CLEMSON — Over the past six years, numerous major programs have tried – and failed – to pry Jim Grobe away from Wake Forest. Few coaches in America do more with less than Grobe and his coaching staff. The Demon Deacons aren’t the nation’s flashiest program; remodeled BB&T Field seats only 31,500. Winston-Salem, N.C., isn’t a college football destination. But the Deacs typically manage to win more than they lose, and scare the rest of the ACC in the process. In his 12th season, Grobe has five bowl trips and an ACC title, and at 4-3 entering Thursday’s game with Clemson, Wake is right back in bowl contention. Here’s a breakdown of how that crucial game will shake out for both sides.
Over the last decade or so, Wake Forest has been a consistent thorn in the Tigers’ collective paw. Clemson has just two wins in its last five trips to Winston-Salem, and that includes 2006’s 27-17 comeback win sparked by the late Gaines Adams’ scoop-and-score of a botched Wake field goal. A year ago, Wake pushed Clemson to the limit before Chandler Catanzaro’s last-play field goal sealed a 31-28 win. The Demon Deacons are 11th in the ACC in passing, but could get a boost from star wide receiver Michael Campanaro, who’ll play after missing two games with a broken hand. He has 38 receptions for 429 yards and two scores this season. Clemson brings in a thin secondary. Starting corner Darius Robinson will miss the rest of the regular season with a fractured ankle, and fellow starter Bashaud Breeland will miss the game with a groin strain. Tailback Josh Harris (61 ypg) is seventh in the ACC in rushing, and defensive tackle Nikita Whitlock is one of the league’s top defensive linemen.
On paper, the Demon Deacons don’t scare anyone. They’re 10th in the ACC in scoring offense (22 ppg), 10th in rushing offense (120.6 ypg), 11th in passing offense (195.6 ypg), eighth in scoring defense (28 ppg), ninth in rushing defense (183 ypg), and fifth in passing defense (221.3 ypg). They’ve cracked 30 points only once (a 49-37 win over Army); Clemson has scored at least 37 points in five of its six games, with the low a 26-18 win over Auburn. Junior quarterback Tanner Price, expected to be a top-echelon ACC signalcaller, has seven touchdowns against seven interceptions and averages 189 ypg passing. It has been a difficult fall for Wake; eight players have served suspensions for arrests and failed drug tests connected to marijuana.
Four years and three weeks ago, Clemson suffered through what Dabo Swinney called a “nightmare” of a 12-7 Thursday night loss at Wake Forest. Four days later, Tommy Bowden stepped down under pressure and Swinney took over as the interim, and eventually the full-time, head coach. Clemson has re-established itself as an ACC power, but BB&T Field remains a dangerous place to play, especially with a fired-up Thursday night crowd and ESPN cameras in the house. The Demon Deacons are a competent, but not great defensive team, and the Tigers will be motivated to prove last week’s uneven offensive effort against Virginia Tech was just a fluke. Wake will likely test the injury-riddled secondary, but Clemson should be able to pile up enough points to end talk of the Thursday night hex.
Prediction: Clemson 42, Wake Forest 24