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QT’s Take: Wake’s Good, Bad, and very very Ugly

NCAA Football: Clemson at Wake Forest
Anderson Independent Mail-USA TODAY Sports

That was an absolute adventure. Pondering after the game, the main question for the Clemson football team is knowing how good of an opponent Wake Forest really is and what to expect moving into the most challenging game remaining on the schedule.

On offense, Wake has a good offensive line, a QB who can sling it when he is on, and some depth at WR. But that same group had struggled to score points against Liberty (some of that can be attributed to Hartman knocking off the rust). Wake’s WR talent is not off the charts, though, and they definitely aren’t burners. The scheme is difficult with the slow mesh, but others have managed it much better than what we saw.

On defense, Wake was depleted in the secondary—down four contributors. Their Dline is not as talented as they have been in the past. The offense should’ve been able to move the ball with ease. Has the offense matured and taken the next step, or were they feasting on suspect defense? Probably a bit of both. NC State will be the real test.

But let's focus on some good things because they did exist.


  • I told everyone to slow their roll on Cade. DJ delivered. This was that Notre Dame level performance. And again, he got down and didn’t panic and LED the team to a victory. He ran for first downs (he loves that dead leg juke and didn’t turn the ball over. He started 7-7 and helped set the tone for the game.
  • The two point conversion (a GREAT decision by Dabo) was crucial to winning the game, and he made the throw on one leg. Are all the questions answered?? No, because he needs to go and do that same thing against a veteran defense like NC State, and there are plenty of wrinkles to iron out, but this was a stellar performance that we didn’t see last season.
  • One of the most important parts of the game was the Oline holding up in pass protection. It is obvious that DJ needs time in the pocket and needs to feel confident—needs to feel like he can step up and deliver. The Wake Dline isn’t great, but Clemson handled them in pass pro. Blitz pickup is still rough (both Oline passing off assignments, RBs picking up the right player, and DJ calling it out pre-snap more fully), but pass pro was so important to this win. More weapons for DJ and better pass pro are part of the DJ formula for success.
  • TE’s used as weapons, especially in the redzone! A few times DJ threw it up and told Allen to make a play—and he did! Allen and Briningstool are weapons that must be utilized. OH AND USED OVER THE MIDDLE OF THE FIELD. Wake played a lot of zone and dropped extra men into coverage, and we still attacked the middle.
  • Shipley powered that TD when he should have been down. He plays hard—gotta respect that drive. I liked feeding Shipley early. Good strategy to get him involved early and make the defense respect the run to open up the pass. He missed some holes later in the game but that TD was special.
  • Huge third down and long conversions. Not something you want to make a living off of but DJ and the offense were able to produce explosive plays and convert on third down. The third and 21 conversion to Briningstool, the 3rd and 9 conversion to EJ Williams (good to see him have a catch) are what the offense needs to generate regularly on earlier downs. None bigger than the 3rd and 6 to Beaux in the endzone. Can’t do it any better than that pass.
  • DJ’s fade ball to A. Williams over the outside shoulder was a thing of football beauty. A. Williams just looks different—gets upfield, yards after contact, contested catches. Breath of fresh air.
  • Ngata showed up throughout the game and showed some needed toughness. Big contested catches down the field.
  • BT POTTER. Again—automatic for the people. That FG was crucial. If he misses, then Wake likely is able to bleed the clock dry or come much closer.
  • I tweeted how much I HATED, and I mean HATED seeing Drew Swinney get exposed on special teams. More of that is coming and needs to be self-scouted (punt return and punt coverage especially), but the move to bring in A. Williams to almost break off the TD and get it around midfield was a big boost for the offense. Credit to Dabo and the coaching staff for making that in-game adjustment. I know we don’t want A. Williams to get hurt, but he would be my top punt returner in big games. Taylor just doesn’t have the burst or the vision.
  • I didn’t love the Safety play but T-bone had some good plays, particularly rushing the passer from the Safety.
  • The D struggled, but they got the stop at the end of the 4th Q, and they got the stop to win the game.
  • Tyler Davis was making some plays. His presence is going to be needed next week.
  • Prayers and well wishes to the Bresee family. Couldn’t help but get emotional seeing Bryan bat the ball down and help win the game—seeing the reaction from his family. #EllaStrong


  • Watching the game again—the Dline was having trouble getting off blocks, getting push, and playing with gap integrity. When we did get to the QB, we would often not finish the play. You want to contain, but not to play tentative. Too much late push—don’t skip leg day.
  • Showing the Yankees. Bleh.
  • LBs also haven’t been playing with enough gap discipline. I love Simpson as a player, but he has struggled with his responsibilities at times. He is supremely talented, however, he caused a fumble and played well in coverage at times. He just needs to be consistent.
  • Shipley got tackled from behind by his high school teammate. I want to see that burst take him to the endzone.
  • I thought there were some questionable calls on Clemson early. The Williams holding call, and the Randall offensive PI (that was a sell job from the CB who got beat in press coverage) were questionable at best. The first PI on Pride was also weak sauce—there was a grab, but still...and the call of the defenseless player hit on Pride was rubbish. Zero holding calls. Bad ACC ref’
  • The constant use of QB power in the red zone is a bit predictable.
  • Oline has to do better on communicating and passing off stunts. If we clean up some of the blitz pickup—huge plays are there for the taking.


  • That was such bad punting. Not great punt protection either. Dave D is going to attack. Those 36, 37 yard duds put me right back in the Tommy Bowden era of awesomely bad punting.
  • Let’s talk Secondary. It was bad all around—no need to sugar coat. Fred Davis gets beat twice—badly—to start the difficulties. On third and one Davis lets the receiver get behind him and on the touchdown, Phillips doesn’t have the speed to recover as Davis gets beat over the top again. Don’t need to go into every single PI and bad play but the recipe is the same. WRs—who are not speedsters by any stretch—getting behind DBs consistently in man coverage, and Safeties not having enough speed or talent to get over and help. CB not getting any jams at the line and then panicking with the ball in the air (not even close to turning their heads and playing the ball). One of the staples of Venables defenses was letting at least one CB live largely on an island. The D is going to be very vanilla if CBs consistently need help over the top.
  • Pride got beat by Banks but at least was competitive on the plays.
  • It wasn’t just the secondary—the LBs also struggled in coverage as the game wore on. Carter didn’t have as good a day and
  • Wes didn’t want to adjust. Last year BV’s played a good bit of bear coverage/looks (5 men on the Dline) to contain the run and force Hartman to win with down-the-field shots. They got a bunch of yards but also a good bit of three and outs. You contain, get some tackles for loss, and live with a few shots won by Wake WRs. This year our personnel didn’t win. This is a bump in the road that I said would happen—do you stick with your gameplan or go to more two high Safety coverage? To Wes’s credit, when they did switch Wake starting slowly moving down the field in the slow mesh run game. It was a pick-your-poison situation (and largely a personnel problem).
  • You need Mukuba back more than anyone on the defense. Safety play has been very average (not enough speed) and the corners a mess—so having him step in at Safety or Nickel or even corner will be an upgrade. Greene is also a better alternative at many spots if he is healthy.
  • Wiggins completely lost his cool. He ripped Hartman’s helmet off on a play out of frustration (wasn’t even close to the ball) that should’ve been an automatic personal foul that would’ve given Wake an easy first down. He can’t let that happen again. Refs will be watching him even more now since that call was missed (it is the kind of play that refs circulate). He got picked on and didn’t produce.
  • Bust in overtime. Looks like Phillips should’ve taken the inside man or Simpson was supposed to follow his guy—probably Phillips at fault here. Regardless, huge bust.

Ok. Enough words—bottom-line, the team has to grow up in the secondary to contain NC State (or Mukuba and Greene gotta get healthy). The offense is going to be tested by the veteran NC State defense. Points can be scored, but you have to earn them. At home, night game in the Valley, and the team having this one circled all year—I like Clemson’s chances.