Losing to Pittsburgh was not whatClemson wanted, that’s for sure. But in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t change much for the Tigers. They are still in the top four in the College Football Playoff rankings and are one win away from being ACC Atlantic Division champs. If Clemson wins its final two regular season games (vs. South Carolina on Nov. 26) and the ACC Championship Game, the Tigers will be back in the playoff.
But a loss this Saturday at Wake Forestwould change everything. Louisville would win the division and the Tigers’ playoff dreams would be over. And at 6-4, the Demon Deacons are hardly a pushover. In last week’s game against Louisville, Wake led early in the fourth quarter before things unraveled in a big way.
Clemson has beaten Wake Forest seven straight times and has won 63 of the 81 games in the series.
Clemson at Wake Forest
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Clemson -22
Three Things to Watch
1. Deshaun Watson... the Good and Bad
Statistically, Watson was sensational against Pittsburgh. His 580 passing yards set an ACC record and he also threw for three scores. But his three interceptions – including two in the red zone – were costly. As good as Watson has been during his career at Clemson, he has given the ball away at times. Wake Forest is plus-9 in turnover margin and the defense is tied for third nationally with 23 takeaways. In order to maximize production, Watson cannot throw it to the guys in the other uniform.
2. Clemson Offensive Line
Wayne Gallman is a very good running back, but he has not had much room to run this year. Pittsburgh is a team that gives up big plays in the passing game, which is why Clemson threw the ball 70 times. But when the Tigers ran the ball, they weren’t effective, averaging just two yards per carry. Right tackle Jake Fruhmorgen missed the Pitt game with a shoulder injury and is still day-to-day. To make matters worse, left tackle Mitch Hyatt is dealing with a foot issue. Plus, the Wake Forest front – with linebacker Marquel Lee and defensive end Duke Ejiofor – have some guys that can bloody your nose and pressure the quarterback.
3. Can Wake Forest Generate Any Offense?
The Demon Deacons are No. 123 nationally in total offense, generating just 320 yards of per game. At 20.4 points per game their scoring offense isn’t much better, ranking 118th. The problems are greatest in the passing game where quarterback John Wolford is averaging 145 passing yards per game and has thrown just five touchdowns while getting picked off seven times. Wake also has a hard time protecting Wolford and Clemson will be coming hard on passing downs. The key for the Deacons is to get yardage on first down in order to avoid obvious passing situations. For them, against this Clemson defense, that is easier said than done.
The Pitt loss puts all the pressure on Clemson this week. Win and the Tigers are Atlantic Division champs again. Lose and the title goes to Louisville, and any chances of a repeat College Football Playoff appearance are gone too. Clemson has had some easy wins this season, but after what happened last week and going to Winston-Salem to play a Wake Forest team that will slow the pace of play, a tough game should be expected. But in the end, Wake Forest shouldn’t be able to score enough to win this game. The Tigers’ offense will be on the field a lot and though it may not be easy all the time, they will wear down the Wake defense. Clemson will win but the Tigers will know that they’ve been in a fight when it’s over.
Prediction: Clemson 31, Wake Forest 14
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.