WHAT WE ARE HEARING: PREVIEW AND PREDICTION FOR CLEMSON vs. WAKE FOREST
- 2023-10-06 16:02:32
Welcome to another edition of What We Are Hearing!
The Tigers rebounded from their gut-wrenching overtime loss to No.3 FSU with an impressive road win at 4-0 Syracuse, 31-14. Weitz missed another field goal, and Briningstool fumbled, but they were outstanding otherwise. The defense created 3 turnovers—on all of which the offense scored—and sacked Shrader a season-high 5 times, holding the nation’s leading rushing quarterback to 1.6 yards per carry. They return to Death Valley this week for Homecoming against Wake Forest to finish the first half of the season with a bye next week. The Tigers have lost before the bye two out of the last three years—both at Notre Dame—so we’ll see if they can maintain their focus and go into the bye on a strong note. Interestingly, Dabo has never lost to Wake, but it was the loss at Wake in 2008 that cost Tommy Bowden his job and made Dabo the interim head coach. This is the Tigers’ only home game in the month of October, so the Tigers will be donning pink to represent Breast Cancer Awareness Month. My grandmother died of breast cancer when I was young, and my mom is a breast cancer survivor who had a double mastectomy, so I truly appreciate everything Dabo and Kathleen Swinney do to raise money for breast cancer research with their All In Foundation!
Before I dive into this week’s matchup, the Tigers’ hopes of repeating as ACC champs got much better last week. In case you missed it, Duke quarterback Riley Leonard suffered a high ankle sprain at the end of the game against Notre Dame. Those take a long time to heal, and a huge part of his game is his running ability. Duke has a bye this week, but if Leonard can’t run effectively for a few games, Duke could very lose its next 3 ACC contests against NC State, at FSU and at Louisville. And they play at UNC later in the season. The Tigers could conceivably make the ACC Championship if Duke loses 3 games or loses at UNC and at FSU, forcing a 3-way tie between Clemson, UNC and Duke. The season ain’t over yet! But the Tigers obviously have no more margin for error and must win the rest of their ACC games. It starts this week with Wake! On to the matchup…
Clemson leads the all-time series with Wake 70-17-1. The only school Clemson has beaten more times is South Carolina (72)…Clemson has won 11 straight home games versus Wake, last losing in 1998…Dabo is 14-0 against Wake. No other FBS head coach on record since 1996 has started his career 14-0 against any single opponent. Bob Stoops is second with 12-0 records against Baylor, Kansas and Iowa State. Dabo is also undefeated versus 3 other ACC teams: Louisville (8-0), Virginia Tech (6-0) and Virginia (5-0). He lost for the first time against Duke to open this season…A Clemson win would make Dave Clawson the first head coach to lose to Dabo 10 times…Dabo won his 100th regular-season conference game last week, tying the legendary Frank Howard. Only Bobby Bowden has more ACC regular season wins with 117. Virginia Tech, which joined the ACC 4.5 years before Dabo became a head coach, also just won its 100th regular-season ACC game…Dabo is going for his 165th career win, tying Frank Howard again. It would also tie Bobby Dodd, the namesake of Georgia Tech’s historic football stadium…This will be Dabo’s 206th game. It took Howard 292 games to win 165…Clemson had a season-high 5 sacks last week. The Tigers have 504 sacks since 2012 to lead the nation…Saturday is the 17th anniversary of “the Gaines Adams play.” Attempting to take a 20-3 lead in the 4th quarter, Wake botched a field goal, and the late Clemson legend ripped the ball away, returning it 66 yards for a touchdown. The Tigers went on to win 27-17. I was in my first year of the Clemson MBA program and watched the game at Tiger Town Tavern…Dabo has scored at least 28 points in all 14 of his games versus Wake, which is tied for the longest streak for any program against another…Since 2011, Clemson is 47-3 versus ACC opponents in Death Valley…Clemson has not lost consecutive home games since Tommy Bowden’s final home game in 2008 and Dabo’ first game as interim head coach…Clemson is 104-6 against unranked teams since 2012…Clemson has scored at least one rushing touchdown in 72 of 74 games since 2018 to lead the nation…Clemson ranks 5th in the nation in first downs per game and 9th in first downs allowed. No other team ranks in the top 10 for both. The Tigers’ average differential of 12.5 first downs per game is the best in program history… Clemson has the most Power Five wins since 2013, with 2 more than Alabama and 7 more than Ohio State…The overtime loss to No.3 FSU dropped Dabo (.800) just below Nick Saban (.801) on the all-time win percentage list. Dabo is now 14th, just ahead of Bob Stoops…Will Shipley is the career all-purpose yards per game leader for all active players…
Wake comes into the game with a 3-1 record, losing 30-16 at home to Georgia Tech last week. The Deacs won their first two games at home convincingly over Elon and Vanderbilt, then they survived a scare at Old Dominion 27-24. This will be their second road game of the season.
Wake obviously lost its outstanding, veteran quarterback in Sam Hartman, who transferred to Notre Dame and is in the Heisman running. He lit up the Tigers last season but lost a shootout to DJ and the Tigers 51-45 in overtime. That game was a turning point for Nate Wiggins and the Tigers’ secondary, which was young, inexperienced and had an awful day. They started showing improvement from that point on and are now a strength of the team. Wiggins was even Defensive MVP of the ACC Championship Game. The Deacs also lost their best receiver in AT Perry, who is now in the NFL. However, they still have Head Coach Dave Clawson, whose teams are always experienced, well-coached and hard-nosed.
The new quarterback at Wake is 5’11, 193-pound fourth-year sophomore Mitch Griffis, and he is no Sam Hartman. He is capable, though. He completed 71 percent of his 41 attempts last season for 5 touchdowns and one interception. This season, he’s completed 60 percent of his passes for 999 yards, 9 TD’s and 6 INT’s. He is not much of a running threat, averaging 0.8 yards per carry. He ran 20 times for 43 yards last week in their lone loss.
Although Wake lost a great receiver in AT Perry, the Deacs still have a Banks and Morin, who each had 9 touchdown catches last season. 6’4, 205 pound junior Jahmal Banks (#80) leads the team with 24 catches for 276 yards and 3 TD’s. 5’10, 180-pound junior Taylor Morin (#2) has 18 catches for 239 yards and 2 scores. 6’2, 187-pound sophomore Wesley Grimes (#8) only has 10 catches, but 2 of them went for touchdowns, and he averages 19.9 yards per catch. In the backfield, the Deacs are led by 5’9, 200-pound sophomore Demond Claiborne (#23) and 5’10, 209-pound junior Justice Ellison (#6). Claiborne has rushed for 311 yards and 2 scores on 4.9 yards per carry, and Ellison has 44 carries for 5.7 yards per with no scores. 5’10, 209-pound freshman Tate Carney (#30) only has 14 carries but averages 8.5 yards per with one touchdown. Wake still employs the unorthodox, slow-mesh RPO system that we have seen for the last few years. It’s designed to freeze the linebackers until the last second, when the quarterback decides whether to hand off or keep the ball. It requires discipline and patience from the front seven.
The Tigers had their best offensive performance at Wake last season, but the Deacs’ defense looks to be improved in their second year under Defensive Coordinator Brad Lambert, who was also the DC there under Jim Grobe years ago. They have 16 sacks this season, which is tied for 17th nationally. Senior LB Jacob Roberts (#40) from Charlotte has a forced fumble and 5 sacks, which is tied for 5th in the nation. 6’3, 259-pound junior DE Jasheen Davis (#30) has a fumble recovery and 4.5 sacks, which is tied for 11th nationally. Dabo has been emphatic about how good the Deacs’ secondary is, and they have 6 interceptions to back that up. Sophomore DaShawn (#10) has 3 by himself. However, the Deacs’ pass defense is ranked 70th in the nation, allowing 229 yards per game. Haynes King and Georgia Tech passed for 222 yards at Wake last week.
Wake has an excellent kicker in Matthew Dennis from Charlotte. He is 9-10 on field goals this season with a long of 44 yards. Last season, he was 12-14 with a long of 46. The Deacs’ punter, Ivan Mora, only averages 34 yards per punt with a long of 48, but he hasn’t punted one into the end zone yet this season. WR Taylor Morin is a dangerous punt returner. He has a 34-yard return this season and averages over 9 yards per. WR Ke’Shawn Williams has a 44-yard kickoff return.
Wake is ranked No.52 in scoring defense (22.8 points per game), No.33 in rush defense (109.5 yars/game), No.70 in pass defense (229 yards/game) and No.45 in total defense (338.5 yards/game). The Deacs are ranked No.70 in scoring offense (29 points/game), No.48 in rushing offense (176.75 yards/game), No.57 in passing offense (249.8 yards/game) and No.47 in total offense (426.5 yards/game). Wake is 102nd in turnover margin at -2 on the season. They’ve turned the ball over 10 times and only have 2 fumble recoveries to go with their 6 interceptions. This will be by far the toughest test Wake has had, however, having played Elon, Vandy, Old Dominion and Georgia Tech so far.
The Tigers won 31-14 at 4-0 Syracuse last week minus 4 starters. WR Cole Turner and OG Walker Parks are out for the season, and WR Antonio Williams and CB Nate Wiggins are day-to-day, so they will be a game day decision. Dabo told us that it’s all hands on deck to beat Wake, so if Williams and Wiggins are able to play, they will. Dabo says he won’t rest them just to give them an extra week off with the bye coming up. Even if neither play on Saturday, however, the Tigers got by fine without them at Cuse. With Turner and Williams both missing the last two games, the whole receiver corps has really stepped up in their absence. True freshman Tyler Brown has become a bona fide start and the Tigers’ most dangerous big-play threat since making his first start against FSU. Collins, Briningstool, Stellato and Randall have also made big plays in the passing game. Dabo is looking for a little more consistency from sophomore Adam Randall, though. Brown set career highs last week with 9 catches for 153 yards, and he’s been great on 3rd down. Many people have questioned the Tigers’ recruiting and development of the receivers for the last few years, because of the poor production, but a lot of that has to do with injuries. The Tigers have been plagued by receiver injuries for the past two seasons and now into this season with two starters, Turner and Williams, out. Collins, Ngata and Randall were all injured last season, and Stellato has missed the last two seasons due to injuries. Remember 2021 when true freshman Beaux Collins had to lead the team in receiving despite dropping several balls? It was so bad that Will Swinney had to start at receiver in the last 3 games! Well, now we’re seeing what Collins, Stellato and Randall can do when they’re healthy, and for a third straight year, a talented true freshman has emerged. There may not be a Mike Williams or Tee Higgins on this team, but they seem to be just fine at receiver. As for Wiggins, it will be ironic if he misses this game because, as mentioned, his career hit a low point at Wake last season, and he has become one of the best corners in the league since. If he’s unable to play, sophomore Jeadyn Lukus, who held his own against those big Syracuse receivers last week, will make his second career start. Sophomore Toriano Pride has plenty of experience as well.
The Tigers are a work-in-progress at kicker, with Weitz going 1-2 in each of the last 2 games, but he made his last one, so hopefully he can keep that going. At least he hasn’t missed any extra points. Aidan Swanson won the August punting competition with Jack Smith, and he’s been a real asset this season. As mentioned, the Tigers had a fumble last week, but believe it or not, they have a positive turnover margin for the season now! There isn’t a team on the schedule that will beat the Tigers if they win the turnover margin, so let’s hope that starts a trend. The fumble by Briningstool last week wasn’t in either red zone, so even that’s progress, although it was on first down. The Tigers are one of the least penalized teams in the nation with just 4.4 per game. That’s the fewest they’ve had since 2014. The national championship team in 2018 averaged 4.9 per game. Cade Klubnik is growing up before our eyes and has improved week by week. He's really been sensational since the pick-six against Charleston Southern. That was his last interception, and if the Tigers go a fourth straight game without an interception, it would be their first time since the last 4 games of the 2019 season. Knock on wood!
Last year’s game was a nail-biter, but Sam Hartman is gone (we’ll see him later when Notre Dame comes to town), and this one is in Death Valley, where the Tigers last trounced Wake even with Hartman and Perry. In my estimation, this Wake team has taken a step back from the team they’ve had for the last couple years and won the division in 2021. I believe that the bad luck, fluke plays and back-breaking turnovers are behind the Tigers. But even if they make one or two bad mistakes again on Saturday, the Tigers can overcome them because the Deacs are too outmanned. Make it 15-0 for Dabo over Wake, as the Tigers make a statement on Homecoming and carry momentum into the bye week before heading south for a tough road game at Miami.
The Prowl toward another ACC Championship continues….
CLEMSON 41 Wake Forest 13
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