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Wake Forest Game Review: Position Group Ratings

A win is a win as Dabo Swinney ties Coach Howard on the Clemson All-Time wins list with a victory over Wake Forest 17-12 on Saturday.

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

Hello, folks! There was not a lot of pretty as the Tigers beat Wake Forest 17-12 on Saturday in Death Valley, but we can still be happy with a win, right? Right?! We are going to take a look at each position group and rate their performance 1-10. Let’s get into it and leave your thoughts in the comment section!

Quarterback - 6

Klubnik did not have a gaudy stat line as he struggled against the Wake Forest defense on Saturday. He finished 18 of 28 for 131 yards and no touchdowns through the air but did provide 48 yards on the ground and a touchdown. His ability to make the right read on RPOs was not very good—considering he gets it wrong virtually every time. His one right decision to keep it ended in a fumble, gifting Wake Forest the ball on the 5 yard line. A couple of missed throws and no big plays in the pass game combined with a couple of good plays made with his legs earns a 6 on the day.

Running Backs - 8

The running backs took a while to get going on Saturday, which I believe is partially due to the offensive line. However, this group did deliver as the game progressed, and Shipley appeared to recapture his confidence, finishing with 97 yards on 19 carries (5.1 yds/rush). Junior Phil Mafah garnered 63 yards on 9 carries. In the second half, Shipley was able to collect 86 yards and provide some big plays to give the Tigers their only second-half touchdown. The backs carried the Tiger offense on Saturday and deserve an honest 8.

Wide Receivers - 6

The wide receiver corps were not able to feast against the Wake Forest secondary and break loose for any explosive plays on Saturday. This group has been relying on Tyler Brown for his big-play ability the last couple of games and was not able to reproduce — catching 3 balls for 22 yards. Junior Beaux Collins did make some tough catches in the boundary, and I thought he was the bright spot on the day with 5 grabs for 50 yards. Adam Randall was not spotted, and Hamp Greene was regrettably a target in big moments late in the game. Unfortunately, this group took a step back from recent performances on Saturday.

Tight Ends - 4

One word: disappointment. Production has been a problem for the tight ends this season. Junior Jake Briningstool did have 5 catches for 30 yards on Saturday, but in his biggest moment in the game on a 3rd down in the 4th quarter, he dropped a simple out-pass that was looking to be a definite first down. I want to see more from this group, especially Briningstool, who seems to be falling short of his potential. He has a big frame but does not play as physical as he could be. I wouldn’t be mad if Sage Ennis started to get more reps — he would at least provide the physicality that’s been missing.

Offensive Line - 7

Some takes are circulating on the web that the O-line was a weak spot in the team on Saturday, and I may have agreed immediately after the game. But after rewatching, I thought this group looked better as the game progressed. The first couple of drives were bad, I agree. The GT counter was slow as the guards and tackles pulled, and the Wake D-line was creating immediate pressure in the backfield. Once both freshmen Harris Sewell entered the game at right guard and Collin Sadler at left tackle, I thought this group found some rhythm. Essentially every drive in the second half started with a GT counter that went for a minimum of 10 yards. This group did not give up a sack on the day, and we had our best yards per carry since the FAU game. Overall, a relatively positive performance from this group that can be built on.

Offense - 6.2

The offense did not have a productive performance on Saturday with 338 total yards — their lowest yardage total of the season. They did not get off to a fast start either. The first three dives of the game ended in 3-and-outs, and one resulted in a oh-so-familiar turnover, a fumble giving Wake the ball in their red zone. Klubnik missed a couple of throws and his decision-making in the RPO game really killed any chance for early momentum.

The advanced analytics from showed that we had our worst passing performance of the season on Saturday with a - 0.145 predicted points added on passing plays. The explosiveness was really limited as well with no successful deep shots all day. As I mentioned previously, I thought the run game worked really well in the second half, which can be illustrated by our 59.5% offensive success rate in that half alone.

Overall, Saturday’s performance was a step backwards from what we have seen in recent weeks out of this group. Klubnik’s decision making still needs to improve, and our receiving corps is still showing some signs of inconsistency. The lack of connections down the field in the passing game and mistakes in the screen game was frustrating to see. Hopefully, we’ll use the upcoming BYE week to iron out any wrinkles and get healthy for a big trip to Miami.

Defensive Line - 9

The defensive line over the past couple of games has put in some quality performances. You kind of forget about how much depth we have in the DT and DE positions. I thought Tyler Davis and Ruke Orhorhoro were dominant. Orhorhoro has two sacks in as many games the last couple of weeks. When Peter Woods and Payton Page come in, you do not even notice a drop off in play at the DT spot. TJ Parker added another sack to bring his tally up to 4 sacks on the year to lead the team as a freshman. This D-line as a whole made it very difficult for Wake to create any momentum all day.

Linebackers - 8

The linebackers continue to put together solid performances—as two preseason All-Americans should. I thought Trotter probably played his best game of the year as he continues to get stronger after playing through a hamstring injury. He looked a little faster and was putting pressure on Griffis all day, especially on 3rd downs when blitzes were usually called. He buried him in the ground a couple of times for good measure. Carter still plays fast and puts himself in good positions. If he could tackle better, he would probably lead the team in tackles. I saw him miss at least two or three against Wake. Woodaz came in and got two sacks in the SAM role against the “Sneakin’ Deacon.” Overall, a decent performance against a tricky opponent.

Cornerbacks - 9

The cornerbacks had a great game when you consider the opponent and the injuries this group has sustained. Starting cornerback Sheridan Jones became unavailable the day of the game due to headaches, and Nate Wiggins is currently out with an ankle injury. That left sophomores Toriano Pride and Jaedyn Lukus as the starters against the potent Wake wideouts Banks and Grimes. The two corners played great on the day, especially Pride who played physical and had some key pass break-ups. Additionally, they were able to limit the pass interference calls—something that killed us against Wake Forest last season. I was impressed with the two young corners on the day.

Safeties - 8

The safeties did well under the pressure of the Wake Forest offense. Griffis is responsible for watching the safeties to see if they bite on the delayed handoff or if they stay patient and keep the Wake receivers from having space deep. Much like the corners last year, this group was able to play a smarter game against Wake this year and not get burned or commit costly penalties. Khalil Barnes came in for Jalyn Phillips when he went out with injury and was able to force a fumble and continue to make an impact. Mukuba and Mickens both helped out in the run game as they tackled well against the stout Wake back Claiborne. Pleased with the safeties.

Defense - 8.5

The defense was dominant against a Wake Forest offense that was not as explosive as they were last year, but still offered a tricky challenge with the “Sneakin’ Deacon” delayed handoff. Historically, the Tigers have dominated this offense, especially in Death Valley where the defense is usually able to collapse the Wake pocket and stifle developing plays. On Saturday, the Tiger defense was able to use that same blueprint from years past and put pressure and big hits on Wake QB Mitch Griffis all game. The defense was able to create a defensive havoc play on 23.8% of Wake offensive plays. In the last two games, the defense is averaging 4.5 sacks per game.

Earlier this season, I have pointed out that this defense could improve on their success in keeping opponents from scoring TDs in the red zone. On Saturday, the defensive unit allowed only 1 touchdown on 5 Wake Forest trips to the red zone, which comes to 2.4 pts/att. If the defense can get stops deep in their own territory like Saturday, it can help shift momentum in games and create a winning formula.

Special Teams - 4

The special teams this season are … less than special. Johnathan Weitz made a 25-yard field goal but missed a 51-yarder. The kick had plenty of leg to be good, but he continues to miss just outside of the uprights. Tyler Brown had a rough day as the punt returner. He muffed one punt, which Wake recovered, and he was also indecisive on one return, which led to a risky decision to field it within Clemson’s own 5-yard line. Mistakes in this department seem to be the norm this season. Unacceptable. Aiden Swanson is the bright spot – averaged 43 yards per punt on Saturday and was able to pin Wake Forest inside the 20 twice.

Overall Team Performance - 6.8

The performance on Saturday was confusing considering this team had improved in every game so far this season and had just gone toe-to-toe with FSU and impressed in a road victory over Syracuse. The Tiger offense failed to find a rhythm that could facilitate a multiple scoring series. Since this was Dabo’s 165th victory as the Tigers’ head coach, linking him with legend Frank Howard, maybe he just wanted to put together a simplistic game plan that involved heavy defense and light offense to pay homage to Coach Howard. Nevertheless, this team did find a way to win and execute when they absolutely needed it.

This game was won on the backs of the running backs, offensive line and the defensive unit. I really like what I saw from the offensive line and the running backs in the second half, and I really hope they can recreate those types of performances against stiffer competition. Klubnik needs to work on RPO ability. That seems to be holding him and our offense back right now in some situations. Let’s use the BYE week to work out the kinks and come out looking like a more confident offensive unit in Miami in two weeks.

Coaching - 6

I thought there were some questionable coaching decisions made on Saturday. The Garrett Riley gameplan wasn’t bad, however I wished it had featured more deep shots. Whoever decided to throw Hamp Greene in during the second half because Tyler Brown dropped ONE screen pass needs to wake up. We threw our one big deep shot to our smallest and most inexperienced receiver who I am pretty sure ran the wrong route.

Also, the decision to put in Shelton Lewis at corner and Cade Denhoff in a crucial drive in the 4th was not smart. They both committed two costly penalties that gave Wake its first touchdown of the day with less than 5 minutes to go that cut the Tiger lead to 5, and potentially 3 had Wake made the 2-point conversion. Goodwin’s game plan throughout the game was well put together. The blitzes on third downs were key in keeping Wake from making big plays. There were some head-scratching decisions that prevented us from blowing the game open and keeping Wake from having hope.

Bonus Rating: Referees - 0

Shocking performance from the zebras on Saturday. You could list about a hundred things that were questionable, but the two roughing-the-passer calls were horrendous. As a defensive player, I am not sure it is even possible to avoid those two calls if that’s what constitutes a personal foul. I am glad the boo birds were out to let the refs hear it. Also, the fact that it took forever to reverse the Wake forward pass in the first quarter was terrible. The ACC refs continue to find new and creative ways to prove their ineptitude. Shocking.