CLEMSON – No. 3 Clemson is 3-0 and not exactly satisfied going into gameday.
In many ways, that’s just how the coaches like it this time of year – and next up on the ACC slate is Atlantic Division foe Wake Forest (2-2, 0-1 ACC) for a 3:30 kick in Memorial Stadium Saturday.
The ultra-explosive element of Chad Morris’ offense just hasn’t clicked, as while the Tigers (3-0, 1-0 ACC) are top-35 in scoring offense (38.7 points per game) – that comes with a 69th-best mark in yards per play (5.6).
“We haven’t played our best football,” Morris said. “We’ve done some good things, but that’s a great opportunity to for me as a coordinator and for our offensive football team to get better.”
Senior Heisman contender QB Tajh Boyd hasn’t been as sharp as his ’12 version, where he’s completing 11 percent less of his passes (62 percent) and is more than a yard behind per attempt (7.6) than through three contests last season.
3-year comparison: Clemson offense (Through 3 games)
|Category||'13 Clemson||'12 Clemson||'11 Clemson|
|Scoring Offense||38.7 PPG||39.7 PPG||38.7 PPG|
|Total Yards||464.7 YPG||517.3 YPG||522.7 YPG|
|Cmp. Pct. (Tajh Boyd)||62.2||73.3||67.3|
|Yards Per Pass (Tajh Boyd)||7.6||8.7||9.0|
|Plays per game||82.7||80||77.3|
|Explosive plays per game||10.3||11.3||11|
|3rd Down Pct.||51.4||50||53.1|
|Yards Per Carry||4.2||5.2||5.0|
This week, his offensive coordinator pointed to play No. 59 in the N.C. State game as the point where it all finally came together for the Tigers' third-year starter – completing five of his last six passes for 75 yards and two touchdowns.
Boyd has a feeling Wake Forest might just be in for a showing of a fully operational Clemson offense.
“We’re on the right path right now,” he said. “Once we get going and click, it’s just like a freight train. There’s not going to be any stopping or slowing down. We’re just going to keep rolling.”
Already rolling is Clemson’s pressure upfront.
Led by junior end Vic Beasley’s five, the Tigers are ranked 10th nationally in sacks per game (3.5) and 15th in tackles for loss (8.5).
Junior defensive tackle Grady Jarrett is third on the team in tackles (20), while freshman end Shaq Lawson has 4.5 tackles for loss.
“They are becoming the strength of our team,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “When you can be really good in the defensive line, it covers up a lot of issues because it creates problems for other people, especially when you have depth.
“We don’t have any seniors in that group. They are all battling hard and they all want to play. They are very unselfish and pull for each other. They tap in and out of there and they all go play.”
They will get a test – in theory at least – from a run-geared but not yet run-effective Wake Forest offense.
The Deacs spread it out and use ample misdirection, but the o-line is shaky at best and with that comes rankings in the triple digits in both total (106) and red zone offense (115).
Like last week at N.C. State, however, Clemson’s defensive coordinator is expecting to see the kitchen sink thrown at his unit.
“Anything that’s been successful against us the first two weeks we’ll probably see it,” Brent Venables said. “They have an experienced quarterback (Tanner Price) and running back (Josh Harris) and an awfully good receiver (Michael Campanaro). It’s a staff that’s had success at getting more out of less and getting their guys to play above and beyond their abilities.”
A number of Tigers are missing action this week – and for a wide variety of reasons.
Junior receiver Martavis Bryant’s role will be more limited as punishment from a repeated throat-slash gesture after scoring a touchdown last week.
Wake Forest breakdown
Reserve left tackle Isaiah Battle is suspended after throwing a punch in the final minutes of the game. Starting right tackle Gifford Timothy is out after trying to play through a concussion also last week. Wren product Shaq Anthony is expected to get his first career start there.
Also on the line, starting left guard David Beasley is listed as probable (ankle) with Kalon Davis likely to see some time after practicing more with the ones this week.
Carlos Watkins was questionable going in after sustaining minor injuries in a car accident last week that claimed the life of both his and fellow Tiger d-lineman Dane Rogers’ cousin. They are both missing the game to attend the funeral.
Last time in Clemson, Wake Forest was a chip-shot field goal from taking a late two-possession lead en route to their first win in Memorial Stadium since 1998. Instead, it went wide-left and Tigers placekicker Chandler Catanzaro played the hero with a 43-yard gamewinner as time expired.
Deacs senior noseguard and defensive leader Nikita Whitlock isn’t really drawing anything from the close call.
“It was a heartbreaker that we could have won, should have won, but that was then and this is now,” Whitlock said. “We're a different team, we have different players, and I think we're a better team than we were then.
“I think that they're doing great this year, so I think that we have a great opportunity to go down there and win.”
The Tigers know the target is on their back not only in divisional grudge matches like this one, but also each week they’re in the national spotlight as a top-five team.
“Playing against Clemson each week is everybody’s biggest game,” Boyd said. “We have to go out and be prepared and take control of the game. To have the season we want to have, we have to go out there and jump on teams early.
“You don’t need to press and put unnecessary stress (on yourself). All we need to do is do what we’re capable of doing.”
Clemson has won 11 consecutive games against unranked opponents by double digits, which only No. 1 Alabama can claim better nationally (21).
In the last three seasons, Swinney’s Tigers have gone 18-2 against unranked opponents overall (both losses in 2011 and on the road, at N.C. State and Georgia Tech).