Trevor Groves

Preview of #1 Clemson vs Wake Forest

Unanimous #1 Clemson looks to improve to 11-0 when it plays Wake Forest in Death Valley on Saturday. The game is the designated Military Appreciation Day, and it will be the last home game of the season for the Tigers.

Welcome to the UNANIMOUS #1 edition of What We Are Hearing! That's right, folks, Clemson is the undisputed #1 team in all the land this week for the first time since January of 1982. The Tigers supplanted Ohio State as the #1 team in this week's Coaches' Poll and remained #1 in both the AP and, most importantly, the College Football Playoff Selection Committee rankings.

This team continues to set milestones and reach new plateaus week after week. Clemson is just the 13th Power Five program to win at least 10 games in 5 consecutive seasons! The other programs to do so are FSU, Florida, Alabama, Miami, Virginia Tech, Michigan, Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Southern Cal, Ohio State and Oregon. Pretty prestigious company! Not even Notre Dame has accomplished the feat. This is just the third 10-0 start in Clemson history. The Tigers were 11-0 in 1948 and, of course, 12-0 in 1981. Clemson has now won 13 consecutive games, which is the longest win streak since 1980-81, and should the Tigers beat Wake this week, they will have the opportunity to tie the school record of 15 consecutive wins by beating South Carolina in Columbia.

Saturday will obviously be the final game in Death Valley for the seniors and graduate players, and with a win, this senior class will surpass the record for wins by a class that was set last year with 42. This year's senior class is already the winningest class in Clemson history in terms of percentage (42-7 or .857). This class has also won the most ACC games (27) of any class in history. Clemson has won 7 ACC games for just the 4th time in school history, and 3 of the 4 have been under Dabo Swinney. The other time was in 1983. Clemson has won 19 out of the last 20 games, which is the best 20-game stretch since winning 19 out of 20 from 1938-40.

Saturday will also be Military Appreciation Day, which is always a special game at Clemson because of its deep military history. The Tigers will wear all Purple, and fans are encouraged to participate in the "Purple Out." The color purple obviously holds a special military significance because the Purple Heart is the nation's oldest military honor, first awarded by George Washington in 1782. Gary will be writing a piece on tomorrow's ceremony at Memorial Park and Clemson's military heritage, so look forward to that in the next couple days.

Finally, C.J. Spiller will be in attendance on Saturday, and it's always nice to see him back in Death Valley. I remember being in the stands in 2009 for his Senior Day Game, which was also Military Appreciation Day, I believe, and watching him wave the Stars and Stripes at the top of The Hill before the game. The Tigers clinched the Atlantic Title that day with a win over UVA, and one of my fondest Death Valley memories was participating in the crowd's tributary farewell to #28-half the stadium yelling "C.J." and the other half "Spiller." It was completely spontaneous and gave me goose bumps.

Clemson's opponent in the ACC Championship Game is yet to be determined. It's more than likely going to be UNC in Charlotte, but don't forget that it's not a done deal just yet. They need to win one of their next two OR have Pitt lose one of their next two. UNC has VT in Blacksburg this week, and it is Beamer's final game in Lane Stadium. The Hokies are also fighting for bowl eligibility and to keep the nation's longest bowl streak alive. They will play inspired. Next week, UNC has their rivalry game at NC State. The Pack had the misfortune of losing RB Matt Dayes, who was having a great season, when he was injured against us. They are down to their 3rd string RB now. Still, they were able to hang with FSU in Tallahassee for a while, and that won't be an easy game for the Heels. As for Pitt, they have Louisville and Miami at home, and both of those are winnable games. So, while I expect to be playing UNC in Charlotte, I wouldn't be shocked if it's Pitt.

As a quick recruiting update, there is a good chance Clemson could be receiving another commitment in the next 24 hours. Georgia OL Tremayne Anchrum Jr. will be making his announcement tomorrow at 3:30, and we feel pretty confident that he will be wearing a Clemson hat this time tomorrow. If you recall, he was in Death Valley a couple weeks ago for the Florida State game and had a fantastic visit. Check Gary's Recruiting Radar and Wrap Up for the FSU game for info and photos of Anchrum. He will be choosing between Clemson, Nebraska and Colorado tomorrow.

2017 QB/ATH Malik Cunningham of Alabama will be making his second trip to Death Valley in 3 weeks and had this to say about Clemson's ascension to #1: "They really deserve to be at the top with their strength of schedule, and the coaching staff is really leading the team in the right direction."

2017 WR prospect OrTre Smith is another player who was on that lengthy list of visitors for the FSU game, and his mom reached out to us to let us know that he is a finalist for the Low Country Player of the Year Award.

2017 DE Yetur Matos visited Duke last weekend and has already visited UNC. He has an upcoming visit with Penn State, and after talking with his father today, we get the impression that it is a Clemson/Penn State battle for the big-time DE. Let's hope he likes warm weather!

As for a couple of commits, RB Tavien Feaster was named a finalist for the US Army All-American Player of the Year Award, and WR Cornell Powell set the North Carolina high school record for receptions last week.

As usual, Gary will post his Recruiting Radar in the next day or two to keep you apprised of all the latest Clemson recruiting news, along with visitors for the Wake game and profiles. Be sure to check for that!

MISCELLANEOUS


Players of the game against Syracuse were Charone Peake on offense, Shaq Lawson on defense, Greg Huegel and Ammon Lakip on special teams.....Clemson mounted 566 yards of total offense at Syracuse. It was the 6th consecutive game with at least 500 yards of offense, a first in school history.....Clemson was voted #1 in this week's Coaches' Poll and is now a unanimous #1 in all 3 polls. It is the first time Clemson has been a unanimous #1 since January of 1982.....Clemson has won 37 consecutive games against teams not ranked in the AP Poll. Only Alabama has won as many.....Clemson has won a school record 14 consecutive games at home....Clemson has won 13 consecutive games, which is the second-longest active streak behind only Ohio State.....Since 2011, Clemson is 12-4 against teams in the top-20 all-time for win percentage.....Clemson leads the all-time series with Wake 62-17-1, dating back to 1933, and is 36-7 against Wake at home. Wake has not won at Clemson since 1998....Clemson has beaten Wake Forest more than any team 62) with the exception of South Carolina.....A win Saturday would be win #700 for Clemson. It will be the 1,200th football game in Clemson history.....Clemson suffered a tough road loss to Wake on Thursday night in 2008. It was the final game for Tommy Bowden before Dabo Swinney took over as interim Head Coach. Since then, Dabo Swinney is 6-0 against Wake Forest...This will be Wake's third game in history against a 10-0 team. They lost 12-7 to UNC in 1914 and 38-0 to Notre Dame in 2012...This will be Wake's second consecutive road game against a top-5 team. They played at Notre Dame last week....Clemson Defensive Line Coach Dan Brooks was on the staff at Tennessee at the same time Wake Head Coach Dave Clawson was Offensive Coordinator....Clemson Offensive Line Coach Robbie Caldwell and Wake LB Coach Warren Belin were on the staff at Vanderbilt together....Clemson linebacker Dorian O'Daniel and Wake safety Zach Dancel played together at Our Lady of Good Counsel HS in Maryland....


CLEMSON STATUS


Last week's game in the Carrier Dome at Syracuse was somewhat bizarre. It had as many ebbs and flows as Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. After a business-like 14-0 lead in the first TWO MINUTES of the game, it appeared the Tigers were in for a cake walk. However, after that touchdown, turnover, touchdown, three-and-out start, a Clemson fumble on first down at its own 25 and a Syracuse touchdown on the next play totally turned momentum and reinvigorated the crowd. After Cuse tied the game with 14 unanswered points of their own, the Tigers responded with another 14-point-spurt to double up Syracuse, 28-14. However, Syracuse simply would not go away and managed to stay within striking distance until the very end. Clearly, Clemson contributed to Cuse's ability to keep the score close by making several mistakes, penalties and mental errors, but you also have to give some credit to Cuse for playing hard and making some good plays. The big first down pass out of their own end zone on 3rd down, when Shaq very nearly sacked the QB for a safety, was just a great play by Syracuse, and it led to a touchdown. But that's precisely why it's so difficult to win on the road as the #1 team. You are going to get the best game from every team you play. If you make several mistakes the way we did, opponents are going to feed off of them and you're going to be engaged in a dog fight. To me, the encouraging thing to take away from Syracuse-much like Raleigh-is that this team responded to adversity and never panicked. Dabo has said before that when you're on the road and that energy and momentum starts to go against you, it is really hard to turn it back in your favor and keep your team focused, but this team has been able to do just that time after time, really beginning with the Louisville game. As much fun as the 58-0 road blowout at Miami was, I think games like Louisville, NC State and Syracuse tell you much more about the mental makeup of your team and whether they are championship material. It's pretty impressive when you lose the turnover margin by 2 on the road in a loud environment, you make several other mistakes, and you're still be able to take a knee in the red zone up 10 points. Not many teams would be able to pull that off. Just look at some of the top-ranked teams that have been upset by unranked teams in the past week: Utah at Arizona, Stanford at Oregon and Michigan State at Nebraska. Even LSU lost badly to Arkansas in a home night game!

If there is one thing we have learned about this Clemson team, it is that they are mentally tough. If we should make it to the College Football Playoff, I think it's safe to assume there will be some pressure-packed situations and some deficits, so it is good to know that this team has the resilience and poise to deal with those situations and perform in the clutch. If you look back at every national champion for the past several years, you will almost always see that they had games in which they were on the ropes but were able to overcome adversity. This Clemson team has exhibited that fortitude on several occasions.

In addition, I believe that it is productive to have a few humbling experiences and expose some chinks in the armor from time to time. You don't want to go into the CFP believing you are invincible and only then realize that you aren't. The defense faced a mobile quarterback running an option offense, and it posed some problems and exposed some deficiencies, but you can bet that Brent Venables and the rest of the defensive staff will have the unit playing at a much higher level this week. That does not bode well for a Wake Forest team that has struggled to score all season.

If you haven't done so, you can read my grades and analysis of the Syracuse game HERE.

Aside from a few turnovers and some poorly-timed penalties, Clemson's offense is rolling. They have amassed over 500 yards in each of the last 6 games, which is a first in school history. Charone Peake was somewhat of a ghost early in the season against Louisville and Notre Dame, but he has become a consistent big-play weapon and go-to receiver on third down over the course of the last few games. Deon Cain has scored a touchdown in each of his last 3 games and needs one more against Wake to tie the freshman record set by Sammy Watkins. All 3 of his touchdowns have been for 38 yards or longer. He is routinely catching bombs from Watson, and it is really stretching the field and creating nightmares for defenses, which still have to deal with Watson's running ability and Artavis Scott on short passes.

On the subject of Watson, he has rushed for over 100 yards two games in a row now, and he is a perfect 14-0 in games he has started and finished. Dabo Swinney said he is the best quarterback in the nation, bar none, and I agree with him. Watson is currently #3 in total QBR, behind only Seth Russell of Baylor and TCU's Trevone Boykin. Wake Forest Coach Dave Clawson said this morning during the ACC teleconference that he expects Watson to be a Heisman Finalist in New York. It's sometimes hard to keep in mind that DW is still only a true sophomore and is still improving as he goes. One of the areas in which Watson is improving is his leadership traits. He has always been one to lead more by example, but he has been gradually learning to be more vocal with his teammates when he needs to be. Jeff Scott told us the other day that Watson came to him and asked to be able to run the ball himself on 3rd and 1 at Syracuse, and that was the first time he had done that before. It's always good for the confidence and morale of your team when the leader and best player embraces and accepts his role and looks for opportunities to take charge. It also shows the faith Deshaun has in his running ability on short yardage and his faith in the offensive line to push the line of scrimmage. That offensive line, which has been one of the biggest stories of the season for this #1 team, was named a semifinalist for the Joe Moore Award, which goes to the best offensive line in the nation. It's amazing how good they have been, considering we had a true freshman at left tackle, a true freshman at backup right tackle, and the O-Line was expected to be a potential liability going into the season.

Jordan Leggett has also been a consistent weapon this season-especially in the red zone. He had a rare drop at Syracuse, which was one of the many mistakes that kept the game from being a blowout, but he has been a matchup nightmare for teams all season. Leggett was named a semifinalist for the Mackey Award this week, just 4 years after Dwayne Allen won the award for the nation's best tight end. By the way, Leggett had 101 reception yards against FSU a couple weeks ago. He is only the 4th tight end in Clemson history to record a 100-yard reception game. However, he is the third under Dabo Swinney, joining Michael Palmer and Brandon Ford. 

Shaq Lawson was named one of the four finalists for the Lombardi finalist this week. He is the 4th Lombardi finalist for Clemson, and the 3rd under Dabo Swinney, along with Vic Beasley and Da'Quan Bowers. Shaq is currently tied for 2nd in the nation with 17.5 tackles-for-loss. Penn State's Carl Nassib leads the category with 19.5.

Greg Huegel has been one of the biggest surprise stories on the team this season. He is now 18-20 on the season and a perfect 15-15 in ACC play. He was inexplicably left off the Groza Semifinalist list, and he may end up with a better percentage than the Groza Award winner.

Clemson is now #19 in total offense (496 yards/game), #26 in passing offense (279.3 yds/game), #22 in rushing offense (217.0 yds/game) and #16 in scoring offense (38.5 points/game). The Tigers are #7 in total defense (291 yds/game), #3 in passing defense (159.6 yds/game), #25 in rush defense (131.2 yds/game) and #15 in scoring defense (18.1 points/game). The Clemson defense leads the nation in 3rd down conversions (21%) and three-and-outs per game. They are #6 in tackles-for-loss per game. Clemson is #2 in defensive efficiency and #9 in offensive efficency according to ESPN.

Injuy-wise, Clemson is a little banged up but nothing terribly serious. Dabo said after practice on Wednesday that Wayne Gallman and Mackensie Alexander both look much better and will continue to be evaluated day-to-day in the couple of days before the Wake game. Both Ray-Ray McCloud and Tyrone Crowder are getting better, but they will be held out for one more week. Backup LB Kendall Joseph and FS Jefferie Gibson had a helmet-to-helmet collision and will miss the Wake game as a part of the concussion protocol. Finally, RT Joe Gore had a personal crisis arise and will be away from the team for a couple of days. Consequently, true freshman Jake Fruhmorgen will get his first start at right tackle on Saturday. Gore will, however, be available to play.


WAKE FOREST SYNOPSIS


Wake is just 1-5 in the ACC and 3-7 overall. Their solitary ACC win came in a 3-0 win over Boston College, thanks to a time management blunder by the BC coaches, running out of time at the Wake goal line and squandering an opportunity to win or at least tie with a chip shot field goal. Their other two wins were against Elon and a 17-14 victory at Army.

Wake's offense has been anemic this season. They are 112th in total offense (340 yards/game), 60th in passing offense (228.8 yds/game), 121st in rushing offense (111.1 yds/game) and 120th in scoring offense (17.5 per game). In spite of their offensive woes, the Deacs do have a respectable defense. They are #23 in total defense (338 yards/game) and #12 against the pass (176.9). However, they are #60 against the run (161.3 yds/game) and #46 in scoring defense (23.5 per game). Wake performed reasonably well on that side of the ball at Notre Dame last week, holding the Irish to just 111 yards passing and 21 points in a 28-7 loss in South Bend. Will Fuller only had 3 catches for 37 yards, so that gives you an idea of what the Wake secondary is capable of. The Irish were able to rush for 171 yards, though, without starting RB C.J. Prosise.

Brent Venables and the defense are faced with a very familiar scenario this week-having to prepare for multiple quarterbacks. It was a situation they faced against Louisville, Boston College, Florida State and Syracuse. And due to injuries for Notre Dame and Miami, the Clemson defense ended up seeing backup quarterbacks for whom they had very little film. So this seems like old hat for this unit, and they will be prepared for either John Wolford or freshman Kendall Hinton.

As is usually the case, the two quarterbacks have contrasting styles. Wolford is a traditional pocket passer, and Hinton is a more athletic mobile quarterback. Hinton is second on the team in rushing, with 339 yards and 3.9 yards per carry, but both of those stats are adjusted for sacks. He has 6 rushing touchdowns on the season. As a passer, Hinton completes just 51.7% of his passes and only has 3 touchdowns against 5 interceptions.

Wolford has not been a heck of a lot better throwing the ball. He has completed 60.1% of his passes and has 7 touchdowns versus 9 interceptions. Wolford, incidentally, is one of the Florida high school record holders Tucker Israel surpassed last year, along with Tim Tebow. Wolford started for Wake last week at Notre Dame, and it was a rough outing. He was 19/30 for 219 yards, an interception and no touchdowns.

I expect Hinton to get the nod on Saturday because he gives the Clemson defense another player to account for, and Wolford is probably not going to have much success passing anyway against Clemson's defense, which is one of the best in the nation against the pass. Mobile quarterbacks have done better against this defense than their more traditional counterparts.

Defensively, DE Duke Ejiofor (#53) leads the team with 4.5 sacks and is third on the team with 7 TFL's. LB Marquel Lee (#8) is second in sacks with 3 and leads the team with 10 TFL's. LB Brandon Chubb (UGA RB Nick Chubb's cousin) is second on the team with 7.5 TFL's. As a team, the Deacs only have 18 sacks on the season. They don't generate many turnovers either. They only have 3 interceptions and 4 fumble recoveries. Starting DT Josh Banks was suspended a week ago for violation of team rules and will miss the game Saturday.

Wake's FG kicker, Mike Weaver, is 10-11 from inside 40 yards, but he is just 1-6 from 40 or more. They don't have a dangerous return man like Clemson has faced against NC State and Syracuse, so kick coverage should not be a problem in this one. Wake's punter averages 43.8 yards per punt, and they get touchbacks on about half of their kickoffs.


PREDICTION


Admittedly, my score predictions have been a bit askew for the past couple of games. After the first couple of minutes of the Syracuse game, it looked like my prediction would be pretty close, and the offense was on pace to surpass my prognostication of 55 points at halftime, but frankly I didn't expect to see so many mistakes on both sides of the ball. I believe we will see a much cleaner game on both sides this week-particularly on defense. There won't be nearly as many missed assignments and poor effort plays as we saw in the Carrier Dome. You better believe Venables, Brooks and Hobby were coming down on their guys all week long, and I think we'll see the same sort of tenacity and chip on their shoulders that we saw earlier in the season. Add to that the fact that on paper the Wake offense is no match whatsoever for the Clemson defense. Hinton might make some things happen with his legs, but at the end of the day the Deacs do not have the personnel to pose the slightest threat. Offensively, Clemson just has to continue doing what they've been doing for the past several games, and I expect they will. Assuming Wayne Gallman's ankle is 100%, he should be back to averaging 7-10 yards per carry against this defense. Even if his play is limited by the ankle, the combination of Watson and Brooks in the run game will be more than Wake can handle, and there will be big plays aplenty for the receivers.

As if the disparity in personnel weren't enough, it's Senior Day and Military Appreciation Day in Death Valley. Wake Forest might as well be walking into a chopper blade. This is Clemson's best run since the national title in 1981, and the Tigers throttled Wake that season 82-24. It is tied with the Miami game this season for the largest margin of victory by Clemson in an ACC game. We could very well see that record broken come Saturday. Clemson extends its school record home win streak to 15 and its overall win streak to 14. Unanimous #1 Clemson wins 8 ACC games for the first time in school history and remains #1 in the CFP rankings for a fourth consecutive week.

The prowl toward the CFP and a 15th ACC Title in '15 continues.....


CLEMSON 52    Wake Forest 6


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