The Final Breakdown

Third-ranked Clemson looks to stay unbeaten on Saturday when Wake Forest heads to Memorial Stadium for a 3:30 showdown on ESPNU.

WHAT: No. 3 Clemson at Wake Forest
WHERE: Memorial Stadium - Clemson, S.C.
WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 28 (3:32 p.m.)
SPREAD: Clemson by 29

Only two teams in the ACC have given up less than two rushing touchdowns all season. Florida State is one of them. Surprisingly, Wake Forest is the other. Both have allowed just one score on the ground in 2013.

Roderick McDowell is averaging 5.5 yards/carry through the first three games of the season. (Getty Images)
Still, the Demon Deacons sit ninth in the conference in run defense. Their first four opponents -- PC, Boston College, Louisiana-Monroe and Army -- combined to average 168.2 yards on the ground. However, the number is slightly skewed because of last week's opponent, Army. The Black Knights' triple-option offense ran the ball 55 times for 271 yards.

Leading Wake Forest with 34 tackles is weak-side linebacker Mike Olson.

But it's the 5-foot-11, 250-pound havoc causer also known as Nikita Whitlock that keeps offensive coordinators up at night. Don't let the size fool you. The guy is one of the most respected players in the entire ACC.

This season, Whitlock has 30 tackles and eight tackles for loss. Third among Demon Deacon defenders in tackles is the middle linebacker, redshirt sophomore Brandon Chubb.

Despite returning four starters, Clemson has had its share of issues on the offensive line. Those struggles, in part, have contributed to the Tigers' ninth-place position in the ACC when it comes to rushing. Don't be surprised if there are times when the Tigers have trouble moving the ball on the ground.

Whitlock will likely be part of the problem. But there's also this: there will be two new starters up front -- Shaq Anthony at right tackle and Kalon Davis at left guard.

Anthony is better as a pass blocker and Davis is stepping in for David Beasley, who was limited during practice this week with an ankle injury.

As we've seen through the Tigers' first three games this season, it's hard to keep Roderick McDowell bottled up. He can get loose, as evident by his 5.5 yards per carry. He's eighth in the ACC with 81 yards per game.

When it comes to deciding which team gets the advantage in this matchup, it's as simple as this: Clemson has way more talent across the board and they're playing at home.

It's a close call, but the Tigers win here.


The Wake Forest pass defense is no slouch. They're seventh in the ACC in pass efficiency defense with a 105.8 rating. While the Demon Deacons are fourth in the conference in average passing yards allowed, that number is probably more a result of who they've played.

Tajh Boyd found his rhythm the second-half against N.C. State, completing 9-of-11 passes for two touchdowns after a slow start. (Roy Philpott)
Nonetheless, it's a secondary that shouldn't be taken lightly. Wake Forest is tied for third in the ACC with six interceptions. Cornerback Kevin Johnson has two. Though free safety A.J. Marshall doesn't have any picks, he's one of the most dependable players on the Demon Deacon defense.

Their pass rush isn't too shabby either. Whitlock leads the team with three while defensive end Zach Thompson is second with two.

Just how successful a day Tajh Boyd has will be dependent upon the kind of protection he gets from his line. So far this season, there have been a number of occasions when they've had troubling giving him time to connect on downfield throws to Sammy Watkins and Martavis Bryant.

In year's past, teams used the run to set up the pass. In many instances, that's no longer the case. The pass sets up the run. That's the formula for success at Clemson. Success in the vertical passing game will help loosen up the run game.

And it won't be easy to get Watkins loose if Boyd has to rush his throws or move out of the pocket because things around him are collapsing from multiple directions.

Clemson gets the nod here and should win the matchup, as a whole. But there will be times when Wake Forest makes its presence felt. As long as the Tigers withstand the pressure and don't commit turnovers that result in points, they should be fine.

It's another matchup that has the chance to be too close for comfort.


During his Tuesday press conference, Dabo Swinney had to stop from smiling too big when he mentioned the freshmen starters on the Wake Forest offensive line. No offense to left guard Tyler Hayworth and center Cory Helms, but that's an uncharacteristic move for Jim Grobe.

The Demon Deacons longtime coach is notorious for redshirting players. But, given the deficiencies in talent, he's had to go in that direction this year. And it won't bode well for them on Saturday against Clemson's improving run defense.

Senior running back Josh Harris has 44 carries for just 151 yards (3.4 ypc) in his senior year at Wake. (Getty Images)
Wake Forest is second to last in the ACC with 125.2 yards rushing per game. Considering the opponents in the first four games, that's pretty scary for Demon Deacon fans.

At times, Tanner Price has been asked to step outside of his comfort zone and run the option. He's currently second among Wake Forest ball carriers with 86 yards and a touchdown.

Leading the team in rushing is longtime starter Josh Harris, who has 151 yards and two scores. He, however, is averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. That's higher than the team average of 3.2 yards.

Clemson continues to show signs of improvement against the run. After yielding 22 yards and five scores to Georgia's one-two punch known as Gurshall, the Tigers gave up 86 yards to S.C. State and 165 to N.C. State. Those two teams combined to score twice on the ground.

What makes the Clemson run defense so much better this season is the play up front. Grady Jarrett and the rest of the defensive linemen have kept the team's two leading tacklers, Stephone Anthony and Spencer Shuey, free from blockers.

Their work has allowed the two linebackers to be on most tackles. Both Anthony and Shuey are among the ACC's top 10 tacklers per game.

Look for Anthony and Shuey to be active again this weekend. Both should approach the 10-tackle mark again. And Clemson will easily win this matchup.


Unfortunately for Wake Forest, the air attack hasn't faired much better than the run game.

Not only are the Demon Deacons in the bottom half of the league in passing, Price is 10th in efficiency with a rating of 127.6. He's completed 66 of 119 passes for 857 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions.

Clemson's secondary will be tested by senior QB Tanner Price. (Getty Images)
In Michael Campanaro, Price has his version of Wes Welker. Through three games, Campanaro has caught 25 passes for 354 yards with two touchdowns. He's first in the ACC with 8.3 catches per game and second with 118 yards per game.

The next best option for Price is redshirt freshman Jonathan Williams. The 6-foot-4, 180-pound wide receiver has caught 13 passes for 206 yards. Another wide receiver, Orville Reynolds, has nine catches for 131 yards with two touchdowns.

One major issue for the Wake Forest air attack is protection. The young offensive line struggles to keep pass rushers out of Price's face. The Demon Deacons are last in the league in sacks allowed with nine. The average of 2.25 is better than only Clemson and N.C. State.

Tackles Steven Chase and Dylan Intemann will have their hands full with the Tigers' defensive end trio of Vic Beasley, Corey Crawford and Shaq Lawson. Don't be surprised if each of the three walks away with a sack or a partial sack on Saturday.

The pressure they provide will help the secondary look better. And it will play a giant part in giving the Tigers the nod in this matchup.


Clemson's Chandler Catanzaro continues to be perfect on the season, connecting on all four of his field goal attempts and 14-for-14 on PATs. (Roy Philpott)

Wake Forest has kicked off 18 times this year. Only three of those kicks have been touchbacks. So, depending on the amount of times they score on Saturday, there could be a few opportunities for Watkins, McDowell and Germone Hopper to give Clemson favorable field position.

For Clemson, Bradley Pinion has punt 13 of his 19 kickoffs in the end zone for touchbacks. So there won't be too many chances for John Armstrong and Joshua White to pick up yards.

Keep an eye on Camapnaro in the punt return game. He took one to the house the last time Wake Forest played at Clemson. Pinion, however, has a solid net punt average of 40 yards, so there may not be much room for Campanaro to work with when he does get a clean look.

For Clemson, the punt return game has been largely non-existent this season. They've only returned three for eight yards.

Like most weeks, the Tigers hold a distinct advantage when it comes to field goals. Chandler Catanzaro hasn't missed any of his four opportunities, two of which were from 40 yards or further.

Chad Hedlund is 5 of 8 for Wake Forest. He's missed from 50, 31 and 25.


PREDICTION: Clemson 37 Wake Forest 13 Top Stories