Welcome back my friends. For the first time this season I’m excited about a Clemson football game. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been excited to watch Clemson play the first three weeks of the season, but I wasn’t excited about the game, because the outcome was a foregone conclusion. Georgia Tech, Furman, and La Tech weren’t going to knock off the Tigers. I commend them for their efforts, but every player on the opposing team with two brain cells to rub together knew they were taking a loss before they put on their pads. This game is different...in some ways.
Let’s get after it!
I’m not going to lie to y’all. I’m proud of Wake Forest. Dave Clawson has put together a nice little program up in Winston-Salem, and he’s done it the right way. Clawson came in, suffered through a few lean years, built up his program through hard work, determination, and finding guys that fit into their system. They run a creative, exciting offense, unlike any other (that I know of) in college football. The “slow mesh” is one of the wildest concepts you’ll see on Saturday afternoon. Over the last 9 seasons, Wake Forest has built a program our delusional second cousins in Columbia (every family tree has some rotten branches) dream of, but never achieve, while spending a quarter of the money and talking less trash. They are truly a college football success story.
They’re a team full of underdogs like McClellanville, South Carolina native Sam Hartman. Sam’s only P5 offer was from Wake. His other options were Charlotte and Elon. While the bird flu infested fowl from the mid-state grind through 4* and 5* quarterbacks on a yearly basis, all Sam Hartman does is play winning football. Over the course of his five years at Wake he’s thrown for 9,891 yards and 79 touchdowns. To put that in perspective (and since I’m dragging the Gamecocks in this section) if you add up the passing yards, touchdowns, and interceptions of Spencer Rattler, Luke Doty, Ryan Hillinski, Dak Joyner, Collin Hill, Jason Brown, and Zeb Noland (USCe’s last 7 starting quarterbacks) in a South Carolina uniform, you end up 7,861 yards and 43 touchdowns. I’m sure he’s had a few offers to dump Wake and play for a middle-of-the-road SEC team flush with cash and lacking ethics, but he’s stayed the course, and will go down as a Wake Forest and ACC legend. I can’t hate on Sam, in fact, I’ll cheer for Sam in every other game of the season, just not Saturday.
They’ve got a receiver named A.T. Perry that I’m sure you’ll notice. Dude is a 6’5”, 200 pound giant at receiver out of Lake Worth, Florida. He didn’t receive a single offer from a Florida school, not even a directional Florida school. He decided on Wake and last year he put up 1,293 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns while averaging 18.5 yards a catch. I’m sure a few of those Florida schools slid into his DMs during the off-season, inquiring how much it would take to secure his services, but Perry stayed with the team that showed faith in him initially. I appreciate the loyalty.
The problem for Wake tomorrow is that none of it will matter. Not Hartman’s golden arm, not Perry’s extendo-arms, not Dave Clawson’s redemption story, not the slow mesh....none of it will make a difference. Friends, this game isn’t about Wake Forest. They’re a team in the wrong place, at the wrong time in college football history. The fuse is lit on this Clemson team. You’re going to see over a year’s worth of frustration released on Demon Deacons.
The Fuse is Lit
I’m not going to lie, being a Clemson fan has been tough starting with the Georgia game last season. The team has been decimated by injuries, they’ve lost to a second rate program in Pitt and a 3rd rate (at best) program in NC State. The offense has been tough to watch, and while the defense has held their own for the most part, they’ve struggled more than we’re accustomed. We’ve seen the defection of three coaches, several recruits, and have lost players to the portal. Proud Clemson fans suffered the indignity of supporting a team that only managed to win 10 games in a season. Granted our most hated rivals from Columbia have only managed to win 10 or more games 4 times in 115 seasons, but I find no solace in comparing an elite program like Clemson to one of the worst outfits in college football history.
The Georgia Tech game didn’t give me much hope. The offense sputtered and the defense couldn’t defend the screen. Beating Tech by 31 points is a loss in my book. The Furman game wasn’t much better. The Tigers put in another lackluster performance on offense, and the defense gave up 12 points to the Paladins. If “best is the standard” at Clemson, the first two games fell short of that mark.
The Louisiana Tech game, on the other hand, restored my confidence. This is the game we’re going to point to at the end of the season as the turning point. For the first time since Trevor and Travis left, the offense caught my attention. DJ Uiagalelei delivered seemingly effortless Tahj Boyd-esque deep balls, and the receivers actually caught them. Will Shipley ran like a man possessed. Dare I say the offensive line looked...serviceable. I know La Tech isn’t a good team, but the Tigers couldn’t execute against air last season.
What caught my attention more than anything happened after Dabo (inexplicably in my humble opinion) pulled DJ for Cade towards the end of the 3rd quarter. The offense went in the tank, La Tech made a little run, and then DJ came back in the game and cooled everything down like a seasoned vet. He looked like the quarterback I thought we were getting last season. When he completed the 18-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Williams, I knew the Wake Forest game was also a wrap. In fact, that single touchdown pass restored every bit of confidence I’d lost in the offense.
The fuse is lit folks, and this Clemson team is about to explode. The young receivers look deserving of the WRU designation and we’ve only seen a glimpse of what Adam Randall can do. The running game looks explosive. The play calling was more aggressive overall. The defense struggled, but they struggled in the absence of 5 starters (which quickly turned into 6 starters after Jones went down early). I like the fact that the young guys on defense got bloodied up a little. They’ve dominated every level of football they’ve ever played, and Saturday was a nice little wake up call for some guys in the secondary. I’m sure the film session on Monday elucidated the fact that just being an elite athlete isn’t going to cut it at this level of football. I have no doubts that the Clemson defense will be fine, both this season, and in the future.
There Will Be Blood
This is the most excited I’ve been for a Clemson game in a long while. I feel bad for Wake, I like their players, and I like their program, but they’re about to run into a Clemson buzz-saw and I don’t think they’re prepared. If Dabo’s sly smile at his mid-week presser is any indication, XT will be back this week, and he’s about to set the college football world, and opposing quarterbacks, on fire. Bryan Bresee will be back from an unfathomable tragedy, and ready to work some things out on the Wake offensive line. Tyler Davis returns to plug up the middle of the defense. There are only five offensive linemen, you can only double so many guys, and the entire Clemson front will demand a double team tomorrow. This thing could get ugly for Sam and the boys. You can’t complete many passes flat on your back, and that’s where Hartman is going to spend most of the day.
While the thought of the D-line terrorizing the quarterback gives me heart palpitations, it’s the offense that is getting my juices flowing. DJ is my guy now. The dude has dealt with some dark stuff. At times last season, it looked like the last place in the world he wanted to be was on the football field. I give him a ton of credit for sticking it out through injury last season. At any point he could have pulled the plug with a busted knee and a busted finger on his throwing hand, but he stuck it out for the good of the team. I saw a confident and comfortable DJ last Saturday.
Folks, the dude who set the record for passing yards by a road quarterback at Notre Dame didn’t forget how to play football. The DJ I saw against LA Tech is the best version of DJ I’ve seen since the Notre Dame game. His delivery looked silky smooth. He was decisive, powerful, and quick (a word I would not have associated with him last season) in the quarterback run game. He looked comfortable with his receivers for the first time since Cornell Powell left campus. Clemson is going to go off tomorrow, and it’s going to be because DJ Uaiagalelei plays up to the elite standard we’ve come to expect from a Clemson quarterback. Once that happens, there is no looking back.
Get your popcorn ready folks. You’re in for a show tomorrow afternoon.
I’ll be back next week. I’ve got some things I need to say about NC State.