CLEMSON — 10 years have passed since Clemson last hosted a Thursday night game.
Seven years have passed since the Tigers last beat an ACC opponent on Thursday night.
Suffice it to say, Clemson plus Thursday night doesn’t equal must-see TV – unless you’re rooting against Clemson.
Entering Thursday's 7:30 p.m., ESPN-televised game at Wake Forest (4-4, 2-3 ACC), No.14 Clemson (6-1, 3-1) is in a major Thursday rut.
Dating back to 1998, Clemson is just 1-9 against ACC foes on Thursday night. They’ll have an opportunity to change that bleak history at BB&T Field, and junior quarterback Tajh Boyd couldn’t be more excited.
“It’s just another opportunity for us to change the culture a little bit,” Boyd said this week. “That’s how we look at it. History says we’re 1-9 on Thursdays, but it’s one of those things where we feel like the culture has changed around here, the maturation of this team has grown.
“Don’t get me wrong. It’s going to be a fight. Thursday night at their home place, they’re going to bring everything they’ve got. But we feel like we’ve got a good team, a solid foundation.”
Clemson whipped Temple 63-9 in Charlotte on a Thursday night in 2006, but the last ACC win was 2005’s 31-10 win at N.C. State. Since then, the Tigers have lost 24-7 at Virginia Tech in 2006, 12-7 at Wake Forest four years ago (in what turned out to be Tommy Bowden’s last game as head coach) and 30-27 at Georgia Tech in 2009 (which saw Clemson rebound from a 24-0 deficit, only to see Tech score the game-winning points on a pair of fourth-quarter field goals).
Following Saturday’s 38-17 win over Virginia Tech, Clemson had minimal turnaround time, practicing Sunday, Monday and Tuesday before hitting the road Wednesday.
“Obviously, in a short week you’re not going to have as much time to prepare,” said senior center Dalton Freeman, one of the few on the roster who has played in a Thursday game. “That’s the biggest key. Going on the road, you’re still not comfortable, you’re tired, you’ve got to go to a different environment when you’re not as comfortable. The home team definitely has the advantage.”
The key to success, Boyd said, is striking quickly.
“When you play a team away, at night, you’ve got to go out there and lay the chips out early,” he said. “You make a mistake, momentum shifts, like that. It’s all about momentum at night. You’ve got to control it as much as possible. Go out there and play your game.”
Clemson has many reasons to be concerned about the Demon Deacons. The Tigers are just 2-3 in their last five trips to Winston-Salem, and Jim Grobe’s group gave them everything they could handle in Memorial Stadium last November before Chandler Catanzaro’s 43-yard field goal as time expired lifted Clemson to a 31-28 win, clinching the ACC Atlantic Division title.
“They’re very competitive, they’re always tough and always play us tough,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “They’re as well-coached a team as there is in the country. Coach Grobe and his staff always do a phenomenal job giving their guys a chance to win.”
An already-thin Tiger secondary seems to get thinner by the day. Wednesday, Swinney announced that sophomore cornerback Bashaud Breeland – who has started five of seven games this season – will miss the game with a groin strain. That leaves only senior Xavier Brewer, sophomore Garry Peters and redshirt freshman Cortez Davis as scholarship corners; Davis has only 15 defensive snaps this season.
Steady junior Martin Jenkins is redshirting this season following groin surgery, and junior Darius Robinson will miss the rest of the regular season after suffering a fractured ankle against Virginia Tech.
Swinney said sophomore receiver Adam Humphries has cross-trained at cornerback and could also see action there.
In addition, Wake Forest junior wideout Michael Campanaro, one of the ACC’s top receivers, will play after missing two games with a broken hand. Campanaro had 38 receptions for 429 yards and three touchdowns in five games, accounting for 39.3 percent of the Demon Deacons’ receiving yards during that time.
A year ago, Campanaro caught nine passes for 72 yards and added a 50-yard punt return touchdown in Clemson.
The Tigers will be motivated to improve on last week’s 295-yard offensive output (the second-lowest of the Chad Morris era), while also building on the defense’s best outing of the season.
The Demon Deacons have the ACC’s second-worst offense (316 ypg) and the eighth-best defense (allowing 405 yards per game).
In other words, it’s an excellent opportunity to break the Thursday once and for all.
“For us, it’s another opportunity to play in front of the national spotlight, show what kind of team Clemson has,” Boyd said. “Show that we’re capable of being one of those teams.”