Tigers find a way … again

It wasn’t ugly, but it certainly wasn’t pretty either.

It was actually somewhere in between.

But for the Clemson football team, Thursday’s 34-20 decision was another win. And that’s all that really matters right now.

In a familiar story line, Clemson had a lot go against it for three quarters against the Demon Deacons, but in the fourth quarter, the Tigers stopped making the mistakes they made in the first three quarters. That allowed them to control the action in the final quarter and finally put away the gritty Demon Deacons.

It wasn’t the crisp performance fans would have preferred against an over-matched opponent, but the Tigers did what they had to do to keep winning. That makes it six straight wins for Clemson and keeps alive its hopes of a special season going down the stretch.

Still, the silly mistakes need to stop. All of Wake Forest’s 20 points came after mistakes by the Tigers, and those aren’t miscues Clemson can continue to have closing out the season.

Cole Stoudt threw an interception in Clemson territory to lead to the first Wake Forest touchdown. Adam Humphries fumbled a punt to lead to another, and the Clemson defense closed the first half with a penalty-riddled series to hand the Demon Deacons three points to tie the score at 17.

Wake Forest’s final three points came early in the fourth quarter with another short drive after Humphries misplayed another punt and let the ball roll all the way to the Clemson 1. That set up a tight situation for the offense, and it had to punt after a three-and-out, and the Demon Deacons took advantage with anther field goal.

But from there, the Tigers tightened up and cleaned up their mistakes and dominated the fourth quarter.

Artavis Scott took a shovel pass from Stoudt and went the distance (68 yards) for a score to put the Tigers back on top, and Wayne Gallman capped a second straight big night with a 30-yarder for the game-clincher. All the while, the defense didn’t give up another first down after Wake Forest tied the score at 20.

Steady Stoudt
Stoudt probably will return to the bench when Deshaun Watson is ready, but the senior had another solid performance in the second half – after another shaky first-half performance.

Stoudt’s interception was a bad one – it was a play that a fifth-year senior shouldn’t try to force – but other than that, he made all the right decisions and several terrific throws. Stoudt completed 27-of-42 passes for 282 yards and three touchdowns.

Yes, one of those scores came on a screen pass to Gallman, and another came on the shovel to Scott, but the other throw – also to Scott – was a perfect throw, which was on time and right on the money on a slant pattern.

Despite losing his job earlier in the season, Stoudt has stepped back into the lineup and answered the bell for his team. That’s something Tigers fans should admire about him.

Offensive weapons
The offensive line continues to struggle to find an identity in the first half of games, but the Tigers ran the ball better as the game went along, except for short-yardage situations. And most of that featured Gallman, who has stepped up the past two games.

The redshirt freshman had 19 carries for 106 yards and ran hard throughout the night. The 2- and 3-yard gains broke open in the fourth quarter, and that helped the Tigers rush for 145 yards on 37 carries and wear down the Demon Deacons.

Gallman is becoming the lead back the Tigers have needed all season; he also had four catches for 43 yards. The offense just needs the line to play the entire game the way it has finished the past three.

Scott led the way with eight catches for 122 yards, while seven other Tigers caught passes as Stoudt shared the ball nicely. Germone Hopper had seven catches, mostly short ones, and Mike Williams had three.

Dominant defense
Clemson’s defense did give up 20 points, more than what it was allowing and what Wake Forest was averaging going into the game.

But, again, the Clemson offense and special teams made those points much easier to get.

Wake Forest completed 12-of-30 passes for 112 yards, while its running game had 34 carries for 7 yards. So Wake Forest ran 64 plays and finished with 119 yards (while Clemson had 427).

Clemson continued its dominance on third downs, after some early struggles in those situations, holding Wake Forest to 4-of-16, and the Demon Deacons were 0-for-2 on its fourth-down tries.

The Tigers had five sacks and continued to roll up tackles for loss with nine more of those to go with the sacks. There were no turnovers forced, but without the offense and special teams’ mistakes, the defense likely would have pitched a shutout.

What’s next?
Will Watson play? That will be the big question throughout the next week-and-a-half as Clemson prepares to face Georgia Tech in Atlanta, where the Tigers have struggled for years.

But the offense played well enough Thursday night with Stoudt, and the defense certainly played well enough that the team has to feel good about where it is right now. That said, the Tigers can’t have the turnovers (two on Thursday) or the penalties (eight for 75 yards) if they’re going to knock off a resurgent Yellow Jackets team.

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