Lawrence, Clemson get the better of Wake Forest again

The nation's No. 1 team rolled past the Deacons for the third straight year in a 37-13 season-opening victory

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence runs into the end zone for one of his two rushing touchdowns against Wake Forest on Saturday (Walt Unks/The Winston-Salem Journal via AP)

WINSTON-SALEM — New season, familiar result for Wake Forest against Clemson.

Saturday’s opener at Truist Field was nearly a carbon copy of the past two meetings between Deacons and the ACC’s resident national championship contender.

Led by quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who threw for 351 yards and a touchdown while also rushing for two scores, the top-ranked Tigers rolled up an insurmountable lead after three quarters, then coasted to a 37-13 victory in the 2020 opener for both teams.

Three thoughts

1. It probably wouldn’t have made a difference, but with the game still not out of reach, Wake coach Dave Clawson chose to kick the ball rather than go for it on fourth-and-short. He punted on fourth and two from midfield late in the first quarter, attempted a field goal (that missed) on fourth and one, and punted again on fourth and one — albeit from his own 30. On two of the three occasions, Clemson answered with a touchdown.

2. Despite the lack of touchdowns, Deacons quarterback Sam Hartman didn’t play badly in his return to the starting job. While he didn’t have much time to throw against a relentless Clemson pass rush, the junior completed 8 of 18 for 182 yards before being knocked from the game by a helmet-to-helmet hit that wasn’t penalized late in the third quarter.

3. Clemson is the real deal. Lawrence showed why he’s a Heisman Trophy frontrunner and the likely No. 1 pick in next year’s NFL Draft by going 22 for 28 in just under three quarters, running back Travis Etienne for 102 yards and touchdown while the Tigers’ defense limited Wake to 37 yards rushing and sacked Hartman four times while rolling up a 37-3 lead before taking their starters out after three periods. 

Number to Know

33 1/2 — The point spread coming into the game. By scoring 10 fourth-quarter points, including their first touchdown in the last three years against Clemson, the Deacons managed to cover. That having been said, the Tigers have still outscored Wake 152-19 over those three most recent meetings — winning 53-3 last season and 63-3 in 2018. 

They Said It

“We definitely competed, but we left some points out there and that’s on us. But we fought to the finish, which was different than the past two years. We just kept fighting, That’s the most important thing.”

— Wake Forest senior safety Luke Masterson

Player of the Game

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Taylor Morin made the most of his first action from scrimmage as a Deacon by leading the team with nine catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. The 5-foot-10, 174-pound Virginia native — who played in one game on special teams last season — also returned three punts for 38 yards.

Critical thinking

The natural knee-jerk reaction is that this is going to be a long season for Wake Forest, But as the two previous years have proven, losing big to Clemson is not an accurate barometer by which to judge the Deacons. For whatever reason, the Tigers are just a bad matchup for coach Dave Clawson’s team. But then, that can be said about a lot of teams. 

Given time to throw against an ACC defense that’s not loaded with future NFL players, Hartman and the Deacons offense can be as productive as it’s been in scoring 400 or more points in each of the past three seasons. And defensive end Carlos “Boogie” Basham showed he’s hard to handle even for the best of opponents. Expect to see a different Wake team next week against NC State.