Special thanks to Eric Dowling from Shakin the Southland for dropping knowledge.
BSD: Clemson is ranked third in the nation and the fans seem extremely excited about where the season is headed. What were your expectations entering the season and what are your current expectations?
STS: My expectation heading into the season was to win the ACC. This team returned a lot of talent from last year's squad. Along with Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins, Clemson also returned 4 starters on the offensive line. Defensively, most of the 2-deep in the front 7 returned, many of which are talented youngsters. The biggest concern was the secondary, where 2 safeties had to be replaced and the cornerbacks were thin on talent. I didn't expect a national championship. Besides worrying about slipping up against a team Clemson would be favored against, I thought it would be extremely tough to run the gauntlet of Georgia, FSU, and South Carolina. At this point, I'll be extremely disappointed with any loss because this year seems like as good a chance as any to play for the national title. But I'm going to need to see more on both sides of the ball before I believe a national title game appearance is a realistic possibility.
BSD: Tajh Boyd looked amazing against Georgia in the nationally televised opener and as the returning ACC POY he also has high expectations heaped upon him. I caught most of the Clemson-N.C. State game and he just looked a little bit off. He was launching passes off his back foot and never really looked too comfortable. What can we expect to see from Boyd and what do you believe he will accomplish this year as a senior?
STS: Boyd's obviously one of the best QB's in the country, and I'm as big of fan of his as any, but when he loses trust in his offensive line he gets rattled and will throw errant passes. It happened against FSU in the 2nd half last year when he was constantly under pressure, and it happened throughout the South Carolina game. He gets happy feet, feels pressure even when it's not there, and his footwork and mechanics go by the wayside. The offensive line played better in the Georgia game and allowed Boyd to get into a groove. Against NC State, he was under a ton of pressure early and I think it got to him. I guess he's not really much different than most QB's, but it's definitely something that throws him off-kilter.
BSD: With some suspensions on offense for incidents occurring at the N.C. State game, Clemson is going to be without a couple players for Saturday's game it appears. What kind of impact will these suspensions have when compounded with injuries and will it matter at all?
STS: Offensive tackle Isaiah Battle will miss the game for his cheapshot uppercut at the end of the NC State game. It's not a massive blow because as of this moment he's the backup LT. But I believe that he would've been slated to start this game if not for his suspension. Gifford Timothy hasn't been getting the job done at RT and I believe the staff would've slid Brandon Thomas over to RT and inserted Battle at LT. That's the lineup the coaches really wanted coming out of fall camp. With his length and athleticism, Battle has the most upside of any linemen on the team.
Additionally, Martavis Bryant will miss some snaps for his throat slit gesture after his 1st TD. While I don't think he should be making that gesture, and I'd be fine if a flag had been thrown, I don't see a reason to punish him by limiting his snaps against Wake Forest. He didn't do the gesture toward the crowd or an opposing player. He did it while celebrating with teammates and running back to the bench. Kids get excited and do stupid things, and that's all that happened. Dabo could've just as easily addressed his displeasure with Bryant in practice with some sprints or equipment carrying duty. But a pseudo-suspension seems overboard to me. If he sits, the impact will be felt. Bryant is currently Clemson's #2 WR after losing Charone Peake to an ACL tear. Without Bryant, defenses can focus even more on shutting down Sammy Watkins.
BSD: Wake is likely going to try to get the ball to Camp as much as possible and pound the rock up the middle with Josh Harris. Our offensive line has been hit and miss so far this year and could really go either way. What should Wake fans be looking for as far as Clemson's defense goes when Wake's offense is on the field.
STS: If Wake looks for Camp, I'd expect him to get his catches. Clemson's cornerbacks have exceeded my expectations so far this year, but my expectations were low. There is a lack of talent in the back 4 right now. Between miscommunications, poor technique, and a lack of ball skills, Clemson's CB's were beat deep a lot last year. As a result, Clemson's corners have been playing off 5-10 yards, allowing for short to intermediate completions while trying to save themselves from getting beat deep. Georgia picked us apart underneath until our front 4 started getting pressure on Murray.
Speaking of Clemson's front 4, this has probably been their best unit so far this year. Yeah they had difficulty stopping Todd Gurley of Georgia, but a lot of blame can be placed on the LB's and DB's for poor gap discipline and missed tackles. I can also somewhat excuse that performance because Gurley is the best back in the country, in my opinion. The defensive tackles are very good and depth is finally there. Vic Beasley is a monster coming off the edge, and fellow DE's Crawford, Lawson, and Barnes are all solid in run support. The LB's have been pretty good. Spencer Shuey is smart backer that uses his knowledge and instincts to make up for a lack of athleticism. Stephone Anthony is a former 5* LB that is starting to live up to his billing. He can fly to the ball and get sideline to sideline in a hurry. They've been much better stopping the run the past 2 games and I expect more of the same in this game.
BSD: Similarly, Wake's defense has looked pretty solid through the first four games of the season, albeit against a relatively weak schedule. What do you think the key match ups are when Clemson's offense is on the field against Wake's defense, and do you think it's realistic to think that Wake's defensive line can get pressure on Boyd and force him into some mistakes in the passing game?
STS: The offense will definitely be looking to get their reputation back as a juggernaut this week. The players and coaches were both frustrated last week by their performance. This week won't be without it's challenges, though. Between Clemson's offensive line struggles last week and their past struggles with 3-4 defenses, I wouldn't be surprised to see Wake getting pressure on Boyd. I would hope that last week's embarrassment on national TV would light a fire under the asses of some of our linemen, but that remains to be seen. Hopefully Chad Morris keeps the defense honest early by establishing a running game. I'd also like to see him call some shorter pass plays in order to get Boyd into a rhythm. If he listens to this armchair OC, I think Clemson's offense will be just fine.
BSD: Finally, what's your prediction for the game? I don't think many, if any, Wake fans expect to win or even stay close for that matter, so how do Clemson fans perceive this game? Is this a game which could cause a slip-up or is the talent difference just too great for Wake to overcome?
STS: If last week's scare against NC State is the wake up call fans are hoping it was, I think they'll be focused this week and rebound accordingly. I think the offense wakes back up and puts together a good showing. Defensively, I expect Clemson to continue their trend of several solid stops mixed with a drive or two where they allow big plays. Wake Forest should be able to make plays in the passing game when they are able to keep Beasley out of the backfield.
In the end, I think Clemson runs away with it. Something in the neighborhood of 38-17 sounds right to me.