The last time Wake Forest defeated Clemson in Winston-Salem was in 1992 when Bill Dooley led the Demon Deacons to an 18-15 victory.
Wake Forest started the year by beating Boston College (32-28) and North Carolina State (38-24). The Deacons then lost to Purdue 16-10 before defeating East Carolina 34-16. Wake Forest then lost to Virginia in Charlottesville and Georgia Tech in Winston Salem. Two weeks ago the Deacons whipped Duke in Durham before falling 48-24 to Florida State in Tallahassee.
Here are my 5 keys to the Tigers getting a win Saturday and keeping their ACC Title hopes alive.
Where's The Ball?
Wake Forest runs a unique motion offense that is rarely seen at the Division I level. Although the Deacons have not used this particular formation as much in 2003 as they have in the past, they still employ it with precision.
The key to the deception is quarterback Cory Randolph, who is averaging 140 yards passing and 20 yards rushing per game. If Randolph can successfully deceive Clemson into losing sight of the ball, the Demon Deacons can keep Clemson enough off balance to control the clock and get first downs.
The only game that Clemson can use to help prepare for this scheme to some degree is the Furman game. The hope is that warm up early in the season will be enough to have the Tiger defense ready to defend a tricky Wake Forest offense on Saturday afternoon.
Find Your Mark
Surprisingly, Wake Forest is giving up almost 300 yards passing per game and has one of the worst pass defenses in the conference statistically. This is surprising because everybody lauds Jim Grobe for his teams not giving up big plays and playing within themselves.
Giving up 300 yards a game through the air is not the kind of thing you can do at Wake Forest and still win a lot of games. And, of course, this plays right into Clemson's strength.
Charlie Whitehurst continues to amaze with his consistency, and trying to critique a guy who has almost single handedly made Clemson a good team is silly. However, Charlie would have the first to tell you that he can get into a rut during the game and miss his receivers. He did it on occasion against N.C. State, and he did it again in the 2nd quarter against North Carolina.
The goal for Whitehurst Saturday is to avoid that rut. If he can consistently hit his receivers throughout the game the Tigers should be able to put up some solid numbers against Wake on Saturday. And avoiding that rut will go a long way in getting the Tigers a win.
Ryan Plackemeier is averaging a robust 47 yards per punt. By contrast, Cole Chason is averaging only 38 yards per punt. The difference in the two can create a situation where exchanging punts would be a disaster.
There are several ways to counter-act the field position war. Number one, the offense can pick up first downs. Three and outs must be avoided at all times Saturday afternoon, especially when the Tigers are pinned back.
The second way you can flip field position is in the return game. Derrick Hamilton is coming off a 100 yard kickoff return, and you better believe that Wake Forest will be kicking away from him Saturday. In steps another weapon, Justin Miller. Between the two, the Tigers can establish good field position on kick off returns and that will go a long way in the field position war. And, it would not hurt if the Tigers can improve on their paltry 4.2 yard per punt return average.
And finally, you can flip field position with turnovers. Clemson dominated the turnover battle against North Carolina, and Wake is prone to making mistakes if pressured. If Clemson can win the turnover battle Saturday, you can almost bank on a Tiger victory.
Its games like this that the Clemson coaches sometimes go into a shell and lose the attack mentality. Certainly, Wake is well disciplined and is going to do their best to not try and make mistakes. But, the teams that have beaten Wake have done so by attacking. You don't have to look any further than the Florida State game from last week to find proof of that.
The Seminoles went after Randolph on defense and did not allow for him to throw the football (96 yards passing). On offense, Florida State attacked through the air while mixing up the running game consistently trying to make big plays.
Sometimes the Seminoles were successful, sometimes they were not. But, it was the thought that counted and it certainly showed up on the scoreboard.
Clemson can't go into a shell and try to avoid making mistakes and still win Saturday. Clemson must be aggressive and prove to themselves and Wake Forest that they are the better football team. You don't do that by being conservative, and I hope the coaches see that as they prepare the game plan.
Groves Stadium on the campus of Wake Forest University has all the allure of a closed down textile mill. The stadium will seat upwards of 30,000 folks if they would show up, which sometimes they do and sometimes they don't.
Other than Wallace Wade Stadium, this has to be the toughest environment to get pumped up to play in. In fact, you almost have to self-motivate to get pumped up, because very little of that emotion can be derived from the graveyard-like atmosphere inside the stadium.
You saw that Clemson struggled here two years ago, and last year the Tigers got off to a slow start against Duke in Durham. Wake is a good enough football team to whip Clemson if the Tigers start slow and unmotivated Saturday afternoon. This game carries significant importance to Clemson, but it carries just as much or more to Wake Forest who is still trying to get bowl eligible (a big feat in Winston Salem).
This is a Halloween time spooky game for Clemson. Wake Forest owes Clemson for the past 2 years when Clemson slipped away from eminent defeat against the Deacons. Wake Forest has done a nice job manhandling some opponents that Clemson has struggled with this year…namely N.C. State early in the season. The odds makers know all of this, hence the Wake Forest one point favorite line that started out the week.
However, several things work in Clemson's favor Saturday. Wake is not good defending the pass which is obviously Clemson's strength. Wake's strength on offense is running the ball, something Clemson has done well defending sans last week against the Tar Heels.
Clemson entered the game as an underdog, something that will help keep the players minds on Wake and not FSU. Speaking of the ‘Noles, they play out of conference so there will be no temptation to scoreboard watch to see if Clemson will have a chance to play for the ACC title next week.
And the game not being televised will certainly bring more Clemson and Wake fans to the stadium, minimizing the echoes and empty seats that normally would accompany this game if it were a 12:00 Jefferson Pilot game.
And finally, Clemson is playing pretty good football. The Tigers obviously have not been perfect, but they have been solid most weeks and improvement has happened almost weekly. This won't be easy at all, but Clemson will survive the Wake Forest season-killing trap Saturday afternoon.
Clemson 27 Wake Forest 24
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