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QT’s Take: Clemson Avoids Demonic Possession, Exorcises Demon Deacons

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Clemson Ken Ruinard-USA TODAY Sports

In my Syracuse recap, I got a little pushback on being too critical of Cade Klubnik and being too nit-picky. That may be true to a certain extent, but those same issues I pointed out reared their ugly heads in a very magnified way against Wake Forest.

Wake isn’t a good team and Clemson was favored by 21 points. Only putting up 17 felt like watching the same kind of painful Clemson football of the past two seasons—except this time Clemson already has two losses on the year. This is a team with the talent and ability to go undefeated the rest of the season but they also could go 8-4 or 7-5 if they play on offense like they did this past weekend.

Normally, I’d say a win is a win and just flush it for the bye week, but when you already have two losses that rings hollow. You have to correct the mistakes and the bye week gives this offense a chance to reset.

I am impressed with Garrett Riley. In his press conference today he said that too many times the offense was “playing with 10” and there is too much inconsistency. Unfortunately, that is from lots of players taking turns not knowing what to do rather than just one player. This inconsistency has continued to plague the team—and at some point it is on both players and coaches but really on position coaches to demand accountability (but accountability and consistency is harder to preach when you don’t have enough depth and talent to push starters or find guys who can be accountable—and putting in Hamp Greene is not the answer).

Case in point—it is 3rd-and-2 on the opening drive. It should be an easy run and conversion. Left side of the line pulls, but Shipley is met at the line of scrimmage and can only muster a one yard gain. What happened? There is a missed assignment here somewhere. You have a TE who runs ten yards forward to go block air and the LB he could’ve accounted for is left untouched. But it could be that RT Blake Miller is supposed to release his double team and get to the DE so Tate can get the LB (this doesn’t seem right because Miller and Mayes have the initial combo block on the DT that they do a good job of maintaining). Most likely Leigh is too slow and needs to either seal off the backside or get out to the LB. Shipley then is supposed to follow him on the inside if that backside defender is sealed to get 3-4 yards but that is a tough ask for Ship who needs to get up field. My point (and I know this is waaay too long a section)—someone messed up—playing 10 against 11.

Make no mistake—execution has long been a problem for the Clemson offense, but when you have Trevor Lawrence and ETN and #WRU, you can be wrong but still be right. This team doesn’t have that luxury.


  • Defense deserves credit. Wake is a funky scheme and tough to prepare for that slow mesh read. Wake gained too many yards and moved the ball too much but they turned the ball over too many times and the defense was able to land some literal body blows and sacks that knocked Wake out of field goal range.
  • The first running play of the second half, you have Sadler and Sewell running the same play outlined above (the 3rd-and-2 play) and they run it correctly and spring Shipley. It can be done!
  • We haven’t seen that confident level of play from CB Toriano Pride in quite some time. Good to see him step up and show that he can live up to his lofty recruiting profile. Jones had some headache/health issues and Pride got the start. He delivered.
  • Khalil Barnes plays hard and as a result makes plays—he forced the strip fumble when Wake was driving. Barnes now has 152 snaps this season—third most amongst freshman (the only players above him are Tyler Brown with 276 and TJ Parker with 195).
  • I thought Wade Woodaz attacked the edge of the offense really well. He was disruptive with 2 sacks. I’d like to see him on the field more but as Clemson has abandoned some of their 3 man fronts, Wade comes in only as the SAM and the base defense uses more of a Nickel (where you see Mukuba or Barnes on the field). Woodaz, though, doesn’t miss many tackles and plays with an edge. I’d like to see him take some of Carter’s snaps to be honest as an inside linebacker.
  • TJ Parker keeps showing that he needs to be on the field. Making a strong case that he is the best DE on the team.
  • I liked when Cade got into a rhythm with Collins. Nice 4th-and-5 conversion.
  • Cade used his legs more effectively this game. Better on designed runs and scrambled well for first downs.
  • Some of the punts were spectacular, some were very average or below average but it was nice to see a high booming kick flip the field position, which is important against a ball control team like Wake.


  • Clemson lost upfront at the line of scrimmage in the first half on offense. You have basic running plays and you need to execute them to stay on schedule. That is the second straight week that the O-line was not as physical as the D-line they were facing. Riley made adjustments at the half and they opened things up but it wasn’t good overall and certainly not dominate.
  • Mayes got replaced by Harris Sewell, which I am a fan of doing. Let the young pup that bites grow up. Unfortunately, on a 3rd-and-7 with Cade in the endzone—Sewell doesn’t pick up a stunt and Cade does a great job to get the ball away without taking a safety. More playing 10 against 11. Sewell had some good moments but made some key rookie mistakes.
  • Overall, the defense was really great up until the last disastrous drive that made it a one score game. Giving up 6 points to any team is a great day no matter the opponent but giving up a late TD, largely due to poor coaching and personnel usage, was frustrating. When you are only up two scores you can’t freely sub like that with players who aren’t ready. I like Shelton Lewis and think he has a great future but that was a poor PI and Denhoff clearly grabbing the facemask were penalties that can’t happen only up 11 and a score and onside kick away from potentially losing the game (or a 2 pt conversion and a long FG away from OT). Wes went to more prevent because Wake was going to air it out instead of keeping pressure, but the personnel decisions were just baffling. It was like coaches thought they were up three scores!
  • The only other major critique is that the tackling needs to be better. Way too many missed tackles from the LBs and Safeties, especially to start the game. This was one of BVs strengths—he really stressed those fundamentals of tackling. Alignment and assignment but also finishing plays with physicality. To start the game the defense was struggling to locate the ball carrier and finish plays. Carter misses way too many arm tackles. Mickens in supposed to be the slower, but instinctual safety who makes up for it by being physical (he missed an interception that was basically thrown to him). He misses too many tackle too.


  • You can’t fumble inside your 10 yard line. Catastrophe Cade ball that you just can’t have at this point in the season—simple mesh read that you can’t put on the ground (and you shouldn’t have to remove that play—QB and RB have to execute).
  • Another ball in jeopardy that should’ve been picked off from Cade that looked like the Cuse ball that was luckily dropped. This wasn’t a ball that was just a great play from the defense, it was a what in the world are you seeing and what in the world are we doing throw that should never happen at this level.
  • The 4th-and-goal play after the fumble there were two open Wake players from two busts in the coverage (RB out of the flat and WR on a short crossing route sitting in the back of the endzone). Luckily the QB couldn’t make a decent throw while trying to run—Clemson dodged an early bullet (Corner should’ve had RB or went with crosser, LB should’ve taken RB or went with WR or passed him off to Safety—NONE of those things happened, three players covering no one...).
  • Oh this officiating was highly questionable. Trotter got tagged with a personal foul for batting at a ball and barely grazing the QB when he came down—it wasn’t even a hit. It probably looked worse in real-time but the replay showed it was a barely a tap. Then he got another personal foul for a tackle and hit that was made while the QB was in the act of throwing the ball. I guess they didn’t like that Trotter completed the tackle to the ground but he had already jumped and was hitting the QB as he threw the ball and couldn’t release at that point. Hot garbage call. If you run the slow mesh—you put the QB in that kind of danger for those kinds of hits. Refs shouldn’t bail the ALWAYS complaining Dave Clawson out for his schematic decisions.
  • I hate putting this one but the punt return fumble was another game breaking turnover that can’t happen. Tyler Brown has been SOOO good this season that you need to just pick him up and roll with the good and the bad to a certain extent with a true freshman but Antonio Williams should take that roll back over. I also don’t think that blocking or pressuring or anything is really taught with punt coverage.
  • FG kicking is still a big...sigh...