Clemson will head to Winston-Salem on Saturday for an ACC Atlantic Division clash with Wake Forest. Kickoff from Truist Field is set for noon. The game will be televised by ABC.
Clemson’s defense vs. Wake Forest’s offense: Clemson’s defense has been spotty through the first quarter of the season, particularly on the back end.
That could be a problem going against the best passing offense it’s seen to this point.
Clemson is allowing the third-most passing yards in the ACC on average. Meanwhile, with veteran quarterback Sam Hartman back in the fold, Wake Forest owns the league’s second-best passing offense. The Demon Deacons are also scoring the second-most points in the conference.
Part of the issue for Clemson has been some loose coverage and less experience on the back end with Andrew Booth, Mario Goodrich and Nolan Turner no longer around, but the Tigers have also been banged up. Clemson’s defense started last week’s game against Louisiana Tech without six members of its two-deep, including four starters. That number increased when cornerback Sheridan Jones (stinger) left the game in the first half and didn’t return.
Clemson’s run defense has still been stout without a handful of linemen. Bryan Bresee (death in family) is expected to return to the lineup this week, but will Tyler Davis, Xavier Thomas and Tre Williams join him? That would certainly help the Tigers apply as much pressure as possible up front and disrupt Wake Forest’s often-used mesh point, something Clemson did last season in holding the Demon Deacons 14 points below their season average.
Now Hartman and his talented group of receivers, including 6-foot-5 A.T. Perry, get a banged-up Clemson defense at home. Question is, exactly how banged up are the Tigers still going to be come Saturday at noon? Advantage: Draw
Clemson’s offense vs. Wake Forest’s defense: Clemson’s offense is still working to put a full four quarters together, but the group continues to show signs of improvement.
The Tigers are coming off their most balanced attack last week in piling up 521 yards, which included a season-high 280 rushing yards. Will Shipley is averaging 7.9 yards per touch, and the offensive line, with four starters back from last season, is giving the backs and D.J. Uiagalelei more and more room and time to operate, allowing just 3.6 tackles for loss per game.
Uiagalelei looks like a more comfortable quarterback than he did for most of last season. Most importantly for the offense, he’s more accurate. There’s still the occasional turnover, but Uiagalelei is completing 65% of his passes and has accounted for three times as many touchdowns (6) as turnovers (2). At 11.2 yards per completion, Uiagalelei and his receivers have turned in a number of big plays through the air, something the offense desperately missed a season ago.
As for Wake Forest, the team’s makeup has looked a lot like last year’s – a lot of offense and spotty defense, though Wake has shown some defensive improvement. The Demon Deacons own a top-40 defense nationally in terms of total yards allowed (318.3 per game), but they’re still in the bottom half of the ACC in points allowed (23.7) after giving up a season-high 36 to Liberty at home in a one-point win last week. They also yielded 25 to Vanderbilt the week before.
Wake has had success getting offenses off the field on third down (20% conversion rate). But if Clemson, which is averaging 6 yards per play, can stay ahead of the chains and keep Wake’s defense guessing as to what’s coming, there should be plenty of opportunities to further expose the Demon Deacons. Advantage: Clemson
Special teams: B.T. Potter, one of the ACC’s top kickers, has started his final season at Clemson 4-for-4 on field goals. Meanwhile, Wake Forest lost the NCAA’s all-time leader in field-goal accuracy in Nick Sciba, who turned pro after last season.
Yet Matthew Dennis hasn’t skipped a beat as Sciba’s replacement. He’s made all seven of his field-goal attempts so far. Both teams have dangerous kickoff returners in Shipley and Ke’Shawn Williams, who’s averaging 27.7 yards per return for the Demon Deacons.
But with a blocked field goal last week, Clemson has now blocked three kicks in three games, showing the ability to quickly swing momentum in that facet of the game. Advantage: Clemson
Bottom line: It’s going to be up to Clemson’s somewhat shorthanded defense to take Wake’s offense out of its rhythm playing in its home stadium. But even if the Demon Deacons are able to score some points, Clemson’s offense is capable of scoring more against a Wake defense that still isn’t having a ton of success slowing down the opposition.
Prediction: Clemson 30, Wake Forest 20
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