In 2022, Wake Forest and Clemson played a shootout that ended with a narrow Tiger victory. It was the latest chapter in a Clemson winning streak over the Demon Deacons and the Tigers were expected to continue that streak on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Clemson was a 21-point favorite for the Homecoming contest but failed to pull away from Wake Forest, struggling all afternoon to find any offensive rhythm. The defense played well and the offense ultimately did just enough to lift the Tigers to a 17-12 victory to improve to 4-2 on the season. What were some of the key plays that shaped the outcome?
Defensive Goal-Line Stop
On Clemson’s second drive of the contest, Cade Klubnik and Will Shipley miscommunicated on a read option handoff. It was second down at the Clemson nine-yard line and Klubnik fumbled the ball, resulting in a Wake Forest possession inside the ten-yard line. The Demon Deacons got the ball to the two-yard line on second and goal but a pair of Mitch Griffis passes fell incomplete on third and fourth down to keep the game scoreless.
Demon Deacons Strike First
More offensive ineptitude from Clemson handed Wake Forest possession inside of Tiger territory for the second time. The Demon Deacons began at the Clemson 45-yard line and Mitch Griffis found rare success with a 23-yard completion. A couple of runs advanced the ball inside the ten-yard line but a Ruke Orhorhoro sack on third down forced a 35-yard field goal that gave Wake Forest the 3-0 advantage after one quarter of play.
Trailing 3-0, Clemson embarked on a lengthy drive that ended up chewing more than seven minutes off the clock. The Tigers offense went sixteen plays and the longest gain was a 16-yard completion to Beaux Collins to move into Wake Forest territory. Klubnik scored on first and goal as he kept the ball on a read option play and waltzed in untouched for the seven-yard touchdown to give Clemson a lead that it would not relinquish.
Mickens Recovers Fumble
A poor punt from Aidan Swanson set Wake Forest up (again) with great field position and the Demon Deacons had a first down on an 18-yard completion to Wesley Grimes. Grimes was hit on the play by Khalil Barnes and the ball was ripped loose and recovered by Clemson’s R.J. Mickens at the 23-yard line. Mickens returned it 15 yards to give the Clemson’s offense the ball back.
Special Teams Miscue
After forcing a Wake Forest three and out, Clemson was getting the ball back with less than three minutes remaining in the first half. It presented an opportunity to score at the end of the half and then open the second half with possession. However, a 48-yard punt was muffed by Tyler Brown and pounced on by the Wake Forest coverage team. The Demon Deacons had the ball at the Clemson 31-yard line. Yet again, the defense was put in a bad spot and yet again, they stood tall. Wake Forest got one first down but was stymied and forced into a field goal attempt. The 39-yard attempt sailed wide as time expired in the first half, ending a dreadful thirty minutes for the Clemson offense with the score 7-3.
Long Drive to Start Second Half
Clemson got the ball to begin the second half and went on another long drive. Will Shipley began the possession with two long gains (21 and 12) on the ground but the attack sputtered inside the red zone and Clemson was forced to attempt a 25-yard field goal. Jonathan Weitz connected to give the Tigers a 10-3 advantage. The drive went 15 plays and churned 7:45 off the clock.
Roughing the Passer?!?
The Demon Deacons went on a lengthy drive of their own but the memorable part of the possession was a dreadful penalty call that gifted the Demon Deacons points. WF was at the Clemson 39-yard line but faced a third and 14. Jeremiah Trotter pressured Mitch Griffis and forced an incompletion, hitting Griffis as he threw the ball. As Clemson fans cheered the stop, a flag was thrown. The call was roughing the passer and the Tigers sideline went berserk. Video replay showed that Griffis jumped while attempting to get the pass off. As a result, he fell to the ground. Griffis was not driven into the dirt by Trotter Jr. and the hit occurred nearly simultaneously with the quarterback throwing the ball. Boos rained down in Death Valley but the defense refocused and held Wake Forest to a 22-yard field goal that cut the deficit to 10-6 as the third quarter ended.
Will Shipley For The Win
With 9:34 remaining in the game and Clemson ahead 10-6, the Tigers began a drive at the 39-yard line. Will Shipley carried the ball five times and gained 33 yards, including a one-yard plunge up the middle into the end zone to put Clemson ahead 17-6. The drive was eight plays and lasted 3:45, leaving Wake Forest just 5:49 to make up an 11-point deficit.
Too Little, Too Late
Wake Forest finally found the end zone but it took them more than four minutes to drive 75 yards as they were aided by two 15-yard penalties (one pass interference and one facemask penalty) on Clemson. The Demon Deacons went for a two-point conversion with 1:34 remaining but Mitch Griffis’ pass to the end zone was caught out of bounds, leaving the score at 17-12. Wake Forest attempted an onside kick that was recovered by the Tigers. The Demon Deacons still had three timeouts remaining but Phil Mafah gained 33 yards on four carries to extinguish any hopes of a miracle comeback for Wake Forest. He could have had more but wisely slid down after securing a first down instead of risking a fumble by trying to find the end zone.
The second half was much better from the offense, particularly the rushing attack. Clemson ultimately ran the ball for 84 yards in the fourth quarter and 83 yards in the third quarter for a total of 167 on the ground in the second half. There were changes along the offensive line at halftime as Harris Sewell, the freshman from Texas, came in and appeared to provide a real spark. The passing game was just a little bit off all game and the bye week comes at a good time as the offense has a whole lot to figure out for the second half of the season.