WINSTON SALEM, N.C. — No. 4 Clemson defeated Wake Forest 35-13 on Saturday night at BB&T Field to clinch the ACC Atlantic division title. The Tigers improved to 10-1 (7-1 ACC), while the Demon Deacons dropped to 6-5 (3-5). Here is a look back at how Clemson earned the victory:
Led by Deshaun Watson and Wayne Gallman, Clemson’s offense scored on its first four possessions and rolled up 456 yards of offense. Watson completed 23 of 33 passes for 202 yards and a passing touchdown while rushing for two more scores. Meanwhile, Gallman recorded 161 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries. It was Gallman’s 16th career 100-yard rushing game, which broke Clemson’s school record previously held by Raymond Priester. Mike Williams added six catches for 58 yards and a touchdown to put him over 1,000 yards receiving for the season. Williams joined Rod Gardner and Sammy Watkins as the only receivers in Clemson history to post two 1,000-yard seasons during their careers.
A week after allowing 464 yards and a season-high 43 points, Clemson’s defense bounced back with a fine performance, limiting Wake Forest to just 197 total yards, 126 passing yards and 71 rushing yards. The Tigers notched four sacks and eight tackles for loss, paced by linebacker Kendall Joseph’s seven tackles, 1.5 sacks and two tackles for loss.
What went right?
A week after rushing for 50 yards on 25 carries against Pittsburgh, Clemson got back on track on the ground. The Tigers rushed for 254 yards on 42 totes, led Gallman and Watson, who combined for 208 yards and four touchdowns.
Also, after turning the ball over three times and failing to capitalize on opportunities in the red zone against Pitt, Clemson’s offense didn’t commit a turnover and was a perfect 4-for-4 in the red zone.
In addition, Clemson held Wake Forest to a 2-of-15 clip on third downs, including a third-and-goal stop midway through the third quarter with Wake in position to cut its deficit to 11 points. Instead of scoring a touchdown, the Demon Deacons had to settle for a field goal that made it 28-13. Meanwhile, Clemson’s offense went 7-of-15 on third downs.
What went wrong?
After Clemson scored four touchdowns on its first four possessions of the game to take a 28-0 lead early in the second quarter, Ray-Ray McCloud muffed his second punt of the game, and Wake Forest recovered the ball at Clemson’s 24-yard line before kicking a field goal that slowed Clemson’s momentum. Wake Forest then proceeded to stop Clemson on its next possession and score a touchdown before halftime to make the score 28-10 at the break.
And after Clemson jumped out to a 28-0 lead, Clemson lapsed some on both sides of the ball. Clemson’s offense didn’t score again until the fourth quarter, while McCloud’s error and a few big plays allowed defensively — including a 42-yard reception by Wake tight end Cam Serigne that set up the team’s only touchdown — let Wake back into the game.
However, Clemson’s defense buckled down and the offense essentially closed out the game with a 1-yard touchdown run by Gallman early in the fourth quarter that put Clemson ahead 35-13.
After Clemson’s offense couldn’t convert a critical fourth and 1 late in the loss to Pitt, Clemson converted a big fourth down on its first possession of the game at Wake. On fourth and 1 from Wake’s 42-yard line, Gallman burst through a hole up the middle and raced to the end zone untouched to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead. It provided early confidence for the Tigers, who went on to score touchdowns on their next three possessions in gaining a comfortable early lead.