Clemson, with its No. 4 nationally ranked defense, hopes to slow down a Wake Forest offense that is averaging 487.6 yards per game and ranks in the top 4 in total, scoring and rushing offense in the ACC.
The Tigers (5-0, 2-0 ACC) rank second in the ACC defensively in all of those categories and are yielding jus 263.6 total yards per game.
So, what gives?
One of the two will today when No. 4 Clemson visits Groves Stadium in Winston-Salem, N.C., for a 3:30 p.m. kick. The game will be televised by ESPN.
Who has the edge?
Clemson’s D-Line vs. Wake’s O-Line: No surprise Clemson’s defensive front has been very dominant through the first five games of the season. With All-Americans Christian Wilkins (6-4, 315), Dexter Lawrence (6-4, 350), Clelin Ferrell (6-4, 265) and Austin Bryant (6-6, 280) back, the Tigers are yielding an ACC best 2.26 yards per rush, which also ranks third nationally. The Tigers also rank second in the ACC against the run (95.0 ypg), tackles for loss (9.0 pg) and sacks (3.4 pg). In other words, Clemson has been very disruptive up front. Wake Forest’s offensive line, led by center Ryan Anderson (6-6, 305), has been average at best. Though the Demon Deacons are averaging 244.4 yards per game on the ground, they are averaging just 4.72 yards per carry, which ranks ninth in the ACC. They are allowing 5.4 tackles behind the line of scrimmage per outing (8th) and 1.8 sacks (8th). Clemson will obviously be their biggest test to date and this matchup will go a long way in deciding the outcome. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s linebackers vs. Wake Quarterback Sam Hartman: So far this year, Hartman is having a pretty good rookie campaign. The true freshman has orchestrated an offense that no one has been able to stop this year as the Deacons put up 500-plus yards against Boston College’s and Notre Dame’s proud defenses. Hartman is the perfect quarterback for Dave Clawson’s scheme, which is heavy on the RPOs and the screen game. Wake Forest’s offense is an option principal scheme, but not in the traditional sense. The Demon Deacons options are predicated on the RPOs. Hartman, who has completed 57.9 percent of his passes for 1,185 yards so far this season, will hold the ball as long as he can before he makes a decision. With Wake’s tempo and this style of play, Clemson linebackers, especially outside backers Kendall Joseph and Isaiah Simmons, will have to be on their toes and react to what Hartman is doing. He has thrown 10 touchdowns to five interceptions this year. He can also run the ball, as he has run for 208 yards and scored one touchdown on the ground. He is averaging nearly 4.0 yards per carry. It will take a while for Clemson’s defense to adjust to the tempo and style. Advantage: Wake Forest
Clemson’s secondary vs. Wake wide receiver Greg Dortch: The redshirt sophomore might just be the ACC’s best all-purpose player. He is third in the nation and first in the ACC in all-purpose yards. Dortch is averaging 196.2 yards per game in 2018. He also leads the ACC in receptions per game (9.0), punt return average (16.7) and receiving yards (111.0) per game. He is fifth in the ACC in kickoff return average (23.2). His 9.0 receptions per game rank second nationally, while also ranking in the top-10 in the country in receiving yards per game (fifth), total receiving yards (sixth) and punt return average (eighth). He is second in the ACC in touchdown receptions. He is without a doubt the biggest challenge the Clemson secondary has faced to date. After being torched at Texas A&M in Week 2, the Clemson secondary did a good job, for the most part, keeping everything in front of them against Syracuse last week. The Orange completed just one deep pass all afternoon. The Tigers will need a similar effort to slow down Dortch, who can sometimes get lost in all the smoke and mirrors the Wake offense will show. Advantage: Wake Forest.
Clemson’s Travis Etienne vs. Wake’s defense: Since Clemson decided to concentrate more on its running game, the Tigers are averaging 283.3 yards per game, including 293 in last week’s come-from-behind win over Syracuse. Running back Travis Etienne has rushed for 487 yards (162.3 ypg) and scored six touchdowns in those three games. Etienne ranks second in the ACC in rushing yards (594) and yards per game (118.8) through the first five weeks of the season. His eight touchdowns lead the league as does his 8.14 yards per carry average. Wake Forest’s defense is one of the conference’s worst at stopping the run. The Demon Deacons are giving up 189.6 yards per game on the ground, 12th in the ACC, and 4.74 yards per carry, also 12th in the league. Wake has allowed eight rushing touchdowns already this season. Advantage: Clemson
Clemson’s passing game vs. Wake’s secondary: As bad as Wake Forest has been at stopping the run, its even worse against the pass. The Demon Deacons are giving up 271.6 yards through the air, 12th in the conference. They’re allowing opponents to complete 61.3 percent of their passes (12th) for 1,358 yards (13th). They rank last in the ACC in touchdown passes allowed (14), 13th in passing efficiency defense (146.6) and 10th in yards per attempt (7.5). With Trevor Lawrence returning after missing the second half of the Syracuse game due to a neck strain, he and his talented wideouts look to have a big game. Lawrence has completed 65.3 percent of his passes to this point and has nine touchdown passes to two interceptions. He leads the ACC with a 177.2 pass efficiency rating though he has not played a complete game to this point. Clemson had four receivers with at least nine catches, while Justyn Ross (23.6 ypc) and Tee Higgins (19.4 ypc) are the Tigers’ big play threats. Amari Rodgers leads the team with 21 receptions for 218 yards. Higgins leads the team in yards with 252. Clemson has four receivers (Rodgers, Higgins, Ross and Hunter Renfrow) with 200-plus yards. The Tigers are fourth overall in the ACC with 254.8 yards per game through the air. Advantage: Clemson
Bottom line: Wake Forest’s offense will put some stress on Clemson’s defense and the Tigers will have a ton of success against Wake’s defense. The key stat to look for today will be the turnover margin, something neither team has done well at. The Tigers lost last week’s turnover margin and it nearly cost them the game as Syracuse scored 10 of their 23 points off turnovers. Clemson is minus-1 in the turnover margin and Wake Forest is minus-3. If Clemson takes care of the football, the Demon Deacons have no chance to win this game, if the Tigers struggle again in this department, then things could be more interesting down the stretch.
Prediction: Clemson 38, Wake Forest 17