Clemson looks to build on last week’s road win at Syracuse with a home win against Wake Forest before their open date. To help us preview the contest, we connected with Robert Reinhard, a friend of the blog and the former managing editor of the Wake Forest SB Nation site. You can follow him on X here.
Ryan Kantor: Wake Forest is 3-1, but their only P5 win came against Vanderbilt and they nearly lost to Old Dominion. The Deacon’s one loss came against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets who just lost handily to Bowling Green in Atlanta. Given all that, I think it is fair to suggest this year’s Wake Forest team doesn’t seem as good as usual. Is it as simple as missing ACC Passing TD record-holder Sam Hartman or is there more to the story?
Robert Reinhard: I would agree that this is probably Wake’s worst team since 2015, though I may end up being wrong about that. Losing Hartman obviously hurts, as he’s one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Wake has actually had very strong quarterback play overall during Clawson’s tenure. It started with John Wolford who took some time to develop, but is still on NFL rosters five years after graduating. There was also Jamie Newman, who was a high performing dual-threat quarterback for the Deacs. He was so highly regarded that Kirby Smart convinced him to transfer to Georgia (a decent program). Then obviously Hartman.
Thus far, quarterback Mitch Griffis is not playing at near the level that those guys played. He turns it over at a much higher rate and doesn’t process the field as fast. So part of it is a big drop off at quarterback, but Wake’s offensive line lost multiple starters. Additionally, Wake lost All-ACC performer in wideout AT Perry, as well as tight end Blake Whitehart, who currently plays for the Arizona Cardinals.
Defensively, we’re probably better overall in year 2 of defensive coordinator Brad Lambert’s system. Wake seems better down-to-down, but has been very susceptible to giving up explosive plays.
Kantor: What is the biggest area (on offense or defense) where Clemson can exploit Wake Forest?
Reinhard: I think it would definitely be the Clemson pass rush getting after our quarterback, Mitch Griffis. During the 2022 season, which included a 13th game because of a bowl berth and victory over Missouri, Wake Forest allowed 32 sacks, which is about 2.5 per game. This year Wake has already allowed 16 sacks, or 4 per game. This is with one of the four games being against an FCS opponent. Wake allowed a whopping 8 sacks in the Georgia Tech game, and the Yellow Jackets entered the game with an extremely lackluster pass rush. The offensive line has been getting beat way too easily, and our tight end is not known for his pass blocking, but Mitch Griffis has also struggled holding on to the ball for too long. He needs to process the game faster. I’m hoping that Wake adjusts its gameplan going forward so that the plays develop faster and doesn’t require the line to block for as long.
Kantor: Conversely, what is the biggest area where Clemson fans should be worried that Wake Forest could exploit the Tigers?
Reinhard: Wake has a lot of talent at the offensive skill positions, specifically at wideout. Jahmal Banks is a total stud on the perimeter. He is coming off 9 touchdowns last year and he will go up and win battles for the ball. Opposite of him is sophomore Wesley Grimes who was highly touted coming out of high school and is having a breakout sophomore campaign. In the middle, Wake brings great experience with Taylor Morin and Ke’Shawn Williams. If we can manage to get them the ball, then they’ll make plays.
Kantor: I don’t necessarily believe them, but there are rumors swirling that Clemson could announce their departure from the ACC before the end of October. Clemson really has to take any action they can to get out of the ACC before conferences start sharing TV revenue with players and they’re left behind. As a Wake fan, how do you make sense of it all?
Reinhard: As a Wake fan I’m glad that the ACC is of a certain size now where Clemson and FSU can leave and ESPN still can’t renegotiate the TV deal for a while, at least that’s my understanding. That’s why I was so glad about adding Cal, Stanford, and SMU. As far as conference realignment it’s all clearly a cash grab. I wish it was all just football specific since that’s what’s driving the TV contracts. Let’s not go around overcomplicating all of the other sports, especially ones with smaller travel budgets.
If schools want to go chase the money that’s fine, but I hope they’re also being honest with themselves and recognizing that they’re going to lose more games. Would I want to trade places with Vanderbilt even though they get bigger TV checks? Absolutely not. I think if you’re a Clemson or an FSU that you may very well have a better path to the soon to be expanded CFP even if your revenue isn’t the same. Those two programs will still get phenomenal players in the ACC.
Kantor: Wake Forest is coming off an open date, giving them a chance to rest and focus on Clemson for a while longer. Does that give them enough of a boost to break their losing streak against Clemson? How do you see this contest playing out?
Reinhard: I don’t think so. Wake had their shot last year, but couldn’t quite close in the 51-45 double-OT thriller. We’re coming off back-to-back games where we’ve trailed by 17 points at halftime against inferior opponents. Granted they completed the comeback against Old Dominion and had a chance late to tie GT, but I just do not see how Wake keeps this competitive. Wake’s defense has been opportunistic in forcing turnovers this year, so perhaps they could keep it a game for a while if they can score a defensive touchdown, but I like Clemson to win big. Clemson opened -20.5 and I’d definitely expect Clemson to cover that spread.