Rushed road trip

CLEMSON - There are plenty of challenges this week for the Clemson football team.

The Tigers played in a physical game Saturday against Virginia Tech, and those bumps and bruises usually linger for a couple of days. With a normal week, there is time to get past those for the next Saturday's game. Playing Thursday shrinks that healing time quite a bit, but Wake Forest has the same challenges after it played Saturday, as well.

Traveling for a Thursday night game limits that even more, and that adds to the test that faces the Tigers this week. At least for the Demon Deacons, they're at home and get a little more practice time because they don't have to travel on the short week.

And then there is the opponent – a pesky Wake Forest team that is usually well-coached and plays hard every game.

Jim Grobe took over a mess of a program when he became the Demon Deacons' head coach, and he has turned Wake Forest into a solid program that has to be respected. The Demon Deacons are 4-2 overall this season, including 2-3 in the ACC after beating Virginia on the road Saturday.

Wake Forest, however, isn't quite the pest for Clemson that a lot of people believe it has been, although it has been tough to beat in Winston Salem. Yes, the Demon Deacons won the games in 2003 (a 45-17 embarrassment that almost cost Tommy Bowden his job), 2005 (31-27) and 2008 (a 12-7 game, ironically on Thursday night, that did cost Bowden his job and hand the top spot to Dabo Swinney), but that's it during the Grobe era. In his 11 games against Clemson, Wake Forest is 3-8.

Overall, Clemson leads the series 59-17-1 and is 21-10-1 in Winston Salem.

A lot of people focus on the 2003 and 2008 games in this series and think Wake Forest has had Clemson's number. But it's actually Swinney who has had Grobe's number, winning all three games against Wake Forest since taking over as Clemson's head coach. Last year, Clemson held off Wake Forest 31-28 to clinch the Atlantic Division title, but the other two games haven't been close – 38-3 in 2009 and 30-10 in 2010. So maybe Wake Forest isn't quite the test everyone believes it is, although the Tigers need to be ready to play in an interesting atmosphere. It's not intimidating like some larger venues, but playing at Wake Forest can be different, for sure, and in those losses in 2003, 2005 and 2008, the Tigers didn't handle that well.

And it is a road game, after all, something recent Clemson teams certainly haven't handled well.


Clemson won at Wake Forest 30-10 the last time it made the trip to Winston-Salem, N.C. (Roy Philpott)
Playing on the road hasn't been kind to Clemson the past few years, and that's the biggest challenge for the Tigers this week.

Since the start of the 2009 season, Clemson has been terrific at home. The Tigers are 22-3 at Death Valley during that time, and they have won 11 straight times, matching the program record for consecutive home wins.

Swinney certainly has brought the home-field advantage back to the program, and the Tigers play with an edge and a confidence at home that wasn't there before he became the head coach. That edge and confidence, however, haven't translated to road or neutral games since the start of the 2009 season. In those games, Clemson is just 9-14, going 3-4 in both 2009 and 2011 and 1-5 in 2010, along with a 2-1 record this year.

Whatever is working at home needs to be taken on the road with the Tigers on Thursday night for this game, and they have done a better job away from home this season. Clemson beat Auburn in a tremendous setting at the Georgia Dome to open the season and won at Boston College in a workmanlike performance. Yes, Clemson lost on the road to Florida State, but that appeared to be more about a young defense still finding itself than playing in Tallahassee.

That defense is performing better now, and it will need to against a Demon Deacons offense that does a lot of different things to affect its opponent. Wake Forest's offense, however, hasn't been as dynamic this season as it has been in most years since Grobe took over. The Demon Deacons are 97th in the nation in passing offense (195.6 yards per game), 101st in rushing offense (120.6 yards per game) and 96th in scoring offense (22 points per game).

Clemson's defense is filled with youth and inexperience, and it is finding its way through defensive coordinator Brent Venables' first season, so any test is still a test. Carrying over the momentum from a strong performance against Virginia Tech will be the key hurdle for an improving Tigers defense.

If that group can meet that challenge, the Tigers should be able to overcome the rest of the ones facing them in this game.

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of the Macon (Ga.) Telegraph and co-host of The Morning Show on FoxSports 1670 AM. Follow him on Twitter @DM_Shirley

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