Clemson closed out a fifth straight unblemished home slate Saturday with a dominant performance against No. 10 Wake Forest at Memorial Stadium. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly from the Tigers’ 48-29 win:
Where has that offense been all season?
Whether it was driving the length of the field or turnovers that set them up with shorter ones, the Tigers took advantage of their opportunities in their best all-around performance of the season. Thanks in large part to the kind of red-zone execution Clemson coach Dabo Swinney called “incredible” afterward, Clemson started with a field goal and a touchdown on its first two possessions and got points on each of its final five, four of those being touchdowns. Will Spiers only punted once on a day in which the Tigers found the end zone six times en route to season-highs in points and yards (543).
Of course, the catalyst was a running game that also had its best performance of the season. With the Tigers back at full strength in the backfield, they racked up a whopping 333 yards on the ground and ripped off 6.2 yards per carry, doubling their average from an uninspiring showing against Connecticut the previous week. Kobe Pace, who had missed the previous six quarters, spearheaded it all with a career-high 191 yards and two scores on just 24 carries in his return. Will Shipley added 112 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 19 carries, giving Clemson multiple 100-yard rushers in the same game for the first time since Travis Etienne, Lyn-J Dixon and Tavien Feaster all got there against Louisville in 2018.
And while the passing game didn’t have to do much with the way the Tigers ran the ball, Clemson produced some explosive plays through the air as D.J. Uiagelelei eventually settled in on a day in which the Tigers ran out a skeleton crew at receiver. Uiagalelei only attempted 19 passes but completed 11 of them, including five of his last six (his only miss during that stretch was an interception that bounced off the helmet of receiver Dacari Collins).
His final throw was a beauty of a deep ball to Beaux Collins, who made a one-handed grab before finishing off a 58-yard touchdown in the third quarter as part of a 137-yard day, a season-high for the freshman. Uiagalelei also turned in arguably his best play of the season when, despite still being braced up with that sprained right knee, he shed two would-be sacks before rolling out and eventually heaving a 52-yard bomb to Collins to set up Clemson’s first touchdown in the opening quarter.
Meanwhile, the defense did its thing against another potent offense that looked average at times against Clemson. Wake Forest, with its slow mesh point, came in as the second-highest scoring team in the FBS, but the Tigers attacked from the start and rarely relented their pressure. Clemson set the tone with four sacks of Sam Hartman in the first quarter and finished with seven, a season-high. Those contributed to holding the Demon Deacons to just 36 net rushing yards. Add that to the minus-21 UConn had, and those 15 net rushing yards are the fewest allowed by the Tigers in back-to-back games going back to 1954, according to the school.
Clemson also forced three turnovers, two of them deep in Wake Forest territory. And senior kicker B.T. Potter connected on both of his field-goal attempts, making him 8 for 8 since those three misses he had against Florida State late last month.
It all helped Clemson easily extend the nation’s longest active home winning streak to 34 games heading into next season.
Clemson could’ve hung half a hundred on the Demon Deacons if not for some of its own turnovers.
In addition to Uiagalalei’s lone interception, Pace fumbled in the first half while the Tigers were driving in Wake Forest territory. Clemson put it on the ground again inside the Demon Deacons’ 10 early in the third quarter when Wake defensive end Rondell Bothroyd got in the way of Uiagalelei’s pitch on an option play. The three turnovers tied a season-high for the Tigers, who’ve committed as many turnovers as they’ve forced this season (17).
The Tigers also allowed a season-high in passing yards (370). While some of that came with Clemson up big late in garbage time, Wake threw for 168 yards alone in the second quarter when the Tigers had a hard time getting off the field. The Demon Deacons converted five of its seven third downs in the quarter and reached the end zone on its next to last possession of the first half to trim Clemson’s lead to 17-10. Andrew Booth’s interception on Wake’s last possession kept that halftime lead intact before the Tigers began to take control.
It’s hard to put anything about Clemson’s performance Saturday into this category, but fans might be at the point where they just want to look away from the Tigers’ injury situation.
The constant attrition is becoming comical in that department, particularly at receiver. Clemson already knew it would be without Frank Ladson Jr. (groin), Joseph Ngata (foot) and Justyn Ross (foot) at the beginning of the week. Then E.J. Williams, who’s already dealt with knee and thumb injuries, went down with an unrelated leg injury during practice Wednesday that Swinney had a hard time explaining afterward.
Swinney said he’s “got nothing” when asked how long Williams might be out, but that wasn’t the end of it. Swinney revealed freshman receiver Troy Stellato injured his heel during pregame warmups, leaving Beaux and Dacari Collins, walk-on Will Brown and Swinney’s sons, Will and Drew, as the primary group of receivers Saturday.
Defensive tackle Tre Williams went down at one point, though he’s been dealing with numerous injuries throughout the season and will need surgery once it’s over. Shipley and offensive lineman Walker Parks briefly left Saturday’s game but returned and finished.
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