Last night Wake Forest actually played a real football game to kick off the 2020 season.
Whether or not they should have played has been a subject of much debate and controversy which has already been addressed here to the chagrin of many. Moving on from that, the game was played so it’s time to talk about it.
This game was so different from the Clemson games we are used to in the past in some ways, yet in others it was so similar the comparisons can not be denied.
The differences were immediately evident to anyone watching or listening. With no fans in the stands, camera shots were mostly kept tight. Banners were placed over empty seats. Cardboard cutout “Deaclones” took the place of actual spectators in seats near the field.
There were no shots of fans on the concourse, fans in the parking lot tailgating, or food at the concession stands.
The cheerleaders, dance team, and Spirit of the Old Gold and Black marching band were not in their usual spots in front of a rowdy student section firing up the fans. They instead were on Deacon Hill where there normally would have been a couple thousand fans.
Public address announcer Jeffrey Griffin was still there with his booming voice echoing over the loudspeakers, but there were no fans to respond appropriately with boos or cheers to his announcement of what had just happened on the previous play. Crowd noise was pumped in, but no artificial noise can accurately fill in for 32,000 screaming, cheering, or booing (or silent, depending on the situation) fans.
Yet for all the differences off the field, the product on the field looked much the same as Wake Forest vs. Clemson games have looked since Dabo Swinney turned the Tigers into a national powerhouse.
Wake Forest was clearly overmatched in this game, and that was evident from the first drive. The final score may have been closer than in previous matchups at 37-13, but that’s probably only because Dabo seemed to slow his team up in the 4th quarter once it was well assured that the Tigers were going to win.
Clemson got the first drive of the game, and the Deacon defense actually looked solid, as Boogie Basham got a sack on third down to force the Tigers into a 3-and-out situation to punt the ball away. On the ensuing offensive possession, things looked promising as Sam Hartman completed a 28 yard pass to Donavon Greene on 3rd down, but the Deacs failed to convert again after the 1st down and it was all downhill from there.
Clemson scored first on a 9-play, 92-yard drive and never looked back. Wake punted, Clemson scored another touchdown, Nick Sciba—who set the NCAA record for consecutive made field goals last season—missed a field goal, and Clemson converted on a field goal.
By the end of the first quarter it was 14-0 Clemson. Sound familiar yet?
By halftime it was 27-0 and Wake Forest’s six first half possessions ended with five punts and a missed field goal. Groundhog Day all over from previous Clemson games, anyone?
The Deacs struck first in the second half with a 39 yard field goal by Sciba on the opening possession of the second half. But then on the ensuing Clemson drive the defense gave up another touchdown, making the score 34-3, and putting the nail in the coffin. Wake’s next three possessions ended in a turnover on downs, a punt, and another missed field goal; effectively ending any hope whatsoever of a comeback.
Wake Forest scored a touchdown late in the fourth quarter on a 1 yard pass from Mitch Griffis to Taylor Morin, which allowed the Deacs to avoid going a third straight game against the Tigers without scoring a touchdown.
In spite of Clemson’s relative inexperience on the offensive line, the Deacs only managed 2 sacks and 5 tackles for loss. Trevor Lawrence pretty much did whatever he wanted to, completing 22 of 28 passes for 351 yards and a touchdown, while also rushing for 2 touchdowns. Travis Etienne had 17 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown. Wake Forest’s secondary once again looked way outmatched by Clemson’s receivers.
Sam Hartman struggled, going 11 of 21 for 182 yards and no touchdowns before leaving the game in the 4th quarter. Nobody could get the run game going, as Christian Beal-Smith had 11 carries for 29 yards and Kenneth Walker III had 6 carries for 19 yards. As a team Wake Forest had 34 rushing attempts for only 37 yards. That’s not going to get the job done against anyone, let alone the #1 team in the nation. The inexperienced Wake Forest offensive line gave up 6 sacks and 11 tackles for loss.
Wake was overmatched in pretty much all aspects of the game. Clemson outgained the Deacs 561 to 330 in total yards, had 27 first downs compared to Wake’s 15, had 376 passing yards to Wake’s 293, and had 185 rushing yards compared to Wake’s 37.
Once again we saw the hesitancy of the coaching staff to open up the playbook, and electing to play very conservatively most of the game. They ran the ball on 3rd-and-12, ran basic plays, and didn't seem to stray from the very basic game plan that has become the mantra when taking on Clemson. It seems at times as if we played to not get injured and not reveal too much strategy rather than trying to compete.
Some of this probably has to do with the lack of practices, and lack of spring and summer training and workouts due to the pandemic. But it really didn't look much different from when we have played Clemson the last two matchups where we didn't get too creative and seemed to be extremely conservative. And being that it’s Clemson, I’m not sure having guys like Sage Surratt playing would have even made much of a difference. Sage makes a difference just by stepping on the field, but not enough to turn around a game by 24 points.
So yes, it was a game that was very different, yet also very familiar.
Chin up though Deacon fans. We were taking on the #1 team in the nation after all. And several players were missing who will hopefully be back soon for future games. Don't get down from the loss. There’s a lot of football left to be played, and it only gets easier from here (especially after week 3).
As always, GO DEACS!!!