With the ACC’s Atlantic Division Championship on the line, No. 4 Clemson travels to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest. A win will give the Tigers a share of the Atlantic Division title with Louisville as well as the automatic berth in next month’s ACC Championship Game.
A loss a Louisville will be the outright champion of the division and will advance to the ACC Championship Game.
Who has the edge in today’s 7 p.m. (ESPN) kick from BB&T Field? Here are the matchups to watch in today’s game.
Clemson’s offensive line vs. Wake’s defensive front: Clemson says left tackle Mitch Hyatt can play with his injured foot. The question is will he play? And if he does how close to 100 percent will he be? With true freshman Sean Pollard already starting at right tackle for a third straight game, the Tigers need Hyatt to help sure up the left side of its line. Hyatt’s injury played a huge part on why they did not run the ball more against Pitt. Wake Forest’s defensive front is led by defensive end Duke Ejiofor, who ranks third in the ACC with nine sacks. As a team, the Demon Deacons are third in the conference with 32. The Tigers have allowed just 13 sacks this year and only two against Pittsburgh in 72 drop backs and that was without starting tackles Hyatt and Jake Fruhmorgen. Clemson is eighth in rushing offense in the ACC (156.4), while Wake Forest is ninth at defending the run (152.4). Advantage: Wake Forest
Deshaun Watson vs. Wake’s secondary: If Watson is allowed enough time to throw he has to take care of the football. Watson has thrown 13 interceptions this season, second most in the country. It also matches his total from all of last year. The Demon Deacons have 11 interceptions this year, which ranks fourth in the ACC. Watson was picked off twice by Wake in last year’s game, but he also threw for 343 yards and three touchdowns. Wake freshman safety Jessie Bates is one of the rising stars in the ACC. He ranks second in the league with five interceptions. The group is led by senior corner Brad Watson. The Demon Deacons have allowed 12 touchdown passes, while opponents are completing 57.5 percent of their passes. They are giving up 229.4 yards per game. Watson leads the ACC in pass yards (307.7) and is second in touchdown passes (27), while he is completing 66.1 percent of his passes. He set an ACC record with 580 yards in last week’s loss to Pitt, while completing 52 of 70 passes. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s linebacker vs. Wake tight end Cam Serigne: It’s no secret where Clemson’s biggest weakness on its defense lays. The Tigers’ linebackers have been unable to cover the running backs and tight ends all season. Last week, Pitt exploited this weakness better than anyone. Of Pitt’s 308 passing yards, 258 of it came from its tight ends and running backs. The Panthers used the shovel pass to complete 13 passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns in the upset victory. Don’t be surprised to see a shovel pass or two from Wake’s offense tonight. Wake Forest has a tight end in Cam Serigne who is more than capable of giving the Clemson defense some headaches. So far this season he has 20 catches for 268 yards and one touchdown, but something tells me he is going to be a big part of the Wake game plan tonight. Advantage: Wake Forest
Bottom line: How will Clemson responded after suffering its first regular-season loss in two years. Will they come out mad or will they still be sulking from the Pitt loss? There is a lot to play for tonight and the Tigers have a very distinct advantage in just about every match up. There is no doubt Clemson is the more talented team, but can they play like they are the more talented team. With the exception of S.C. State and Syracuse, the Tigers have played down to their competition in games in which they are heavily favored and made things more interesting than it should have been. If the Tigers play with fire like that again tonight, then they might lose for a second straight game and will watch all their goals and dreams burn up in front of them. But if the Tigers come out mad and responded the way I think they will, then they will cruise in clinching their second straight Atlantic Division title.
Prediction: Clemson 24, Wake Forest 10