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Wake Forest Demon Deacons vs. Clemson Tigers Preview and Prediction

John Wolford

John Wolford

Head coach Dave Clawson has done a fine job building the Wake Forest program. After a pair of 3-9 seasons, the Demon Deacons qualified for the Military Bowl last season, where they knocked off Temple. Beating a big boy in the ACC is the next step, something the Deacons almost did last week against Florida State.

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Another chance comes this week when the Deacs go to Death Valley to face defending national champion Clemson. The Tigers are rolling at 5-0 following their 31-17 victory over Virginia Tech.

Clemson has won 62 of the 84 meetings between the two schools.

Wake Forest at Clemson

When: Saturday, Oct. 7 at 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

Spread: Clemson -21.5

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Three Things to Watch

1. Negative yardage

Putting teams in bad down-and-distance situations is a trademark of the Clemson defense. Defensive tackles Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence get a lot of attention, and now-healthy end Austin Bryant has been a terror as well. But as good as Clemson is at creating negative plays, Wake Forest is even better. The Demon Deacons are No. 1 in the land with 50 tackles for lost yardage, and star defensive end Duke Ejiofor is second in America with 10.5 tackles for a loss on his own. In addition to limiting negative plays, Wake's offense also has to avoid costly penalties. Last week against FSU, a holding call at the Seminoles' 10-yard line forced a first-and-goal from the 20, and the Deacs had to settle for a field goal. Clemson is too good; they don't need the Deacons' help.

2. Quarterback play

The quarterback play for both teams has been a bit of a surprise. No one knew what to expect from Clemson’s Kelly Bryant, especially since he was following the great Deshaun Watson. But the junior from Calhoun Falls, South Carolina, has been great, completing 68 percent of his pass attempts and running for seven scores. Most thought they knew all they needed to know about Wake Forest's John Wolford. Last season, the 6-foot-1, 200-pounder completed just 56 percent of his passes with nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions. But in his senior year, Wolford has blossomed, completing 63 percent of his throws with eight touchdowns and just one pick.

3. Wake Forest’s receivers vs. the Clemson secondary

Redshirt freshman receiver Greg Dortch has been outstanding for Wake Forest. He has 30 receptions on the year, and his five touchdown catches put him eighth nationally. But the Deacons have struggled to find other options. Tight end Cam Serigne has had a nice career, but he has just nine receptions so far this season, though four have resulted in scores. Wake needs to get production from other receivers this week against a good Clemson secondary that is only getting better.

Final Analysis

This is a bit of a tricky spot for Clemson. After a brilliant opening month, this is where the schedule supposedly eases up. But Wake Forest has a defense that could give the Tigers some problems, especially if the Clemson that showed up in the first three quarters against Boston College reappears. The Tigers are back home, but they’ve actually played better on the road so far in 2017. Clemson will win this game, perhaps even comfortably. But it won’t necessarily be pretty, and it may take some time to put Wake Forest away.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Clemson

Prediction: Clemson 31, Wake Forest 13

— 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.