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Across the Aisle: Clemson Edition

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Another group of Tigers come to town - what can we expect?

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Clemson Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

I got to sit down with Ryan Kantor over at the Clemson site Shakin the Southland. Bunch of great guys over there and I also did a Q&A over on their site so go check it out!

Now lets get into the questions:

BSD: What’s been the biggest difference about this team since Wake played them last year?

Shakin the Southland: The defense is still stout, particularly up-front (though the secondary seems more vulnerable). The offense looks totally different with Trevor Lawrence at QB and with a WR bolstered by an experienced Tee Higgins and freshman Justyn Ross. Hunter Renfrow looks better than ever too. When Lawrence is in the game, the offense is able to stretch defenses vertically with the deep ball and horizontally with the screen game, both of which were problems last year.

BSD: Who do you look for to make an impact in this game on each side of the ball?

STS: I think Greg Dortch must have a big day for Wake Forest to be competitive. Quick passes to the slot receiver make a lot of sense against our defense, which is replacing SAM linebacker Dorian O’Daniel.

I think WRs Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross could have big days against Wake’s secondary. They’re tall and athletic and have a QB willing to throw it up and trust them to win the ball. On defense, I think you’re looking at Clemson’s defensive line. If they stop the run, DEs Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell could have big days. Freshman DE Xavier Thomas is making waves as well.

BSD: What’s to be expected out of Trevor Lawrence both in this game and the rest of the year if he’s healthy?

STS: He’s still a freshman and will make freshman mistakes like not pulling at the right time on a read option and causing a fumble or not getting out of bounds and taking a bad hit. That said, his arm talent is unbelievable. He’s a fearless gunslinger with the accuracy to back it up. With him at the helm, you’ll see Clemson blowout some lesser opponents in ways he didn’t last year. We’ll be more balanced and less run-heavy. I expect him to be a top 3 QB in the ACC the rest of the way and maybe the best by the time the postseason comes.

As for this specific game, I think he’s capable of taking advantage of Wake’s vulnerabilities in the secondary and having some spectacular passes, if not a spectacular day. We’d love for this to be a statement game after we failed to make such a statement against Syracuse.

BSD: What realistic expectations did the Clemson faithful have coming into this season and how has the team lived up to this so far?

STS: I picked Clemson to reach the National Championship game but fall to Alabama. With our 5-0 start and the way Alabama’s offense has looked, that bet still seems pretty good. I think most well-informed Clemson fans probably feel the same way. The one caveat I’ll add is that there is still plenty of season left to play, and thus time for Clemson to continue improving and close the gap with Alabama. Alabama also has to face a gauntlet late in the year that includes LSU, Auburn and potentially Georgia. That could leave them banged up or left out (the former being more likely).

BSD: How big does the base/yourself think this game is relative to the rest of the schedule

STS: Clemson is 82-24 all-time against the Deacons and rides a nine-game win streak in the series. All our games are big, because we could be in trouble with even one loss, but Wake Forest is probably ahead of just Louisville and maybe Duke on the register of scariest games remaining.

NC State should win this week and come into Death Valley ranked after our bye week. If we lose there, we probably don’t even win the division. FSU is on the road and they’re still uber talented. Boston College could be tricky on the road and South Carolina is always a huge game, even if we’re playing catch-up with Kentucky on getting to that five-game win streak.

BSD: Clemson wins if they come out and do what?

STS: Dominate the line of scrimmage and avoid silly turnovers.

BSD: on the other hand what can they not do if they want to win this game?

STS: They can’t let Wake Forest establish tempo and neutralize their advantage in the trenches or give away points with big turnovers.