Clemson, SC – The third-ranked Clemson Tigers continue their quest for an ACC championship when they welcome the Wake Forest Demon Deacons to Death Valley.
Dabo Swinney's Tigers were the preseason pick to win the conference crown. Clemson has won each of its first three games in 2013, including opening up league play last week with a hard-fought 26-14 victory over NC State in Raleigh.
A tough ACC road win against a strong defensive squad was encouraging for Swinney.
"That's why I'm excited about our team right now," Swinney said, "because we have found different ways to win and complemented each other at critical times...so it's been a pretty complete effort by our football team these first three games."
Jim Grobe's Demon Deacons will attempt to derail Clemson's plans this weekend. Wake Forest has split its first four games, with wins over Presbyterian and Army sandwiched around losses to Boston College and ULM.
Clemson holds a decisive 60-17-1 advantage in the all-time series. The Tigers have won four straight over the Demon Deacons and six of the last seven matchups overall. Last season, Clemson cruised to a 42-13 victory in Winston- Salem.
Wake Forest beat Army at its own game last week, using a strong rushing attack to pull to .500 on the season. The Demon Deacons rushed for a season-high 228 yards and two touchdowns in a 25-11 victory.
It was a bit above the norm for the season. On the year, Wake Forest is averaging 334.8 yards of total offense, with a modest 121.8 ypg on the ground. Tailback Josh Harris leads the way out of the backfield, although he is netting just 37.8 ypg.
The team has had a little more success through the air, as quarterback Tanner Price has completed 55.2 percent of his throws, for 852 yards (213 ypg), with five touchdowns.
Wide receiver Mike Campanaro is off to a fast start and is clearly the top option in the passing game. The 5-foot-11 senior is averaging 118.0 yards per game and leads the team in receptions (25) and receiving yards (354), with two scores.
Wake Forest's defense has had a great deal of success in 2013, especially against the pass, holding opponents to just 143.2 yards per game (eighth nationally). Overall, foes are netting just 311.5 total offense yards to rank 28th nationally. In addition, Wake has recorded 11 takeaways thus far.
Senior linebacker Mike Olson leads the team with 34 tackles. Senior nose tackle Nikita Whitlock is a monster in the middle of the line, posting 31 tackles, with 9.0 TFL and 3.0 sacks in four games.
The Wake Forest defense will be put to the test against the Tigers, who have been an offensive force for several years, especially with veteran quarterback Tahj Boyd at the helm.
Boyd leads an offense that is averaging 464.7 yards per game in 2013, getting it done with balance. The Tigers are churning out 183.7 yards rushing and 281.0 yards passing.
Boyd's top target is All-American Sammy Watkins, who has returned to form following a down season in 2012. Watkins has 19 receptions through three games, for 242 yards and one TD.
The ground game is paced by tailback Roderick McDowell (5.5 ypc), although Boyd adds another threat when he tucks the ball in and runs. The team has four rushing TDs thus far, with Boyd responsible for three of those scores.
The Clemson defense is once again a step or two behind the offense in terms of production, but is making strides. Foes are averaging 388.0 yards per game.
Linebackers Stephone Anthony and Spencer Shuey have led the charge with sideline-to-sideline play. Anthony leads the team with 37 total tackles, 4.0 TFL and 1.5 sacks. Shuey is a close second in stops (35). Defensive end Vic Beasley (eight tackles) has been a force in terms of rushing the passer, with a team-high five sacks. Freshman end Shaq Lawson (11 tackles, 4.5 TFL, one sack) brings pressure off the edge as well.
Lawson commented on the defense's ability to change the perception in Death Valley.
"If we show up and make big plays, people will change their thoughts about Clemson - they will think of us not just for the offense, but the defense, too."
Grobe recognizes the enormous challenge his Demon Deacons face on the road this week.
"I think we know going down there is tough. Since I've been here we haven't beat Clemson in Death Valley. This is probably a year that is as tough a year to beat them as any year I've been here. They're as talented as possibly any team in the country and very well coached. It will take a great effort on our part. We've had some great games down there, and they've worn us out a couple times. We really have to go down there focused. We have to play for four quarters at a high level to have a chance. This is probably the best Clemson team we've played since I've been here."