen made a nice catch down the middle as the Tigers moved into the red zone. D.J. had a nice run to set up 1st & goal from the 1. On 3rd down, the Tigers went razzle-dazzle with a jump pass from Shipley to Allen out of a wildcat formation to score. Clemson led 17-3 with about 5 minutes left in the half.
The Deacs put together a nice drive and got down to the Tiger 1. They punched it in behind some good blocking. With a bit over a minute left in the half, Clemson led 17-10. The Tigers moved the ball on a couple of outs to Allen, but the ball bounced off a Tiger receiver on an out route and into the hands of a Wake defender. The Deacs moved the ball well but Tiger safety Andrew Mukuba made a nice play on a pass that would have put Wake deep in Tiger territory.
Shipley opened the 2nd half with a 42-yard run. A few plays later, Pace picked up 17 down to the Wake 8. The D.J. made a bad decision on a pitch that was ruled a fumbled recovered by the Deacs at the 15. But on the next play, Myles Murphy stripped the ball and Baylon Spector recovered it at the Wake 20. The Tigers leaned on Pace and he put the ball in the end zone on 1st & goal from the 8 to make it 24-10 Tigers with 10:50 left in the 3rd quarter.
The Tigers appeared to have Wake shut down but the Deac’s backup QB came in after Hartman’s helmet came off and completed a 58-yard pass on a catch and run inside the red zone. Wake ended up having to settle for a 31-yard FG after the Tiger defense kept them from moving any further. With a little over 8 minutes left in the 3rd quarter, Clemson led 24-13. Clemson responded with a productive drive that ended with D.J. hitting Beaux Collins 58 yards down the left sideline for the score. Clemson led 31-13 with 5:36 left in the 3rd quarter.
On the net play, Hartman fumbled and it looked like a rout was underway. The legs of D.J. and Pace took care of business and Clemson led 38-13 after Pace punched it in from 2 yards out.
Wake followed with a decent drive and got to the Tiger 12. After an offsides penalty on the Tigers, they punched it in. The Deacs went for 2 but didn’t get it. Clemson led 38-19 with 14:55 left. Clemson responded with a good drive of their own, with Shipley and Pace moving the chains and eating up clock. Potter kicked another FG with 7:18 left to increase the Tiger lead to 41-19.
Wake came out firing as Clemson eased up on the blitz pressure. They moved down the field and scored with 4:56 left. The 2-point conversion was good and Clemson led 41-27. The Deacs tried an onside kick but Allen recovered it. The Tigers proceeded to move down the field and Shipley scored on a 3-yard run. With a bit over 2 minutes left, Clemson was up 48-27.
The Tiger offense found its legs today, literally. Pace and Shipley both had over 100 yards rushing, with Pace nearly reaching 200. D.J. was 11/19 for 208 yards, a TD and an interception that you really couldn’t pin on him. The Tiger defense was its usual dominant self, shutting down the explosive Demon Deacons. Clemson still has a shot at the Atlantic Division title, but it’s out of their hands at this point. They need losses by Wake and NC State next week to get the invitation to Charlotte. Whatever. Next week is all about the chickens, as the Tigers travel to Columbia. I invite you to leave your best rivalry week trash talk in the comments below. As always, we appreciate your making us a part of your Tiger football experience.