WINSTON-SALEM — The No. 21 Demon Deacons host the fifth-ranked team in the nation on Saturday when Clemson comes to Winston-Salem in a battle of unbeaten ACC Atlantic Division teams.
Wake Forest will be looking to snap a 13-game losing streak against the Tigers and start its season 4-0 for the second straight year. Clemson, meanwhile, is trying to move to win its first four games for the eighth consecutive season.
The Demon Deacons are coming off a dramatic 37-36 win over Liberty that ended when the Flames failed a potential game-winning two-point conversion. Wake Forest for the win but struggled on offense, particularly in the running game — the Deacs averaged a paltry 0.8 yards per carry against Liberty.
“One of the signs of a good team is when you don’t have your fastball and you can still figure out a way to win,” Wake coach Dave Clawson said after the victory. “We found a way to win. Barely.”
The Deacons will need a strong showing from veteran quarterback Sam Hartman if they want to beat Clemson. The fifth-year quarterback, who has thrown for 9,891 yards and 79 touchdowns in his record-breaking career, had 325 yards and three touchdowns against Liberty but also threw two interceptions and was sacked three times.
“We were just off. Sam was not on,” Clawson said. “He missed some throws he can usually make in his sleep. Some of those quick outs and quick hitches to the boundary, they were open and we just overthrew them. Then on third down we threw a few in the dirt.”
Clemson’s offense, built around quarterback DJ Uiagalelei and running back Will Shipley, proved it could shrug off a slow start in last weekend’s 48-20 win over Louisiana Tech. The Tigers outgained the Bulldogs 280-12 on the ground, and the Clemson defense had three interceptions in the game.
Despite the three takeaways, Clemson struggled with Louisiana Tech quarterback Parker McNeil, who threw for 311 yards and a touchdown.
“We got to really improve this week, have a great week of practice,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney told reporters on Sunday. “A tough road game against a really veteran, experienced and very competitive championship-caliber team in Wake Forest. They’re the Atlantic Division champs. And they know what it looks like and they’re confident in that, so we’ll have to correct some of these mistakes to have a chance to go and find a way to win this one.”
There are also concerns about Clemson’s secondary, with the status of cornerbacks Nate Wiggins and Sheridan Jones as well as safety Andrew Mukuba up in the air.
That could benefit Wake Forest, which is as good as any team in the conference at sharing the wealth. The Deacs have six players with more than 100 yards of total offense this season: running backs Christian Turner (149) and Justice Ellison (113) are joined by wide receivers A.T. Perry (222), Donavon Greene (184), Ke’Shawn Williams (151) and Taylor Morin (139).
While the tandem of Uiagalelei and Shipley are the majority of Clemson’s running attack, wideouts Beaux Collins, Antonio Williams and Joseph Ngata have combined for nearly 400 receiving yards this season.
Saturday’s game will be the first against ranked competition for both teams, and they’ve had similar success against lesser teams through the first three weeks of the season. The Demon Deacons are averaging 425 yards per game on offense compared to Clemson’s 434 yards, and the Wake Forest defense has allowed 318 yards per game to Clemson’s 317.