Tigers close out ACC play by welcoming Demon Deacons to Death Valley
Wake Forest had it all right in front of them. Win at Virginia Tech and the stage would be set for a winner-take-all showdown against Clemson for the ACC Atlantic Division title. But the Demon Deacons gave up 30 points in the second half and the Hokies ran away to a 36-17 victory. When Clemson defeated NC State that evening, the Tigers clinched a spot in the ACC title game for the fifth straight year. Now, the remainder of the season is just an opportunity for Wake Forest to improve its bowl position.
Clemson, on the other hand, is where they always are: deep in the hunt. While much of the nation has been focused on LSU and Ohio State, the Tigers have demolished their last five opponents by an average score of 53-11. This will be Clemson's final ACC regular-season game as the Tigers have a week off before their rivalry contest with South Carolina.
Clemson has won 10 in a row over Wake Forest, including last year's 63-3 trouncing in Winston-Salem
Wake Forest at Clemson
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 16 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Clemson -34.5
When Wake Forest Has the Ball
Demon Deacons quarterback Jamie Newman had his worst game of the year last Saturday and things will only get more difficult this week. Not only will the junior quarterback have to contend with the nation's No. 2 pass defense, one that's giving up just 137 passing yards per game, he also will have to do so without two of his key targets.
Sage Surratt, who leads the ACC in receiving yards and touchdowns, is out for the season with an unspecified injury that will require surgery. Fifth-year senior Scotty Washington missed the Virginia Tech game and Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson said that he will not play this week as well. That means Newman will have to look for slot man Kendall Hilton and tight end Jake Freudenthal on a more regular basis.
Clawson would love to get the running game going early and rush defense is the weakest part of the Clemson defense. However, it's all relative. The Tigers rank 23rd against the run and allow just 114 yards per game on the ground, so while they are not as strong in that department as they are against the pass, it’s hardly an Achilles heel. Plus, the Wake ground game has slumped in recent weeks, to the point where the Deacs had just 63 rushing yards last Saturday in Blacksburg in the loss to the Hokies. The Wake offensive line has done a pretty good job protecting Newman this season, but without a competent running game, Clemson's defensive front will harass the quarterback all afternoon.
When Clemson Has the Ball
Much was made of Trevor Lawrence's interception problems early in the year. In the first three games, the star sophomore threw five picks and had just five touchdown passes. But since that time, Lawrence has an 18 :3 touchdown-to-interception ratio and has completed 71 percent of his throws. He’s been especially ridiculous in his last three games, completing 48 of 62 (77 percent) with nine touchdowns and no picks.
Travis Etienne also continued his string of big games with a 112-yard effort against NC State. He now has five straight 100-yard games and he hasn't had more than 17 carries in any of those contests. When Etienne comes out and Lyn-J Dixon comes in, there is little drop-off. The sophomore is averaging more than six yards per carry and has three consecutive games of 50-plus yards.
Clemson should be able to move the ball however they want, but look for them to start out by feeding the ball to Etienne and Dixon. The Wake Forest defense has given up more than 200 rushing yards in three of the last five games and their play has been negatively affected by the loss of star linebacker Justin Strnad, who has missed the last two games and will be out the rest of the season with an arm injury.
Motivation plays such a big role in sports — and football in particular — and that is something Wake Forest will need to battle this week. The loss to the Hokies not only destroyed the Demon Deacons' ACC Atlantic title chances, it also severely hampered their New Year’s Six bowl hopes. The Deacs are already bowl eligible and now it’s about playing for pride and getting into the best bowl they can. And the team on the other sideline has everything on the line. Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has always talked about approaching the season in steps. Goal No. 1 was accomplished by winning the Atlantic. But the Tigers always have the big prize on their minds and November is the time to get ready for the postseason. Clemson will maul Wake Forest this weekend and continue to show why they will again be a prime contender when the College Football Playoff starts on Dec. 28.
Prediction: Clemson 49, Wake Forest 14
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.