The Final Breakdown

Almost five years to the day of their last Thursday night trip to Winston Salem, N.C., Clemson heads to Wake Forest for a nationally televised showdown.

WHAT: No. 18 Clemson vs. Wake Forest
WHERE: BB&T Field (31,500) - Winston-Salem, N.C.
WHEN: Thursday, Oct. 25 (7:31 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson -12
TV: ESPN

That trip changed the course of Clemson football history. The Tigers lost 12-7 and Tommy Bowden was shown the door just days later. Wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney was named the interim.

Clemson football hasn't been the same since.

The Tigers have played in a pair of ACC title games, won one of them, played in a BCS bowl game and soared to new heights on the recruiting trail.

Can they do it again in 2012? A win over Wake Forest would certainly be another big step in that direction.

WAKE PASS GAME VS. CLEMSON SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
The Clemson secondary caught a couple of bad breaks this week.

Starting with starting cornerback Darius Robinson, who broke his ankle against Virginia Tech. He'll be out for the rest of the regular season. Fellow starter Bashaud Breeland was ruled out on Wednesday with an abdominal strain.


Tanner Price is one of the ACC's most accurate passers, but Wake's offense has struggled this year in the downfield passing game. (Roy Philpott)
Xavier Brewer is a multi-year starter at cornerback and he'll get the nod alongside Garry Peters, who has shown flashes this season, but is still very much unproven. Cortez Davis has played sparingly during his first season after a redshirt. He'll be the No. 3 cornerback.

They caught another bad break when Grobe announced that Wake Forest's Wes Welker clone Michael Campanaro, who broke his hand against Duke, will play on Thursday.

Through five games, Campanaro has 38 catches for 429 yards and three touchdowns. He still leads the team in all receiving categories despite sitting out the last two games.

Behind Campanaro, Wake Forest's top receiver is senior Terence Davis, a former two-star wide receiver from Georgia who has 19 catches for 283 yards and a touchdown.

The only other active Wake Forest pass catchers with double-digit receptions are Brandon Terry [19] and Sherman Ragland III [12]. Aside from Campanaro and Davis, fullback Tommy Bohanon is the only other Demon Deacon with a touchdown reception [three].

Wake Forest quarterback Tanner Price has had success against Clemson, completing 41 of 67 for 323 yards and a touchdown in two games. This season he has hit on 105 of 207 throws for 1,327 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions.

Along with his ability to keep plays alive, Wake Forest's offensive line has done a relatively job of keeping him from being sacked. Aside from the four sacks allowed against Florida State, Wake Forest has given up nine in the other six games.

The Clemson pass rush showed signs of life over the last few games, recording three sacks against Boston College and another two against Virginia Tech.

Moving forward, there's still reason to be concerned because defensive ends have accounted for only three of the sacks.

Considering Clemson's losses in personnel, it would be tough to give the Tigers the edge here. Just how effective Campanaro can be is an unknown, but it is a considerable concern.

ADVANTAGE:

WAKE RUN GAME VS. CLEMSON FRONT SEVEN
Wake Forest's run game has been pedestrian for a majority of the season.

Aside from a 296-yard outburst against Army, the Demon Deacons have topped 150 yards just one other time -- a 167-yard performance against Duke. Liberty, North Carolina, Florida State and Maryland all held Wake Forest under 100 yards rushing.


Clemson's young defensive line has played better in each of the last three games. (Roy Philpott)
Running back Josh Harris has worked his way into the top 10 among ACC rushers. He has 432 yards on 102 carries and four touchdowns. A large bulk of his production was against Army, when he rushed 12 times for 129 yards and two touchdowns.

The Demon Deacons are 98th in the country with an average of 120.6 yards rushing per contest.

On the flip-side, Clemson is 99th in the country against the run with an average of 202 yards.

The Tigers' run defense has improved over the last month, despite the 300-plus yards performance by Georgia Tech. Triple-option aside, Boston College mustered 51 yards on 28 carries and Virginia Tech put up 199 yards -- 99 of which were by quarterback Logan Thomas.

Most notable of the changes Clemson made during the bye week was the change at middle linebacker, where Spencer Shuey was inserted into the starting lineup for Stephone Anthony. Shuey responded by making nine tackles in 57 snaps.

Dan Brooks' defensive tackle group received a shot in the arm from freshman D.J. Reader, who recorded seven tackles in 27 snaps against Virginia Tech. Reader helps sure up young the tackle rotation of Grady Jarrett, DeShawn Williams and Josh Watson.

An improved Clemson run defense should be able to hold its own against a Wake Forest ground game that's struggled this season.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON PASS GAME VS. WAKE SECONDARY/PASS RUSH
So Tajh Boyd had a bad game against Virginia Tech? Don't expect a repeat performance against Wake Forest, but that doesn't mean the Demon Deacons won't give Boyd a little bit of trouble.


Tajh Boyd has to be aware of blitzes from unexpected places, in addition to Wake dropping as many as eight defenders back into coverage. (Roy Philpott)
Swinney and offensive coordinator Chad Morris have heaped praise on the Wake Forest defensive backfield.

The national stat rankings may not be much of an indicator, but the Demon Deacons are respectable in the secondary.

Wake Forest's pass efficiency defense is 56th in the country with a 127.81 rating while the pass defense is 53rd with an average of 221.3 yards allowed per game.

The Demon Deacons have a pair of good-sized cornerbacks in Merrill Noel [5-10, 180] and Kevin Johnson [6-1, 175], who has a team-high five pass breakups and two interceptions.

Noel and Johnson offer decent matchups with Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, but the Wake Forest secondary has been torched for 250 or more yards four times. However, Liberty is the only team to connect on more than one touchdown through the air against Wake Forest.

Wake Forest's pass rush isn't bad either. The Demon Deacons have recorded three sacks in each of the last two games and rank 48th in the country with 2.14 per game. Linebacker Justin Jackson leads the team with three while defensive end Zach Thompson has two.

Clemson's pass protection was relatively solid through the first six games of the season, giving up a total of 10. The number would have been higher had Boyd not improved his escape ability in the offseason. There wasn't a whole lot he could do against Virginia Tech when he was sacked five times.

Despite what might look like a favorable advantage for Wake Forest up front, the Clemson wide receiver group is unlike any the Demon Deacons have seen all season.

If Liberty, North Carolina, Duke and Virginia can pass for more than 250 yards against Wake Forest, then Clemson shouldn't have much trouble eclipsing that mark.

We'll go with the Tigers here.

ADVANTAGE:

CLEMSON RUN GAME VS. WAKE FRONT SEVEN
After sitting out the Florida State and Army games with an injury, Nikita Whitlock's return to nose guard has made quite a difference in Wake Forest's run defense.


Andre Ellington could find wide running lanes against Wake's 3-4 scheme Thursday night. (Roy Philpott)
The Seminoles gained 385 yards and scored four touchdowns. A week later, the Black Knights put up 429 yards and four scores.

Since then, Wake Forest gave up a combined 224 yards and five touchdowns on 111 carries to Duke, North Carolina and Virginia.

Wake Forest has given up an average of 4.18 yards per rush while Clemson has averaged 4.39 yards per carry.

When Clemson has gone to the ground this season, the Tigers have had plenty of success. They average 191.7 yards per game, which is 40th in the country. Clemson has also had three rushing touchdowns in three consecutive games. Clemson also had three rushing touchdown games against Ball State and Furman.

Much of the Tigers' success on the ground is credited to Andre Ellington, who eclipsed the 3,000-yard career mark against Virginia Tech on Saturday.

Ellington is second among ACC rushers with 693 yards rushing and third with seven touchdowns.

He's had a fair amount of success against Wake forest. In two games, Ellington has rushed 27 times for 132 yards with two touchdowns and three catches for 42 yards.

The Tigers' econd-best runner, Boyd, is third among ACC quarterbacks in rushing with 251 yards. He's also third among Clemson ball carriers with four rushing touchdowns.

Clemson hasn't had much success running the ball between the tackles this season and that probably will continue through this week, considering how strong Wake Forest is in the middle with Whitlock.

This matchup still favors Clemson, given the number of skill players the Tigers have in the backfield.

ADVANTAGE:

SPECIAL TEAMS
While Wake Forest has seen plenty of success in the punt return game, kickoffs have been a different story.


Chandler Catanzaro has made his last 17 field goal attempts. (Roy Philpott)
The Demon Deacons are 40th in the country with a punt return average of 10.6 yards per attempt. Lovell Jackson has seven returns for 110 yards and Campanaro has five for 26.

Clemson has struggled in the return game.

Watkins and Adam Humphries have combined for 45 punt return yards. When Watkins and Ellington return kicks, the return game is in good hands. The duo has combined for 310 yards on 15 returns. The Tigers' other nine kickoff returns have gone for 171 yards.

Place kicking has been up and down for Wake Forest this season.

Jimmy Newman missed his first two field goal attempts of the season before knocking in two against Duke. After his perfect game against Duke he missed two against Maryland. Freshman Chad Hedlund, who hit three field goals against Virginia, will get the start against Clemson.

Clemson's kicking situation has been much better. Chandler Catanzaro is 12 of 12 with a long of 50.

Neither team lights it up in the return game, and there isn't much separation between the two when defending kicks and punts.

ADVANTAGE:

PREDICTION: Clemson 35 Wake Forest 27

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