Winston-Salem, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - Sporting a five-game win streak, the 19th-ranked Clemson Tigers set out to continue their winning ways, as they take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons in ACC action on Thursday night at BB&T Field.
Dabo Swinney's team is 6-2 on the season with the losses coming against powerhouses Georgia and Florida State early on. Since the 23-17 overtime setback to the Seminoles on Sept. 20, the Tigers have reeled off five straight victories, including a hard-fought 16-6 Homecoming win on Oct. 25 against Syracuse. With the win, Clemson moved to 5-1 in conference play, trailing only FSU (6-0) in the ACC's Atlantic Division.
Dave Clawson's first season in Winston-Salem has not exactly gone according to plan. The Demon Deacons are a mere 2-6 on the season and still in search of their first ACC win of the year. The team has dropped four straight games (all in-conference), including a 23-17 setback to Boston College on Oct. 25. This game ends a three-game homestand for Wake Forest.
Swinney knows his team can't look past anyone at this point.
"Wake Forest obviously doesn't have the record that they would like to have, but they are an improving football team."
Clemson holds a huge 61-17-1 series advantage over Wake Forest. The 61 victories are the second most the Tigers have against an opponent (65 wins over South Carolina). Clemson has won five straight meetings, with Wake's last win in the series coming in 2008.
There has been some moving parts on the offensive side of the football for Clemson this year, with injuries to both the quarterback and running back positions thus far. Still, the Tigers have figured ways to move the football, generating 32.2 ppg on a healthy 432.0 yards of total offense.
Freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson earned the starting gig a few games into the season, but a hand injury has shelved him of late. Veteran Cole Stoudt is an adequate fill-in though, completing 63.2 percent of his throws on the year. He just isn't quite the athlete that Watson is in the backfield. Still, Watson is finally healthy and will dress against Wake, although Swinney may keep him on the bench nonetheless.
"He'll (Watson) will be dressed and ready to go. Probably be the most watched pregame in the history of college football."
The good news is that there are plenty of options in the passing game for whoever lines up under center, headlined by freshman Artavis Scott (45 rec, 502 yds, 3 TDs) and sophomore Mike Williams (35 rec, 743 yds, 4 TDs) on the outside.
The rushing attack, which puts up a modest 140.8 ypg, lost tailback Adam Choice for the season, but depth is still found in players like redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman (299 yds, 3.9 ypc, 1 TD) and redshirt junior C.J. Davidson (236 yds, 4.2 ypc, 3 TDs).
Where Clemson is really dangerous is on the defensive side of the ball. The team ranks in the top-10 nationally in scoring defense (10th at 18.3 ppg), pass defense (fifth at 167.3 ypg) and total defense (second at 268.6 ypg). Getting after quarterbacks is a specialty in Death Valley, with a whopping 30 sacks through the first eight games.
That is due to a dominant front seven, headlined by All-American rusher Vic Beasley (20 tackles, 11.5 TFL, 8.0 sacks) and veteran linebacker Stephone Anthony (team-high 49 tackles, 8.5 TFL, 2.5 sacks, 1 INT, 2 FF).
Clawson is knows the task at hand for Wake, especially his offense.
"The challenge is great. Clemson is not just a good football team, they're a good football program. Certainly one of the two elite or dominant programs in the ACC right now, they're coming off of a BCS bowl win a year ago. They're 6-2 and their two losses are to excellent football teams. Defensively, this is certainly one of the best defenses in the country right now. I think they are ranked No. 2 in total defense; statistically they are the best defense in the ACC. They have big-time players at every level."
The Demon Deacons will find things awfully tough this week, as they must face a ferocious defense with an offense that has been inept for the most part this season. Wake Forest ranks 122nd in the nation in scoring (14.8 ppg), dead-last at 125th in rushing (34.5 ypg), 106th in passing (179.0 ypg) and last (125th) in total offense (213.5 ypg).
Freshman John Wolford has suffered through growing pains in his first season under center, although he has completed 61.3 percent of his passes, for 1,377 yards. Still, he has just seven TD passes against 13 interceptions. Redshirt freshman tight end Cam Serigne (36 rec, 340 yds, 2 TDs) and senior wideout E.J. Scott (35 rec, 373 yds, 4 TDs) are the top options down the field.
There are no rushers of note for Wake, which has just three rushing scores this season and is averaging an ugly 1.1 yards per carry.
The Demon Deacons have had success against the pass this season, yielding just 179.8 yards per game, but that has a lot to do with team running for 178.5 yards per game. The team has forced just 13 takeaways through eight games and has amassed 17 sacks.
Redshirt sophomore safety Ryan Janvion leads the team with 79 total tackles, with 5.0 TFL, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. Senior end Zachary Allen (45 tackles) is the most disruptive playmaker up the field, leading Wake in both TFL (9.0) and sacks (4.0).