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Game 4 Preview: Clemson Travels to Face Wake Forest

The Real Season Starts Now!

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Clemson Josh Morgan-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson finished the “warmup” portion of the schedule a perfect 3-0 after last week’s 48-20 victory (which I actually predicted perfectly!). Some folks are still not happy out there but I’m not one of them.

Dabo made a very good point we all should remember: the team needs to be better than the one it faces every week, period. We aren’t playing Alabama or Georgia or Ohio State at the moment but everyone seems worried about that matchup.

I thought the 2015 team in particular peaked too early at Miami and really didn’t reach that level again until they reached the playoffs and even then the stuff that crept in the last half of that season bit them against Alabama and they lost a game they should have won. I’m all for this team peaking at the end and being good enough to get there in the meantime. Maybe that won’t happen but I’m trying to keep perspective.

Wake Forest is the defending Atlantic champions even though Clemson played its best game of the year against them last year and blew them out in Death Valley. Dabo has owned the Demon Deacons since taking over for Tommy Bowden who lost his job right after losing a game at Wake.

The secret has been dominating the line of scrimmage to negate the well coached systematic stuff Dave Clawson’s group has used to really overachieve in Winston-Salem. While I don’t feel this Wake team is quite as good as last year’s group, it is still a true road game against a team you know has circled this matchup from the day it came out.

I don’t read too much into Wake’s escape against Liberty last week and expect them to throw the kitchen sink at the Tigers this game for sure. Hopefully the Tigers will have more of their original two deep ready to go this week after sitting or losing several guys for last week’s tilt.

Clemson needs its secondary intact for certain or this could get dicey because Wake has the QB and weapons to exploit weakness in the back.

Clemson offense vs. Wake Forest defense: The Tigers finally ran the football the way I expect them to run the football last week to the tune of 280 yards. Will Shipley was a man on a mission and DJU continues to flash some impressive running skills of his own. Will Putnam was ACC lineman of the week and I feel like if Clemson’s center produces, the entire offense runs at a totally different level. We saw this last year in the final two games as well. Clemson needs to pound Wake’s defense with the run game like last year and then hit the play action shots when they present themselves.

Liberty hurt their defense repeatedly with QB runs and play action shots last week. Wake is well coached but still not a dominant unit on this side of the ball. I doubt they try to challenge the Tigers with as much cover 1 as we saw last week, but you know they figure they have to load up on the run somehow.

We found out Decari Collins is leaving the team. I attribute this to the Antonio Williams and Adam Randall effect because those two guys appear to be the full truth in the way some of the WRU greats of the past were. It does make the unit thinner as it has already lost Troy Stellato for the season.

Hopefully the top six guys left can stay healthy and if so, I’m not too concerned going forward. We saw a couple of highlight reel catches from Ngata and A. Williams last week which was great to see. I know I’d like to see more guys running wide open but ultimately the team will need guys to make contested plays to beat the best opposition. I feel very good about where DJU is right now and his confidence is palpable way beyond last year’s version.

I know folks are wanting to see more over the middle shots in the passing game. Those are the most boom/bust of the passing game because while they can produce some huge plays, they increase your chances of turnovers as well. I think some of what we have seen is the staff working mindfully to limit turnovers as part of the process of increasing DJ’s confidence.

The team hasn’t really needed it to win, but I would expect to see more of that when games begin to dictate the need. If we don’t see it at that point, then I will become concerned. You saw how much Louisiana Tech attacked the middle in their passing game but they also ended up with multiple turnovers and deflected balls in the process. DJU is over 64% completions with a 5-1 TD/INT ratio, so I think things are progressing according to plan for the staff.

Clemson defense vs. Wake Forest offense: While Louisiana Tech has an effective system and a few guys to run it with, the defense will now face a higher functioning offense for the first time this season. The staff was very conservative with holding out banged up players last week who probably could have played had it been needed. The defense needs to follow the same script as last year when it came out and absolutely overwhelmed Sam Hartmann and the Wake OL.

Wake finally got some things going on offense but by the time it did, the Tigers had a comfortable lead and could dictate terms on both sides of the ball. I expect we will see the true DL two deep for the first time this year with Tyler Davis, Bryan Bresee, and Xavier Thomas all back in action. The Tigers have to force Wake into having to throw every down to win and eliminate their balance the way they have done really every year since 2012.

Wake does have one of the most dangerous WRs in the ACC in A.T. Perry. Clemson had Andrew Booth and Mario Goodrich to handle him last year, but those guys are now gone and their replacements are still largely unproven. We’ve seen both Furman’s top WR and La Tech’s best perimeter guy have some big games the last two weeks so this is an area of concern for me.

As long as the front seven does its thing and blows up the line of scrimmage, Wake’s offense will be in trouble. If Wake can string a first down or two together and use their tempo, things could get dicey. The Tigers called one of their best timeouts of the season last year against Wake when you could feel their offense finding a rhythm after a couple of first downs. That allowed the defense to recalibrate and generate a stop which was followed by a Tiger TD that effectively put the game out of reach.

As long as Wiggins and Mukuba are able to play, I think the Tigers can hold up in the back and will stymie the Wake offense enough to win the game. If Wake gets to face the backup corners and safeties, then we could be in for a real battle. It is time for Davis, Bresee, Henry, Murphy, Thomas, and Ruke to show they are NFL level guys.

Special Teams: The Tiger coverage units were not spectacular vs. punt returns last week. The punts were average for the most part but guys were slow to get off blocks and finish. The team generated another blocked kick, this time a field goal, but we saw an unfortunately turn of events when Barrett Carter fumbled the return back to La Tech. That was a major reason the score stayed close in the first half. However, it is definitely good to see the Tigers getting after punts and kicks this season. As we saw way back in 2006 against Wake, you never know when a special teams play could totally flip a game’s outcome.

Overall: I still feel like Clemson is just too dominant up front for Wake to handle. The Deacons desperately have to get off to a good start so they can maintain some form of balance on offense and try to get Clemson having to throw to win.

As long as the Tigers play clean and avoid costly turnovers and penalties, I think the Tigers will win by two scores or more. However, it is tough to predict these things and at some point Wake is bound to give the Tigers a real tussle as they were doing routinely in the Bowden era. Wake was inferior to NCSU up front last year but was able to beat the pack in Winston-Salem anyway.

They have a veteran QB, a good system, and enough skill talent to create problems for Clemson. Their defense, however, got lit up by the worst Clemson offense in the last 20 years a season ago, and the Tigers are better on offense this season.

Clemson 42 Wake Forest 24