After a bye week, the Deacs are back in action in Week 6 for what is almost always their toughest opponent of the season, the Clemson Tigers. Wake has still not beaten Clemson since a 12-7 win in 2008—the game which resulted in Tommy Bowden “resigning” and Dabo Swinney taking over as interim head coach. While the Tigers home winning streak was snapped last season by South Carolina, Clemson is still one of the toughest places to play in the country, so Wake is going will probably have to play a flawless game to pull off the win in this one.
- Opponent: Clemson Tigers
- Date: Saturday, October 7th, 2023
- Location: Memorial Stadium | Clemson, SC
- Vegas Win Total O/U: 9.5
- 2022 Record: 10-3, 8-0 in ACC
- Previous Matchup: Wake 45—Clemson 51 in OT (2022)
- All time vs Wake Forest: 70-17
There’s not much to say about Clemson that Wake fans don’t already know. The Tigers have been the most dominant team in the ACC for about a decade, with 7 ACC championships and 2 national titles since 2015. Even in their “disappointing” seasons, the Tigers get to double digit wins and play in big time bowl games. Shockingly, this year will probably be no different, as the Tigers should have some solid improvements on the offenses side of the ball that will once again make them a title contender.
Despite finishing the season 11-3 last year, the Clemson offense was not great last season. The Tigers finished 30th in the nation in scoring offense with 33.2 points per game and 48th in the nation in total offense with 410 yards per game—that’s probably good enough for some programs, but for a team vying for championships, that isn’t going to get it done. As a result, Swinney decided to make a change and hired Garrett Riley, the brother of USC coach Lincoln Riley and former TCU offensive coordinator. TCU, you may recall, played for the National Championship last season and had one of the best offenses in the nation, scoring over 38 points per game and racking up over 450 yards per game. If Riley was able to accomplish that with an offense with 0 5-star and only a handful of 4-star players, imagine what he could do with one of the most talented rosters in the nation.
While Wake fans may not believe it based on how he played against the Deacs, the biggest issue with the Clemson offense last season was starting QB DJ Uiagalelei’s inconsistency throwing the football. Some games—like the one against Wake where he completed 63% of his passes for 371 yards and 5 touchdowns—he looked like the all-star QB Clemson thought they were getting when he committed as the number 2 overall player of the 2020 class. In other games—like against Syracuse (138 yards, 2 ints) or South Carolina (8-29, 99 yards) he looked like the exact opposite. Those issues should be solved for the Tigers this season with talented sophomore Cade Klubnik taking over the reins. As a true freshman in 2022, Klubnik completed 61% of his passes for 697 yards, 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. He took over the starting job after the South Carolina game, starting in both the ACC Championship game and the Orange Bowl against Tennessee. While he definitely had some freshman moments in those games, his raw talent was undeniable.
An improved passing game and four returning starters on the offensive line should result in a big year for junior Will Shipley, the 1st Team All-ACC preseason running back. Shipley has been the Tigers’ best player for the past couple of seasons, gaining over 2,200 yards from scrimmage and scoring 26 total touchdowns in 24 games. In his 2 games against Wake Forest, Shipley is averaging 108 yards and 1.5 touchdowns on the ground per game, so he has definitely had his way against the Deacon defense so far in his career.
On the defensive side, the Tigers weren’t the juggernaut they had been under Brent Venables, but they were still very good. The Clemson defense held opponents to just 21 points and 334 total yards per game last season, good for 22nd and 28th in the nation respectively. That defense returns a ton of talent, including maybe the best linebacker tandem in the conference in Jeremiah Trotter (92 tackles, 13.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks) and Barrett Carter (77 tackles, 10.5 TFL, 5.5 sacks). Trotter and Carter, alongside 3-time All-ACC DT Tyler Davis (27 tackles, 9.5 TFL 5.5 sacks, will making running the ball against the Tigers very difficult this season.
While the Deacs were able to exploit the Clemson secondary last season to the tune of 337 yards and 6 touchdowns, Clemson was without three starters in the secondary (Andrew Mukuba, Sheridan Jones, and Malcolm Greene) for that game. After giving up those 6 touchdowns against Wake Forest, the Clemson secondary allowed just 12 passing touchdowns in their 8 remaining regular season games, and just 3 passing touchdowns in their 2 post season games against UNC and Tennessee. With more game experience and healthy veterans, I suspect the Clemson secondary will be much better this season.
Beating Clemson in Death Valley is an extremely difficult thing to pull off—only 2 teams (Pitt and South Carolina) have done it since 2016. The Tigers once again have a loaded roster and goals of playing in the College Football Playoff. Wake Forest has not beaten Clemson on the road since 1998. I feel comfortable chalking this one up to what should be the first loss of the season.