In order to knock off a No. 10 Wake Forest team to stay alive in ACC Championship contention, Clemson was going to need to play its most complete 60 minutes this season.
And needless to say, it did.
Needing to come out with a statement, it wasn’t until the second half that Clemson dominated both halves of the field to take full control of Saturday’s 48-27 win over the Demon Deacons.
Behind an elite defensive performance and the best rushing attack they’ve had all season, the Tigers cruised to a crushing conference blowout. Wake Forest hadn’t lost a conference matchup all season. Well, it hadn’t faced a Brent Venables-led defense either.
On the afternoon, Clemson outgained Wake: 543-406.
Sam Hartman and the Demon Deacons came into Saturday’s contest with one of the nation’s most potent scoring attacks. Wake Forest scored 35+ points in each of its previous 10 games this season. That did not happen on Saturday, as Clemson held the Deacs to just 27 points.
Funny enough, those 27 points were the most that Wake Forest has scored against Clemson in the Dave Clawson era.
Hartman started to get into a rhythm before halftime, but the play that made him a Heisman candidate for much of the season was few and far between. He took an absolute beating in the trenches as Clemson’s defensive front just flat out man-handled Wake’s offensive line.
The mesh concepts that took the nation by storm were no match for anything the Tigers had to offer defensively.
On the first play from scrimmage, Hartman was sacked for a loss of six yards by none other than James Skalski. It was fitting a beginning of the end for the sixth-year linebacker, who went out a winner in his final game at Memorial Stadium on Senior Day.
Clemson would go on to sack Hartman another six times.
Hartman completed 27-of-43 passes for 312 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He also had 14 rushes for -37 yards. In total, the Demon Deacons rushed for just 36 yards on 31 carries.
While the defense can paint the picture of Saturday’s game, it’s not complete without the offense, which certainly had its best performance against an FBS opponent this season.
Clemson’s offensive line, executing a lineup change before Saturday, easily turned in its best effort of the season, allowing for Kobe Pace to have a career day. Pace rushed for 191 yards on 24 carries, averaging eight yards a carry.
The Tigers elected not to start Marcus Tate at left guard, which opened up the door for an interior lineup (left-to-right) of Hunter Rayburn, Mason Trotter and Will Putnam, who returned from a two-game absence with an ankle injury.
Clemson surpassed its season-high rushing total, gaining 333 yards on 54 carries, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. The Tigers’ previous season-high was 242 rushing yards, which came in the team’s 49-3 win over South Carolina State back on Saturday, Sept. 11.
It was the first time since 2018 that two Clemson running backs rushed for over 100 yards.
Will Shipley accounted for 112 of those 333 yards. He also scored both of Clemson’s first-half touchdowns, including a two-yard jump pass on a trick play to Davis Allen. Shipley added another rushing touchdown with two minutes remaining in Saturday’s game.
Shipley’s second-quarter touchdown pass was the first touchdown pass by a non-quarterback in a Clemson uniform since Sammy Watkins threw a 52-yard touchdown pass to Andre Ellington at Florida State in 2012.
As for the quarterback, D.J. Uiagelelei didn’t have his smoothest game of the season by any stretch of the imagination, but he did enough to put Clemson in a position to win. Uiaglelei completed 11-of-19 passes for 208 yards with a touchdown and an interception. His lone passing touchdown was a 58-yard strike to Beaux Collins, who had a career-high 137 receiving yards.
Uigalelei also turned over the ball another time, as did Pace, who had a first-half fumble, which was long forgotten after he nearly totaled 200 yards on the ground.
However, Clemson’s defense was able to even up the score, well at least as far as the turnover margin is concerned.
Maybe the most telling stat of the day is that Will Spiers, who has been rather busy this season, had just one punt on the afternoon. While it was the final home game of his long-storied Clemson career, Tigers’ fans didn’t mind seeing him on the sideline for much of the game.
Clemson took care of business in its 21-point victory. Now, it’ll need some help from some other ACC foes like Syracuse, North Carolina and Boston College as the Tigers’ road to Charlotte hangs in the balance.