There is a reason why Dabo Swinney is so high on Wake Forest – he likes the way the players have bought in.
In other words, Swinney sees an opponent on tape who plays hard, is coached well and plays the game of football the way it is supposed to be played. There are no shortcuts, and that is why the Demon Deacons have won four or their first five games to start the 2017 season.
It’s also why Swinney believes his second-ranked Clemson team will have to play one of its better games to beat Wake Forest when the two squads meet up today in Death Valley for a noon kickoff.
“I see heart. I see passion. I see toughness, and I see really, really good coaching,” Swinney said. “All of those things are on display when you watch these tapes of Wake Forest. This is year-four for Coach (Dave) Clawson, and man, he’s done a heck of a job. They’ve got a football team that believes.”
Wake Forest (4-1, 1-1 ACC) has a football that believes it can come into Clemson and still a victory in front of the Tigers’ homecoming crowd.
“They’ve got a football team that’s very precise with what they do,” Swinney said. “They know what they’re doing and are incredibly well coached. But what I love more than anything is that you can see the buy-in from the players.”
The Demon Deacons have a balanced offense led by quarterback John Wolford, who is fourth in the ACC in passing efficiency with a 152.1 rating. Wide receiver Greg Dortch is his favorite target and is sixth in the ACC in both receptions and receptions yards, and second in touchdown catches with five.
Wake Forest is balanced on offense with 192 yards a game on the ground and 226 through the air.
“They know who they are and how they want to do things and this is as experienced a team as we’re going to play,” Swinney said. “They’ve got 10 starters back on defense and nine back on offense, led by a quarterback that is a winner. This is a guy who’s tough, very similar to last week as far as presentations and style of play.
“But this guy is a senior. He’s very accurate. He’s smart. He’s just a great leader for them. They play tough up front. They’ve got a great scheme, so we’re going to be challenged, and we’ve got to play well.”
On defense, Wake Forest is tied for second in the ACC in scoring, allowing 14.4 points per game. They are also second in the league in pass efficiency defense at 97.5 rating points, just ahead of Clemson’s 101.8. The top tackler is safety Jessie Bates with 39, while defensive end Duke Ejiofor is second in the league in tackles for loss with 10.5.
“They really create some problems with their style of play,” Swinney said. “They’re good tacklers. This is an outstanding secondary. They’ve got more depth than Virginia Tech up front…way more depth. This is a very talented defensive line, and these two safeties (Bates, Cameron Glenn) are special players.
“The corners (Essang Bassey and Amari Henderson) do a great job with their technique. You just have to out-execute these guys. They’re not going to make many mistakes. They’re not going to be out of position very often… If you don’t match their precision and the intensity that they play with, this is a team that’ll beat you.”
Clemson (5-0, 3-0 ACC) has won eight straight over the Demon Deacons overall and eight straight in Death Valley dating back to 1998. In fact, since 1963, the Tigers are 26-2 against Wake Forest at Memorial Stadium. But none of that will matter on Saturday.
Why? Because this isn’t your father’s or even your grandfather’s Demon Deacons.
“It’s going to be a battle this weekend … absolutely the biggest game of the year,” Swinney said. “What I’m looking forward to on our team is maturity. I’m looking for a team that will match that intensity. Match that precision. Match that discipline and heart … because that’s what it’s going to take.
“This is a Wake Forest team that’s going to win a bunch of games this year. Mark it down. If they stay healthy, they’re going to win a bunch of games. They’re going to be a tough out for everybody. I’m very impressed with this team and how they play, how they complement each other.”
Most importantly, he’s impressed with how well they bought in.