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Wake Forest Football Initial Thoughts: No. 1 Clemson

Wake Forest heads to Death Valley to take on the No. 1 Clemson Tigers on Saturday. Here is an initial look at the Tigers.

Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off of a 28-7 defeat at the hands of the No. 4 Notre Dame Fighting Irish, Wake Forest will pick itself up, dust itself off, and head into Death Valley to face the (for now) No. 1 football team in the nation in the Clemson Tigers.

Although Clemson may be passed tonight by Alabama, they will almost certainly hold on to a top two spot on Saturday when the Deacs' head down to Clemson, SC.

For anybody not familiar with the college football landscape this year, the Dabo Swinney led Clemson Tigers are currently undefeated and in the driver's seat for a spot in the College Football Playoff.

With games against Wake Forest this weekend, and South Carolina next weekend, there is a pretty good chance that Clemson will head into the ACC Championship game still undefeated. According to Football Study Hall the Tigers have a 98% chance to beat Wake this weekend, and a 92% chance to beat South Carolina next weekend.

A matchup with the prolific offense and much improved defense of North Carolina looms large, but first they must take care of business against the Demon Deacons.


The offense starts with sophomore quarterback Deshaun Watson. He is 216/308 for 2,593 yards on the year with 23 TD's to just 8 INT's. He leads a prolific passing game that ranks 4th in Passing S&P+. The offense averages 38.5 PPG, good enough for 16th nationally. Watson has also accumulated 665 yards on the ground with 5 TDs as well. He is a true dual-threat QB who has to be accounted for on every single play.

Joining Watson in the backfield is another sensational sophomore in running back Wayne Gallman. He has already eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark with 1,043 yards and 9 touchdowns on the year. That is on 196 rushes for a 5.3 yard per carry. Despite nearly 200 touches on the year he has just one fumble on the season.

Watson's favorite receiver is yet another sophomore (sensing a trend here?) in Artavis Scott. Scott has pulled in 68 catches on 82 targets for an impressive 82.9% catch rate. Watson targets Scott on nearly 26% of his throws, and it's easy to see why with that a 7.7 yard per target average.

Tight end Jordan Leggett has also caught 6 TDs on the season on 26 catches. The Wake Forest defense has its work cut out for them all over the field.


Defensively Clemson boasts the 15th best points allowed per game rate in the nation at 18.1 PPG. Although they are actually subpar at allowing explosive plays, the defense does an exceptional job of keeping opposing offenses off schedule in terms of yardage needed per play to achieve a first down, ranking 6th in that category nationally.

The rushing and passing defense has been solid throughout the year, particularly stuffing the run at the line of scrimmage when necessary.

Clemson thrives on blitzes and wreaking havoc, ranking 6th nationally with a 21.6% havoc rate. The defensive line in particular does a really good job of getting into the backfield and blowing up plays before they get started.

Senior BJ Goodson has 64 tackles on the season (10% of all tackles), including an extremely impressive 11 TFL and 4 sacks. Throw in DE Shaq Lawson, who ranks 5th nationally with 16.5 TFL and  20th in sacks on the year with 7.5, and that creates a difficult atmosphere for anybody to generate offense in, much less behind an anemic (albeit improved) offensive line.

Corder Tankersly and Mackens Alexander have formed an impressive CB duo as well to shut down opposing receivers on the year.


Needless to say, but the Tigers are a very, very good team. Just like Notre Dame this past weekend, Clemson is looking to solidify itself in the eyes of the committee and do so in an impressive manner. The Deacs' were able to play with Notre Dame and actually looked quite good at times doing so. I think Clemson is a much more difficult matchup for Wake Forest than this past weekend due to the sheer speed and athleticism at every single position.

While this game could be considered a "trap game" for Clemson, I think Dabo has the team absolutely locked in on getting its 11th win and not looking ahead to South Carolina, UNC, or Alabama.

Wake Forest is the worst team that Clemson has faced all season (other than Wofford to start the year), ranking 97th in the Football Outsiders F/+ rankings. Clemson is ranked 1st nationally and this is pretty big mismatch. Expect the Tigers to take care of business in the first half and rest their key guys in the second half en route to a sizable victory over the Deacs.