Clemson (8-3, 6-2 ACC) stayed alive in the Atlantic Division title race by leading wire to wire against No. 10 Wake Forest (9-2, 6-1) on Saturday at Memorial Stadium. Here are four sequences that went a long way in determining the outcome, a turning point and a telling stat from Clemson’s 48-27 win.
- Clemson forced punts on each of Wake Forest’s first four possessions and held a 3-0 lead after the first one. On their second possession, the Tigers reached the end zone for the first time thanks in part to one of D.J. Uiagalelei’s best plays of the season. Clemson’s quarterback was under duress with the Tigers facing third-and-8 from their own 41-yard line, but Uiagalelei shrugged off a couple of would-be sacks to keep the play alive long enough to find Beaux Collins down the sideline for a 52-yard connection. Will Shipley later dove in from 1 yard out on fourth-and-goal to give Clemson a 10-0 lead with 6 minutes, 4 seconds left in the first quarter.
- It looked like Clemson had taken a 17-0 lead later in the first quarter when Will Brown weaved through Wake’s punt coverage team for a 65-yard touchdown, but the play never happened since Brown made a faint fair catch signal, giving the Tigers possession at their own 35. Kobe Pace fumbled in Demon Deacons territory six plays later, and Ja’Sir Taylor recovered for Wake to keep the Tigers from scoring even more points at the time. But after holding Wake to a field goal on its next possession, Clemson found the end zone again with the help of a 24-yard pass from Uiagalelei to Davis Allen to get the Tigers deep in Wake territory. Uiagalelei ran 12 yards to get Clemson to the Demon Deacons’ 1, and after having a couple of runs stuffed, the Tigers reached into its bag of tricks on third down, dialing up a jump pass for Shipley. It connected with Allen for a score that put gave Clemson a two-touchdown advantage with 5 minutes left in the half.
- After Andrew Booth’s interception late in the second quarter kept Clemson’s 17-10 lead intact heading into halftime, Clemson opened the second half with a six-play, 63-yard drive thanks in large part to a 42-yard run by Shipley that got it started. But after an 18-yard run by Pace that got the Tigers inside Wake’s 10, Wake’s Rondell Bothroyd screamed in off the edge and got a hand on Uiagalelei’s pitch attempt, causing a fumble that he pounced on to end Clemson’s scoring threat. But the Tigers were quickly back in business when Myles Murphy stripped Christian Turner of the ball on the Demon Deacons’ next snap. Baylon Spector recovered for Clemson at Wake’s 20, and Pace darted through the middle of the Demon Deacons’ defense for an 8-yard touchdown three plays later that extended the Tigers’ lead to 24-10 with 10:50 left in the third quarter.
- Wake answered Pace’s second and final touchdown with a 10-play, 75-yard march that ended in the end zone on Quinton Cooley’s 7-yard run early in the fourth quarter. But Clemson immediately answered to quell any thoughts the Demon Deacons had of making a comeback. The Tigers kept pounding Wake on the ground with all 10 of their plays being of the running variety on their ensuing possession. Shipley’s 2-yard run on third-and-short at Wake’s 44 kept the drive alive on the Demon Deacons’ side of the midfield. Phil Mafah picked up just 3 yards on Clemson’s next third down — 2 yards shy of moving the sticks — but B.T. Potter split the uprights on a 35-yard field goal to cap a drive that milked 7:41 off the clock and pushed the Tigers’ lead back to three touchdowns with 7:14 left.
Wake threatened to cut Clemson’s lead to one possession when the Demon Deacons needed just five plays to drive to the Tigers’ 13 on their second possession of the third quarter, the big play coming on backup Michael Kern’s 58-yard catch-and-run completion to A.T. Perry on third down. But Clemson pushed Wake back from there to force Wake to settle for Nick Sciba’s second field goal of the day, and the Tigers need just five plays to get those points back and then some. Uiagalelei capped Clemson’s next scoring drive with a 58-yard touchdown pass to Beaux Collins, who made a one-handed catch while being held before outracing the rest of Wake’s defense to the end zone to give Clemson a 31-13 lead. Then, after Sam Hartman’s fumble on the Demon Deacons’ next play was recovered by Tyler Davis at Wake’s 20, the Tigers cashed in on a short field when Pace found the end zone again from 2 yards out five plays later to take control with 3:38 left in the third quarter.
Telling stat: 333
That’s how many rushing yards Clemson had, a season-high. The Tigers’ performance on the ground the previous week against a Connecticut team with the nation’s 105th-ranked rush defense left a lot to be desired (3.1 yards per carry). But against a Wake defense that came in allowing more than 200 rushing yards a game, Clemson redeemed itself. It helped the Tigers had their top two running backs back in the fold. Pace finished with a season-high 191 yards and two touchdowns while Shipley went for 112 yards and two scores, and the Tigers ripped off 6.2 yards per carry en route to breezing past the previous season-high of 242 rushing yards they had against South Carolina State back in Week 2. It helped Clemson reach the red zone seven times, all but two of those trips ending with a touchdown. Four of the the Tigers’ six touchdowns came on the ground.
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