After three very winnable non-conference games, the Deacs are back at Truist Field in week 4 for what is typically their most difficult game every season: the Clemson Tigers. Their name kind of speaks for itself at this point, as Clemson has been the dominant force in the ACC for the last decade. Since 2011, Clemson has double digit wins in every season, 7 ACC Championships, 6 CFP appearances, and 2 National Titles. Even in their “down year,” the Tigers went 10-3 and finished #14 in the final AP Poll of the season. It turns out, filling the team with a top 5 recruiting class every season is a pretty good strategy for winning games.
- Opponent: Clemson
- Date: Saturday, September 24th, 2022
- Location: Truist Field | Winston Salem, NC
- Vegas Insider Total Wins: 10.5
- 2021 Record: 10-3 (6-2)
- Previous Matchup: Wake 27—Clemson 48 (2021)
- All time vs Wake Forest: 69-17-1
There’s no way to really sugar coat how dominant Clemson has been against Wake Forest since Dabo took over in 2008. In that time, the Tigers have outscored the Deacs 527-167 and won all 13 meetings between the two teams. Other than a 3-point loss in 2011, Wake really hasn’t even been close in most of these games, losing by an average margin of around 28 points per game. With both of Clemson’s coordinators getting head coaching jobs at power 5 schools in the offseason, will this year finally be the year Wake Forest gets back the win column?
Taking a look at last year, Clemson was actually pretty mediocre on the offensive side of things. The Tigers finished the season 82nd in scoring offense with 26 points per game and 100th in the nation in total offense with 360 yards per game. That doesn’t exactly sound like the juggernaut that has tormented the Atlantic Division for a decade, does it? The big issue with the Clemson offense was quarterback play. Sophomore D.J. Uiagalelei took over for Trevor Lawrence, and the drop off was pretty noticeable. The Tigers went from having a QB who completed almost 70% of his passes for 25 touchdowns and 5 interceptions to a QB who completed barely 55% of his passes for just 9 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. That’s not completely on DJ, as the Tigers seemingly lacked a true star at receiver after Justyn Ross’s injury issues continued. The end result was Clemson converting just 37% of their 3rd downs, so if they got behind the sticks early, chances are the drive wasn’t going anywhere. Uiagalelei’s improvements in the offseason will likely be the difference in a Clemson trip to the playoff or another “down year” of just 10 wins for the Tigers this season.
The ground game was much better, with Clemson averaging 170 yards and 2 touchdowns per game running the football. Preseason All-ACC RB Will Shipley was fantastic as a true freshman for the Tigers, finishing the season with 739 yards rushing and 11 touchdowns. I expect that he will have a breakout season this year, similar to the jump Etienne made between his freshman and sophomore seasons (766 yards and 13 TD to 1658 yards and 24 TD). Keeping him from breaking off huge runs and forcing Clemson to sustain drives is a must for the Deacs to pull off the upset.
The other side of the ball is where the Tigers made up ground. The Clemson defense was just as monstrous as ever last season—they’ve been one of the most consistently dominant units in college football for the last 10 years. 2021 was no different, as the Tigers were the 2nd best defense in the nation—behind only National Champion Georgia—giving up 14.8 points and 306 yards per game. Despite the improvements Wake Forest has made on offense over the past several years, Clemson is the one team that just always knows how to shut them down. Part of that is just having huge 5-star linemen that completely take away any chance the slow mesh runs have of going anywhere. In the last 3 games against the Tigers, Wake Forest has run the ball 102 times for a whopping 137 yards—that’s not even 1.4 yards per carry. It’s hard to run the RPO system when the opposing front four just engulfs every single running play before it gets to the line of scrimmage. The good news for Wake Forest is that Brent Venables, who was easily the best defensive coordinator in the nation, is now the head coach of the Oklahoma Sooners—how much difference that makes in the Clemson defense will be determined this season. Outside of that, Clemson is probably going to be the same nightmarish defense that Wake Forest sees every year. The Deacs are going to have to figure out some way to get the running game going against them, because when the Tigers get a team in obvious passing situations, guys like Myles Murphy (8 sacks) and Trenton Simpson (6 sacks) can pin their ears back and make things really hard for opposing QB.
Clemson is ranked in the top 5 for a reason, and they are probably going to be a very good team yet again this season. They bring in another recruiting class full of 4 and 5-star talent and should have one of the best running backs in the ACC. Without Sam Hartman at QB, I don’t think the Deacs have much of a chance at pulling off the upset. If Hartman is healthy and ready to go, I’d give the Deacs a significantly higher (albeit still pretty low) chance, but until I actually see Wake Forest take down Clemson, I am going to chalk this one up to a loss. I will happily apology for this prediction if Wake Forest comes away with win.