Not so fast, Wake: Clemson puts pause on Deacs title

Clemson running back Kobe Pace (20) runs by Wake Forest defenders for a touchdown during the third quarter of an NCAA college football game in Clemson, S.C., Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021. (Ken Ruinard/The Independent-Mail via AP)

Wake Forest had the chance to clinch a berth in the ACC Championship Game by beating the Atlantic Division team that has gone to the last six.

Clemson wasn’t ready to pass the baton quite yet, however. The Tigers responded with an emphatic “not so fast,” beating the Demon Deacons in Clemson, 48-27.

“Clemson outplayed us,” Wake coach Dave Clawson said. “They took advantage of our mistakes. We just had too many mistakes.”

The Tigers jumped on Wake form the outset, scoring 10 first quarter points and shutting down the record-setting Demon Deacon offense. Quarterback Sam Hartman was sacked seven times, threw an interception and lost a fumble.

Wake Forest ran a total of 13 plays on its first four drives, all of which ended with punts. The Deacs had negative 16 rushing yards in the first quarter and a total of 10 yards of offense, which were nullified by 10 penalty yards.

Clemson then put the game away with a second-half rally, outscoring Wake 21-3 in the third quarter.

The Tigers scored on their final five possessions of the game, including four touchdowns.

“That’s a team that’s been struggling on offense,” Clawson said. “We gave up 543 yards.”

The defensive struggles, combined with an offense that was finally solved by an opponent, 11 games into the season, raise red flags as Wake tries to wrap up the Atlantic Division title.

“We had three turnovers, a bunch of penalties,” Clawson said. “We couldn’t get off the field on third down. Third down defense a week ago was great. Today, it was awful. We got into the red zone three times and only got one touchdown. … we’ve lost two of three on the road and turned the ball over more in the lats three weeks than we did in the first eight. On defense, we just played horribly.”

Now, the convoluted Atlantic Division picture is simple from Wake’s point of view. Win at Boston College and win the division. Lose, and someone else—Clemson or NC State, depending on other results—takes the crown.

“We have a championship game next week up at B.C.,” Clawson said. “One and done. Win it and advance. If not get, ready for the bowl game.”