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Clemson at Wake Forest
November 1st, 2003
Clemson enters November with a new vigor after whipping North Carolina the week before this match up with Wake Forest. The Tigers travel to Winston Salem to try and even their record in the ACC, and possibly clinch a bowl berth with a win over the Deacons.
Wake Forest is coming off a 7-6 season in 2002 that included a Seattle Bowl blowout of Oregon 38-17. The Deacons finished 3-5 in the ACC in 2002, which was only good enough for a 7th place finish. Wake Forest defeated East Carolina (27-22), Purdue (24-21), Georgia Tech (24-21), Duke (36-10), North Carolina (31-0), and Navy (30-27) in addition to the bowl win versus Oregon.
Clemson defeated Wake Forest in 2002 by a tight score of 31-23. Brian Mance forced a fumble late in the game as Wake was driving for a possible game-tying touchdown.
Wake Forest lost the services of highly touted offensive coordinator Troy Calhoun to the Denver Broncos of the NFL in the off-season. Steed Lobotzke will take over as offensive coordinator, implementing the same philosophy that Calhoun and head coach Jim Grobe have used the past 2 years. Grobe is 13-11 in his two seasons in Winston Salem and was just awarded a 10-year extension on his contract to keep him from taking the job at Baylor.
This will be the 9th overall game and the 6th ACC game for Wake Forest in the 2003 season. The Deacons open the season August 30th on the road versus Boston College. Wake returns home for a three game home stand versus N.C. State, Purdue, and East Carolina. The Deacons round out September by traveling to Charlottesville to play Virginia. After a bye week, Wake hosts Georgia Tech before heading back out on the road to play Duke and Florida State before hosting Clemson.
Key Returning Players For The Demon Deacons
On offense, the cupboards have been wiped out for Wake Forest due to graduations in 2002. Wake Forest only returns 3 starters on offense, a league low. The good news, relatively, is that each of the three starters that return are on the offensive line. Senior tackle Mark Moroz, senior guard Tyson Clabo, and junior center Blake Lingruen are the only three "starters" returning on offense, despite some experience at other positions. Fred Staton, Wake's leading rusher two years ago, could possibly be back on the team in 2003 after being dismissed for academic reasons.
On defense, Wake is a little more stable. While the defensive line will be full of fresh faces, the linebackers and defensive backs return 7 of 8 starters for 2003. Calvin Pace is gone along the defensive line, but linebacker Brad White returns. Senior Kellen Brantley also returns at linebacker, giving Wake plenty of beef in the middle of the field. Free Safety standout Quintin Williams returns to lead a secondary that will have all 4 starters returning from a unit that picked off 13 passes last year.
The kicking game returns both starters in place kicker Matt Wisnosky and punter Ryan Plackemeier.
|Former Tiger Brian Mance forced a critical fumble from Wake running back Chris Barclay late in the 4th quarter last year to preserve a much-needed Clemson victory.|
Wake is very good at deception, a trademark of the Wing T hybrid that Grobe installs yearly in Winston Salem. Wake is not going to be able to line it up and beat you head to head, so they don't even try. As a fan, it is almost impossible to pick up the ball as the play develops, so imagine being at the line of scrimmage while the deception is taking place.
Considering that Wake will try to run the ball more than pass, the fact that they return 3 of the 5 offensive line starters is a plus. The other two positions are led by senior guard Chad Rebar and sophomore tackle Greg Adkins. While Wake is small on the offensive line, averaging under 290 pounds a player, there is sufficient experience up front to make Wake solid in the offensive trenches.
Speaking of running, the coaches at Wake feel pretty good about the bevy or running backs that will take snaps in 2003. Chris Barclay and Nick Burney rushed for a combined 1,100 yards last year. With the possible return of Staton, Wake has three solid ball carries to employ in this unique offense.
The secondary for Wake should also be very solid. Of the 13 interceptions the Demon Deacons took away last year, returning players for 2003 account for 12 of those picks. Grobe has installed the 3-3-5 scheme (Nickel package) and has found success with it. With the inexperience on the defensive line, expect even more nickel coverages than last year under Grobe.
Groves Stadium, as odd as it sounds, is a strength for the Demon Deacons. This hollow, concrete structure may be better suited for a big time high school stadium. The fact that Wake does not even fill it with fans makes it that much more difficult to be mentally into a game in Winston Salem. Clemson always seems to struggle in this environment. And Clemson is not alone. Ask some of your N.C. State friends how much they dread their trips to Winston Salem, where State has struggled to even get wins at times.
Wake Forest Weaknesses
Who is going to be under center? Cory Randolph was the back up last year, and appears to have the job as the season starts. However, Grobe signed highly touted freshman Ben Mauk in February and he is already penciled in as the #2 guy. By the Clemson game, Mauk could be under center. Long term, Mauk may be the man, but a true freshman starting in this league with this team is a scary thought.
Wake has very little talent at the wide out position, a fact that will make running the ball harder to do than in 2002. Wide out Fabian Davis forced teams to at least respect the fact that Wake could throw the ball if they wanted to in 2002, but Davis is gone. Finding somebody to catch balls is a top priority for Wake Forest in fall practice.
The defensive line is inexperienced and small, a combination that does not sit well with Grobe. Averaging less than 280 pounds a man, the defensive line will get pushed around by offensive lines throughout. This will put a ton of pressure on the linebackers in this 3-3-5 scheme. In addition, Wake must count on the defensive backs to help with run support, something they did not have to do very often last year.
Wisnosky was not very good last year for the Demon Deacons. Wisnosky made only 9 of 16 kicks from greater than 30 yards in 2002, something that needs to be improved on this year. Wake is not good enough to pound drive after drive on teams, so a strong kicking game is a must to keep Wake in games.
Clemson is gunning for their 6th win in this game, something that would close the Tigers in on bowl eligibility.
Clemson has struggled against Wake, especially in Winston Salem, in recent years. The Tigers always seem a half step slow against the Demon Deacons, and that was very evident last year in Death Valley. Combining the stadium atmosphere with the deceptive play of Wake is a dangerous formula for Clemson this year.
This is simply the kind of game that Clemson must win. A loss to Wake Forest, regardless of their talent level, is like stabbing yourself in the heart. With Florida State looming the next week, it could possibly make the Tigers look past a Wake team that may only have 2 or 3 wins at that point in the season.
Clemson will be favored in the 10-14 point range against Wake Forest.
Clemson takes a workman-like win against Wake Forest, 27-14. Clemson will win, but it will not be a masterpiece. The Tigers will be looking ahead, and Wake is tricky enough to stay in the game. Clemson rarely routs Wake in Winston Salem, so there is no reason to think that they will in 2003. It should be a game that all Clemson fans, players, and coaches know we could lose. We should not lose this year (or ever) to Wake, but it most certainly could happen. I just don't think it will.
Clemson improves to 6-3 overall and 3-3 in the ACC. The next Bowden Bowl now looms and Clemson will once again have a chance to take a step forward by beating a better team. The Tigers felt like they could have…maybe should have…won last year in Tallahassee. The Tigers will get their chance at redemption next week with some surprising results…
Scott Rhymer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Scott and CUTigers.com publisher Roy Philpott are the co-hosts of the CUTigers.com Pregame Show on WCCP 104.9 FM, which airs 2 hours prior to the Tiger Tailgate Show on Clemson Gamedays.
Editor's Note: Our Florida State preview was published before our Wake Forest preview, even though the game against the Demon Deacons actually comes the week before FSU.