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Wake Forest Football: 3 Keys to Beating Clemson

How can the Deacs secure a victory in week 6?

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at Wake Forest Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Hopefully, the Deacs got some things figured out during the bye week, because they have a pretty tough game on the road against Clemson this week. Wake hasn’t beaten Clemson since Dabo was hired in 2008, and they haven’t won a game in Memorial Stadium since 1998. The Tigers are definitely having a bit a down year so far this season, sitting at 1-2 in the ACC and being unranked for the first time since 2014, so this could be the best chance Wake has had in a long time to get that elusive win. Let’s checkout 3 keys for Wake Forest to come away with their first conference win of the season.

Trust the Receivers

It’s no secret that the Wake Forest offense struggled in the first 4 games of the season. The high-powered offense that we have seen over the past couple of years (4th and 18th best in the nation in 2021 and 2022) now ranks 69th in the nation in points per game, 47th in yards per game, and 4th in turnovers per game—and that’s after playing what are likely the 4 worst defenses on the schedule. The biggest culprit for this drop-off is Wake’s inability to handle blitzes—in the past two games, Mitch Griffis has been sacked 12 times by Old Dominion and Georgia Tech, two teams that had 0 and 1 sack respectively heading into the game. From the line, to the running backs, to the QB, it has been pretty bad at every level, making Wake the 4th most sacked team in the nation at 4.5 sacks allowed per game. That is going to have to change for Wake to win this Saturday.

Clemson, as we have seen many times in the past, loves to bring pressure against the Deacs to blow up that mesh point and make it really hard for Wake to get anything going on offense. That plan backfired last season, as QB Sam Hartman absolutely torched the Tigers through the air when they blitzed.

For the last few years, Wake’s basic plan of attack against the blitz was to buy enough time for the receivers to get off the line of scrimmage and then throw a jump ball down the field at a favorable a 1 on 1 matchup, trusting the receiver to adjust and come down with the ball. Through Wake’s first 4 games, Griffis has not really done that. It seems as though he is waiting for one of his receivers to break and be clearly open rather than just giving his guys a chance to make a play down the field. That has resulted in him holding onto the ball far too long, leading to a ton of sacks and turnovers.

Wake Forest’s receiving corps is their most talented unit, and guys like Jahmal Banks just need more opportunities to have an impact on the game. Against the Tigers last season, Banks led the Deacs with 6 catches for 141 yards and 2 touchdowns. Hopefully Griffis’s late touchdown to Welsey Grimes against the Yellow Jackets showed him the blueprint for handling the blitz for the rest of the season: throw it up and trust that the receiver is going to make something happen.

Mix it up on offense

Running the slow mesh and throwing bombs down the field has worked great in the past, but it has not been that effective this season. Rather than trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, another way to help out the offense would be to just mix up the plays. Clemson has a really good defensive line with guys like TJ Parker, Xavier Thomas, and 2nd team All American Tyler Davis, who have combined for 5.5 sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss already this season. Trying to run the slow mesh style plays with that line and 2 of the ACC’s best linebackers in Barret Carter and Jeremiah Trotter Jr. likely flying into the backfield might not be a recipe for success. The Deacs should try to use more quick passes, screens, and designed rollouts to slow down the pass rush and stop the pocket from collapsing around Mitch Griffis. That would likely help to alleviate some of the sacks and batted down passes that have plagued the offense in the past couple of games.

Win the turnover battle

Wake Forest is one of the worst teams in the nation at giving away the football, turning it over 2.5 times per game. The only 3 teams in the country averaging more turnovers per game this season are Old Dominion, Arizona State, and Colorado State. Clemson, on the other hand, is one of the best teams in the nation at forcing turnovers, coming away with 2 takeaways per game so far this season (21st in the nation). Against FBS opponents, the Tigers are 0-2 when they lose the turnover battle (Duke, FSU) and 2-0 (Syracuse, FAU) when they when they win it.

In their last game against Syracuse, Clemson scored 21 points off of 3 Syracuse turnovers on drives of 55 yards, 3 yards, and 32 yards—on their other 11 drives, they scored just 10 points. The Wake Forest defense has been really good so far this season, giving up just 17.5 points per game, but if their backs are against the wall the repeatedly because of turnovers, there’s only so much they are going to be able to do against one of the most talented teams in the conference. The Deacs simply cannot afford to give the Tigers a bunch of short fields by carelessly turning the ball over multiple times. Hopefully, during the bye week Wake fixed their turnover issue, because they are not going to win many conference games this season if they continue to turn the ball over at such a high rate.