This could have been a fun matchup. One of the nation’s best offenses against one of the stingiest defenses.
However, while Wake Forest comes in riding high and looking to lock up the Atlantic, Clemson literally limps in with the most banged up team in the country, especially on offense.
The Tigers are missing all three of their starting wide receivers, two of their top three tight ends are hurt, and their top two running backs were given last week off in an effort to help heal their banged up bodies. And now their top two quarterbacks are hurt.
DJ Uiagalelei is expected to play, but it was obvious he was far from healthy last week. Taisun Phommachanh may not even be available with that injured shoulder. And that isn’t even mentioning the offensive line, where injuries have also taken a toll.
All that to say, how does this Clemson team win against the Demon Deacons, who average 45 points per game, and have one of the nation’s most experienced teams. If the Tigers have any shot in this game, two things have to happen.
First, the defense has to bring it, and hold Wake to half their scoring average. This will be by far the best defense Wake Forest has seen all season and in the past Clemson has been very successful at shutting down the slow developing mesh plays the Deacons love to run.
The defensive front is going to have to dominate the line of scrimmage. Contain the run and get after Wake quarterback Sam Hartman. Get pressure without having to blitz. That is when Clemson’s pass defense is at its best.
Second, the Tigers have to run the ball. Then run it some more. With Will Putnam expected back, the interior of the line, which has struggled without him since Matt Bockhorst went down, should be better. Before those two were hurt, the running game looked like it was starting to get going, before being stymied last week against lowly UConn.
Clemson comes in rushing for 146 yards per game and to beat Wake Forest they will have to do better than that. In fact, much better. The magic number is 200. If the Tigers can rush for 200 yards, they will win.
Having said that, it will be extremely difficult to pull that off. Knowing Uiagalelei is hurt, the Demon Deacons can stack the box, take away the run and make the struggling quarterback beat them with his arm.
The defense will do their part, but I’m just not confident that the offense can. From some of the chatter, Uiagalelei is even more banged up than what’s being said, and that knee alone severely limited him one week ago.
For the first time in almost three years, I am predicting the Tigers to lose, maybe even in heartbreaking fashion. The outgoing seniors, outside of the six super seniors, will unfortunately finally find out what it feels like to drop a game in Death Valley.
Wake Forest 26 Clemson 24
Sam Clemons: Pretty much everything that can be said about the struggles of this team in this season has been said. There’s little doubt that Wake Forest is the better team. They’ve proven that but there is a glaring flaw. They seem to score at will but so do their opponents. That’s an advantage for Clemson to exploit. Also, the emotions and loud crowds in Death Valley can be a game changer and has proven it over and over. I’m never going to choose any other team than Clemson to win but I won’t be surprised if they come up with the short end of the stick in this one.
Clemson 30 Wake Forest 27
Freddie Huth: This season has been a tough one on fans, the players, and coaches. Even with that being the case, the Tigers still have an outside shot at making their seventh straight ACC title game but for that to happen they will have to beat the Atlantic Division’s top team in Wake Forest. Clemson has played their best ball under head coach Dabo Swinney when their backs were against the wall which is where they squarely are now. I expect that, it being Senior Day, and the Demon Deacons coming in after a very physical game to play into the Tigers favor and they get the win.
Clemson 31 Wake Forest 21
Ted Jackson: The irony of this game is that a loss to Wake Forest opened up to the door for Dabo Swinney to take the reins at Clemson over a decade ago. Clemson’s ACC Championship hopes now lie in defeating the team that helped make Swinney’s tenure at Clemson possible. Swinney stepped up to the plate back then, and led the team to the most successful run in Clemson history. This time will end differently, however, as Clemson will fall to Wake Forest. The home winning streak and ACC Championship hopes will both end as a hapless, injured Clemson team won’t have an answer for Wake Forest’s scoring offense. The defense will keep Clemson in the game but the offense will once again struggle in an upset win for Wake Forest.
Wake Forest 27 Clemson 23
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