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Clemson Preview: What to Look for as the Deacs Take on the No. 1 Team in the Country

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Clemson is good at football. Regardless of the scoreboard, here are some things I'll be looking for on Saturday.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The rest of the staff here at Blogger So Dear have done a great job setting the scene for our game at #1 Clemson on Saturday (3:30 kickoff, ESPN 2). If you missed any of it, read Riley’s initial thoughts, look at Adam’s players to watch, and check out the Qs and As Robert gave the folks at Shakin the Southland.

The bad news is Wake heads to Death Valley as a 29 point underdog. The good news is we were a roughly comparable underdog (+27) at Notre Dame last week, and that game was subtly competitive! Still, even though I’ll be watching the game and cheering hard for the Deacs, I can’t honestly say I’m looking for a W this week. So instead, here are a few things I’m going to be looking out for.

Quarterbacks

Who will Dave Clawson go with at QB? My initial guess is that what we saw at Notre Dame is what we’ll largely see to close out the season. John Wolford started and played the vast majority of snaps at quarterback. Hinton came in at times, but did not attempt a pass.

But, with no disrespect to Notre Dame’s defensive line, Clemson’s is a different beast. We've already pointed out in the other articles guys like Shaq Lawson, Kevin Dodd, and B.J. Goodson, who have combined for 16 of Clemson’s 27 sacks on the year (good for 23rd in the country). Meanwhile, Wake has allowed 34 sacks (122nd in the country). If our offensive line is unable to protect the pocket, we may see a bigger role for the scrambling Hinton than we did last week.

Red Zone Chances

Can Wake get the ball to the red zone? The Deacs were able to move the ball relatively well against Notre Dame, but the Notre Dame defense is 36th in the S&P+ rankings, while Clemson’s is 4th. But hey, BC is 2nd and Wake clobbered them (#TheRivalry)! Anyways, getting to the red zone is only half of the problem. I will be looking closely to see if the team can take advantage of any goal-to-go situations it finds itself in, unlike last week when Wake had 1st and goal twice and was unable to turn either into a touchdown.

Big Plays

To even get to the red zone, Wake will likely need to pull off some big plays. As stout as Clemson’s defense has been, it's shown some vulnerability to giving up big chunks of yards at a time. This is particularly true on the ground; Clemson has given up single rushes of 45 or more yards in 4 of its 5 past games. Fortunately for the Deacs, Wake has dramatically improved its ground game since last year, going from 1.3 ypc and around 40 ypg to 3.1 ypc and 111 ypg. Unfortunately, that still puts Wake at 122nd out of 128 FBS teams in rushing. The Clemson secondary has played very well, but Wake’s most exciting playmakers are in the young receiving corps. Whether on the ground or through the air, it would be great to see the younger guys continue to display the kind of explosiveness that was sorely lacking in the last few seasons.

Turnovers

Another shortcut to the red zone is by earning turnovers. However, Wake Forest is dead last in the FBS in creating turnovers, with just 4 fumble recoveries and 3 interceptions on the year. Frankly, I think this is a little fluky. Depending on the metrics you look at, Wake is generally ranked in the 60s defensively, and while our secondary has been shaky at times I don’t see anything that explains the lack of turnovers. Meanwhile, Clemson has allowed an above-average number of turnovers, with 8 fumbles lost and 9 interceptions (78th in FBS). It would be nice to see the defense force some mistakes by Clemson’s offense to put Wake in a better position to make the game entertaining.

Of course, it would also be nice to see the Wake offense limit its turnovers. To the extent Clawson really plans to compete in this game, which I think he absolutely does, I expect us to be throwing downfield and gambling somewhat frequently (going, again, for those big plays). Still, Wake only had one turnover against Notre Dame, so there’s some hope for taking care of the ball.

Making History

Someday, you'll be able to tell your grandkids about this. Last week against Notre Dame, dark-horse Heisman candidate Alex Kinal punted 3 times to reach 323 career punts, breaking Nick Harris’ fifteen-year FBS record of 322. This game should give him an excellent opportunity to build on his record. Furthermore, he’s now only 5 punts away from tying the overall NCAA career punts record, set by Dan Brown of D-II Nicholls State 36 years ago in 1979.

Also within grasp this week is the all-time NCAA punting yards record, held by former career punts leader Nick Harris. Kinal is 136 yards away from that record, which he could reach with just 3.1 of his average punts. For reference, Wake has averaged over 6 punts a game this season.

Looking Ahead

Hopefully Wake can surprise some people this weekend, whether that's by actually winning, or at least by putting together an impressive performance against the country's top team. Regardless of the outcome on Saturday, I'm hopeful that going through the ringer of playing at #4 and at #1 in back to back weeks will leave the Deacs well prepared to go out on a high note when they host Duke to close out the season.

Finally, while we're talking about the #1 football team in the country, I'd be remiss not to mention the "other" football. The Wake Forest men's soccer team is itself ranked #1 going into the NCAA tournament. They host Charlotte this Sunday at 1pm at Spry Stadium. Be there in person if you can make it (stadium tickets start at $3), and otherwise tune in to ESPN3!

As always, go Deacs!