Previewing Wake Forest

We learned last week that the Clemson-Wake Forest game will be televised regionally on ABC at 3:30 on Septemeber 4th, now take a closer look at Demon Deacons as Scott Rhymer previews the big game and also offers you a <i>controversial</i> prediction.

In this 11-part series I will break down and predict each Clemson football game for the 2004 season. Of course, much can and will change as fall practice commences and the season progresses. So by no means do I envision a scenario where I am perfect, but the hope is to give a realistic view of where Clemson, and the rest of the ACC, will fall in the upcoming season.

September 4th
Clemson vs. Wake Forest (ABC 3:30)
The 45-17 whipping the Demon Deacons put on Clemson last season has been the most talked about game against Wake Forest in the history of Clemson football. Wake was the last team to beat Clemson, as the Tigers reeled off 4 wins to complete the 2003 season.

This will be the opening game of the year for Wake Forest and Clemson, which in itself is a little unique for both to be playing ACC games in week 1.

Jim Grobe is in his 4th year in Winston Salem and he has compiled a respectable 18-18 record while at the helm. The Deacons finished 5-7 last year, losing the final three games of the year after beating Clemson. I think it is quite obvious that Grobe and his staff are some of the finest coaches in the conference, getting as much out of the players they have as possible on most days.

On offense, Wake Forest returns 7 players from last year's team that averaged a dismal 354.8 yards a game (7th in the ACC and 76th in the nation).

Cory Randolph proved to be a decent passer last year to compliment his excellent ability to run the option for Grobe. Randolph threw for 1,773 yards with 8 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Randolph was the second leading rusher for the Deacons, chugging out 404 yards on the season. The buzz out of the Wake camp is that backup Ben Mauk is the real deal, but don't expect him to snag Randolph's job away this year. With so many losses at QB in the ACC, Randolph is probably one of the top 5 or 6 quarterbacks in the league in the preseason.

Chris Barclay returns as possibly the premier running back in the ACC. Barclay rushed for 1,192 and 12 touchdowns last year. Barclay is not overly fast, but he showed a quick punch to the hole and the ability to make defenders miss at the line of scrimmage. He is the essential 4 yards and a cloud of dust running back. Wake lost Nick Burney, the bruising fullback from last year, and Damon McWhite will have to step in to provide the upfront blocking desperately needed for Grobe's offense.

Wake's top three receivers return in Jason Anderson, Willie Idlette, and Chris Davis. The three combined for over 1,200 yards receiving for the Deacons last year despite not having burning speed in the open field.

The Deacons' Chris Barclay will be one of the top returning backs in the ACC in 2004.
The offensive line took the biggest hit with the losses of guard Tyson Clabo and tackle Mark Moroz. But there is talent on the offensive line, especially tackle Steve Vallos who earned freshman All-American honors from The Sporting News. Depth is needed or Wake could be in a little trouble at the offensive line of scrimmage.

On defense, Wake returns 8 players from a very young defense in 2003. Wake gave up a bulky 454.2 yards a game last year (8th in the ACC, 107th in the nation).

The Deacons are solid up front with nose tackle Goryal Scales and left end Jerome Nichols. Neither are prototypical big guys like you see at FSU or Miami, but they run well and fill gaps for the linebackers to make plays.

Wake lost linebackers Kellen Brantley and Obi Chukwumah at linebacker and with it almost 100 tackles. Seniors Caron Bracy and Brad White should help alleviate the blow somewhat, but linebacker is a major concern for Wake heading into August drills.

Free safety Quinton Williams is gone, but Wake is very solid in the secondary. Strong safety Chris Ghee leads a group that returns 3 of 4 starters from what should be a formidable secondary if the defensive line can get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

As usual, Wake Forest is solid on special teams. All-ACC punter Ryan Plackemeier returns (45.6 average in 2003). He also does some field goal kicking for Wake, as does Matt Wisnosky.

Summary And Prediction
The toughest thing about playing Wake is the lack of preparation time; so on first glance Clemson got a huge break in opening the season against the Deacons. That will allow Tommy Bowden and his offensive and defensive staff plenty of time to develop a game plan for the season opener. The bad thing is Grobe and his staff also have that much time to prepare for Clemson, and as I said earlier, Grobe is one of the best coaches in the country.

The complicated misdirection running game of Wake Forest has given the Tigers fits the last two years, and that was just one of many reasons the Clemson coaching staff started preparing for this one during the middle of spring practice.

"One of the things that I think will help us a little bit this year is we can spend a couple of extra days working on them as a team and not being distracted and say, ‘Oh, we've got to play other games before we play them.' This is our first game and we can focus in on them," said defensive coordinator John Lovett earlier this summer.

"They've got a lot of unique plays. When they get into that motion, that puts them not into in a two-back, but a three-back offense. So when they get into something like that, that's what makes it so difficult," added Lovett. "Their one-back offense is a two-back offense. Their two-back offense is a three-back offense.

In breaking this game down, you obviously have to factor in the embarrassment of last year's loss into the equation. Clemson players were stung just about as hard as the fans were with after that game and, more importantly, the way the game was lost.

Home field advantage also plays a factor in Clemson's favor with Death Valley being no walk in the park for the Deacons.

I've said a million times that week one is the best time of year to pull an upset, simply because better teams usually aren't clicking on all cylinders right out of the gate. While many Clemson fans relish the opportunity to play Wake in week one, the reality of it is that the advantage may not be as great as many feel it will be.

Clemson will be quite happy to walk away from this one with a one point win…which is exactly what I think will happen.

Prediction
Clemson 28 Wake Forest 27

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