Heading into Saturday’s contest with 10th-ranked Wake Forest, it seemed as if everyone outside of Clemson doubted the Tigers’ ability to shut down the Demon Deacons’ offense.
Obviously, the Tigers did not feel that way.
“We felt good,” defensive coordinator Brent Venables said following Clemson’s 48-27 victory at Death Valley.
The Tigers (8-3, 6-2 ACC) had reason to feel good about their chances. In the seven years Dave Clawson has been the head coach at Wake Forest, Clemson has been the only team to completely wreck the Demon Deacons’ offense on a consistent basis.
That was the case on Saturday, too.
From the outset, the defense set the tone for the Tigers, as they sacked quarterback Sam Hartman three times on the Deacons’ first two possessions.
Clemson held the Demon Deacons (9-2, 6-1 ACC) to 36 yards rushing on 31 carries. They averaged just 1.2 yards per carry, a little bit better from the 1.1 yards they averaged a year ago.
Wake came into the afternoon leading the ACC and ranking second nationally in scoring at 44.7 points per game. They also averaged 498.4 yards per game, which ranked third in the ACC.
Saturday marked the third straight year Clemson held Wake under 65 rushing yards. The Deacons had just 64 yards on the ground in 2019, 37 in 2020 and now 36 in 2021.
It’s safe to say, no one attacks Wake’s backfield better than the Tigers.
“There may be people that can try, but not everybody can do it,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “That is our mentality. We want to set the edge.”
Clemson set the edge all right.
Until Saturday, Wake Forest had not allowed an opponent to sack Hartman no more than four times in a game. The Tigers finished the afternoon with seven sacks.
“We had the right mindset of truly creating a new line of scrimmage and putting (the offensive linemen) in the quarterback’s lap,” Swinney said. “There are plays, when you watch these guys, they have the ball four or five seconds. They are too good outside to allow that, so I thought we did a great job of winning that battle.”
Though Wake Forest finished the afternoon with 406 total yards, most of it did not come until after Clemson built its big lead. The Tigers led 38-13 following Kobe Pace’s 2-yard touchdown with 3:38 to play in the third quarter.
The Clemson defense became the first defense all season to hold the Demon Deacons under 35 points. Wake had scored at least 40 points in each of the previous five games.
“We kind of disruptive [Hartman’s] rhythm and it affected him,” Swinney said. “It was just an awesome, awesome day. We had great push.”
Hartman finished the day 27 of 43 for 312 yards, but the Tigers intercepted him once and recovered a fumble.
In all, Clemson’s defense forced three turnovers, though. Wake came into the game with just 12 in the first 10 games of the season.
“Obviously, you want to be able to affect the quarterback,” Venables said. “We were able to get a lot of push back. Guys were winning their one-on-ones. We got off to a very fast start.”
And they finished with another dominating performance against Wake’s offense.
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