The magic number for Wake Forest to clinch the Atlantic Division title is one, and the Demon Deacons could take care of that by defeating Clemson on Saturday at Death Valley. The Tigers (7-3, 5-2 ACC) are the only other Atlantic team with a chance to surpass Wake, but they need to win this week and hope that Boston College upsets the Deacs (9-1, 6-0) next week.
The two Atlantic contenders have certainly arrived at this point in different ways. Wake Forest relies heavily on its explosive offense while Clemson's strong defense has had to compensate for an offense that has faltered for much of the year. Both teams find themselves in unaccustomed positions. 2021 marks the first time the Demon Deacons have ever achieved a top-10 ranking, and Clemson is in jeopardy of finishing the year outside the Top 25 for the first time since 2010.
The Tigers have beaten the Demon Deacons 12 consecutive times, and the last Wake Forest win at Clemson was in 1998.
No. 10 Wake Forest at Clemson
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 20 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Clemson -4
When Wake Forest Has the Ball
This is the matchup everyone will be focusing on. Wake Forest is tops in the ACC and No. 2 nationally in scoring offense while Clemson allows an ACC-low 15.3 points per game. At the heart of Wake's offense is its tempo. Head coach Dave Clawson's offense goes fast, and their 762 plays on the year rank 10th in America. To make an offense run smoothly at that pace, a good quarterback is needed, and the Deacs certainly have that in Sam Hartman. In a league loaded with top signal-callers, Hartman will undoubtedly find his way on one of the All-ACC teams at season's end.
Jaquarii Roberson and A.T. Perry are two big-time receivers, and each will most likely go over 1,000 yards receiving on the season. Roberson was a known commodity coming into the season, but the emergence of Perry has given the Wake offense an extra jolt this fall. While it would be nice if Michigan State star Kenneth Walker III was still in Winston-Salem, Wake Forest still has a quality running game led by Christian Beal-Smith and Justice Ellison. Also, Hartman is a threat with his feet and has nine rushing touchdowns on the year.
To disrupt the Wake Forest offense, Clemson is going to have to win the battle up front, and that is something the Tigers are more than capable of doing. Myles Murphy, Tyler Davis, Xavier Thomas, and Ruke Orhorhoro are talented linemen that are difficult to block. Throw in linebackers like James Skalski, Baylon Spector, and Trenton Simpson, and you can see why Clemson still ranks among the nation's elite in most defensive categories. Wake may be able to make plays against Clemson's secondary, but giving Hartman time and creating passing lanes will be key.
When Clemson Has the Ball
Obviously, this matchup does not possess the same kind of cache. Clemson's offense has stumbled around for most of the year, and it's hard to get excited about a 44-point effort when it comes against UConn. However, the Tigers did score 30 points against Florida State and Louisville in the two games preceding UConn. Still, Clemson's offense has had only three games of more than 400 yards, and two of those were against South Carolina State and UConn.
As Wake Forest's offense has hummed along with Hartman, many of Clemson's offensive woes can be traced to D.J. Uiagalelei. The sophomore has completed just 55 percent of his throws, and his 5.8 yards per attempt is at the bottom of the ACC charts. The line has been spotty, in run blocking as well as pass protection, and Uiagalelei needs to be more decisive in the pocket. One thing that has helped recently is the progression of freshmen running backs Will Shipley and Phil Mafah.
Whether Shipley and Mafah get room to run depends on which Wake Forest rush defense shows up. Will it be the one that was gashed for more than 300 yards by Syracuse and North Carolina? Or will it be the one that held NC State to just 74 rushing yards last week? On the whole, this area has not been a strength, and the Wolfpack did only run the ball 18 times last week. What Wake does better than anyone in the league is force turnovers, something they've done at least once in every game this season. Led by end Rondell Bothroyd, the Demon Deacons can bring pressure, which they will attempt to do this week to unsettle Uiagalelei.
Clemson's defense will be the best unit the Wake Forest offense has seen all year. They are big and physical up front and will create problems at times for the Demon Deacons. But Syracuse has the No. 2 defense in the ACC and is just 14 yards per game behind Clemson. Wake scored 40 on them. NC State is No. 3. The Deacs put up 45 on the Pack last week. So Hartman and Co. have moved the ball on other good defenses. Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables has had success slowing down Clawson's system in the past, but Wake only needs to score so much this week because Clemson's offense is not good. They may not hit 40 but the Demon Deacons will put enough points on the board to win the game and clinch a spot in the ACC title game.
Prediction: Wake Forest 34, Clemson 20
Podcast: Week 12 Predictions + Picks Against the Spread, CFB Playoff Rankings, and the Latest in Coaching Searches
— 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.