Wake Forest vs Clemson College Football | Preview & Predictions for Saturday, September 24
Photo by John Byrum/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Clemson Tigers
Wake Forest vs Clemson Odds
|Wake Forest Odds|
-110 / -110
-110 / -110
The sky is falling in Clemson, South Carolina. The dynasty is over. Dabo Swinney has lost his fastball. It’s all doom and gloom in Death Valley.
Everybody acts like Clemson is no longer one of the elite programs. Everybody acts like this team has fallen off. Everybody acts like last season was a disaster.
Last year’s “down season” still resulted in 10 wins for the 11th straight season. Only Alabama has more consecutive 10-win seasons at 14.
No team in the country has a longer current win streak then the Tigers, with nine straight victories. So go ahead and doubt this team at your own peril.
This defense is as good as it gets in the country. This front seven has some bad mama jamas. Bryan Bresee, Myles Murphy, Tyler Davis, K.J. Henry and Ruke Orhorhoro make up what is arguably the best defensive line in the nation.
Those five alone have combined for 20 quarterback pressure this year.
This defense sits 16th in the country in Havoc and ninth at preventing Finishing Drives. They are seventh in the nation in Success Rate against the run. While Wake Forest doesn’t run the ball often, it will get nothing when it does.
That will force Wake to be one dimensional. As good as Sam Hartman is, he threw just one touchdown with an interception in last year’s matchup. Hartman was also sacked seven times.
Speaking of last season, in that game — which was maybe the worst Clemson team in a decade going up against the best Wake Forest team in school history — Clemson won by 21.
I don’t know how you can, in good faith, put money on DJ Uiagalelei and the Swinney offense, especially when they’re forced to cover a spread over a touchdown.
Clemson looked better against Furman and Louisiana Tech, but remember how bad Clemson looked in the first two quarters against Georgia Tech. It took the Tigers 22 minutes to get their first score and they finished with a 40% overall Success Rate.
I just am not ready to jump in on this Clemson offense. It’s too early after the disaster they put on the field last year, when the unit finished 101st in Success Rate and Uiagelelei was PFF’s 108th-ranked quarterback.
I’m ready to make the jump with the Wake Forest defense, though.
New defensive coordinator Brad Lambert has jumped in and the differences are staggering. Wake Forest finished 61st in Pass Rush and 26th in Coverage in PFF’s 2021 grades, and it's up to first and 12th, respectively, so far this season.
Clemson’s offensive line could still struggle with pressure. Guard Walker Parks has allowed seven pressures in just 100 pass-blocking snaps so far.
Clemson has an elite defense, but I can see this becoming a rock fight. In a low-scoring, ACC grinder, I’m happy catching a touchdown with Dave Clawson’s team that returned 13 starters from an 11-win season.
Ianniello: Sure, Uiagalelei has not lived up to expectations, and he is easy to jump on. He finished last season with a 64.4 passer grade at PFF with nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
Well so far this season, he has a passer grade of 86.8, which is top-25 in the country. He has tossed five touchdowns to just one interception, and has eight Big Time Throws and just one Turnover Worthy Play.
DJ is also using his legs more effectively this season. He rushed for 308 yards all of last season, averaging 2.9 yards per carry. He already has 117 yards this year, scampering for 4.3 yards per attempt.
As improved as DJ has looked, Clemson isn’t the type of team that needs its quarterback to be elite. The Tigers have two good backs and sit 20th in the nation in Rushing Success Rate.
Lead man Will Shipley is averaging 7.8 yards per carry and has six touchdowns already, third-most in the country. Among all players with at least 30 carries this year, Shipley ranks fifth in college football in yards per attempt.
When these two teams saw each other last year, Kobe Pace rushed for 191 yards on 24 carries with two touchdowns and Shipley totaled 112 yards on 19 carries with a pair of scores, as well.
Oh, and Shipley also threw a touchdown.
I am not sure if this Wake Forest defense is actually all that improved. It ranks just 70th in the country in Rushing Success Rate Allowed. It just allowed 435 yards to a Liberty team with its backup quarterback. It took a failed two-point conversion just to escape with the win.
Clemson averaged 10.5 yards per pass and 6.2 yards per rush against this defense last year. Its 543 total yards and 7.3 yards per play was its best offensive performance of the season.
Clemson knows it can flex its muscles in this matchup.
McGrath: It’s great that Dabo continues to stack up 10-win seasons in the ACC. But I don’t need Wake Forest to win. I need it to cover a touchdown at home.
Dabo’s 10-win team last year went 5-8 ATS and 4-6 ATS as a favorite. The Tigers have covered in just four of their last eight as a road favorite.
While the Tigers haven’t necessarily “dropped off," let’s not pretend this team is the world beater it was with Trevor Lawrence under center. The Tigers rely on their defensive line — which is the best in the country — but that’s largely it.
The Tigers are good against the pass but not world beaters, and they actually rank outside the top-45 FBS teams in Passing Downs Success Rate Allowed.
So, sure, the Wake offense might be one dimensional.
But even if the Clemson defense gets ahead quick, that back door is going to be wide open for Hartman, especially behind an offensive line that looks to be one of the best in the ACC (four starters and 104 career starts return) and with a number of weapons (three receivers have double-digit receptions so far).
Dabo and the defense will be vulnerable to that, too.
Ianniello: Okay, so you admit you don’t think Wake Forest will win this game, that’s a good start.
But what makes you think it can stay within a touchdown?
Clemson has won this matchup 13 straight times. Just one of the Tigers' wins over that stretch came by less than a touchdown. In fact, only one game has been within two touchdowns. And that was in 2011.
During Clemson’s 13-game win streak, it has beaten the Demon Deacons by an average of 27.7 points per game. The Tigers absolutely own Wake Forest, and nothing about this Wake team indicates it's good enough to change that.
The Tigers are much stronger up front, but this secondary is underrated and ranks ninth in the country in coverage grade.
They rank seventh in the country in passes defended. Their starting corners have yet to give up a receiving touchdown, and they have allowed just one passing score in the first half this year.
McGrath: Again, I don’t need the Demon Deacons to win this game. I need them to cover a touchdown at home.
Do you really think DJ and Dabo can just ground-and-pound their way to a seven-point road cover?
If they ever get behind the chains, you’ll be trusting a team and a quarterback that is 85th this season in Passing Downs Success Rate and was 85th last season.
Don’t overlook the Wake front seven. It wasn’t pretty against Liberty, but the overall pieces are in place.
The Deacons brought back three starters on the defensive line and five of their top eight tacklers. They rank 23rd in PFF’s Rush Defense grades (Clemson ranks 47th, by the way) and have allowed just 3.5 yards per carry this season.
I just don’t see how this Dabo offense covers this spread against a much-improved Wake team with a superstar quarterback.
Ianniello: Bet Clemson -7.5
Here's the thing: Clemson wasn’t good last year and it blew Wake Forest out. DJ has had his struggles, but this season has been better and the Tigers are putting him in a better position to succeed by relying on an excellent rushing attack that will carve up this defense.
Wake Forest just gave up 36 points and almost lost to Liberty. It hasn't stayed within a touchdown against Clemson in over a decade.
The Tigers also have a very key ace in the hole. If DJ reverts to some struggles from last year, I think even Tanner would admit his Wake Forest hope is gone if Cade Klubnik takes over as quarterback.
Freshman Deshaun Watson fully took over as the guy from Cole Stoudt with six touchdowns in Week 4 in 2014. Freshman Trevor Lawrence cemented his breakout with four touchdowns in Week 4 in 2018. Every four years the pattern has repeated itself, and here we are, four years later.
I’m not saying it will happen, but if this game is close, I feel very confident knowing Klubnik is waiting to be unleashed. Either DJ plays well and the Tigers cruise to a win, or Klubnik gets let loose.
Clemson also has the added motivation of brotherhood and heavy hearts. Bresee is returning after the loss of his sister, and I expect the team to lay it all on the line for him and his family.
Bresee is the heartbeat of this team and the best player on the field.
This defense is going to come out flying and shut down the Deacons' one-dimensional offense.
McGrath: Bet Wake Forest +7.5
One last time for the people in the back: I don’t need the Deacons to win. I need the Deacons to cover a touchdown at home.
On top of all the previous stats and statistics I’ve thrown at you, there’s a few final points to be considered.
First: This is a lookahead spot for Clemson. It’s a lone road game in between home matchups, and the Tigers have the up-and-coming NC State Wolfpack on deck.
Second: All the sharp money is with Wake. The Deacons opened Sunday morning as 9.5-point dogs, but have been pushed down at least two points across the market.
Third: The public is all over Clemson. The Tigers are currently pulling over 75% of the tickets, but the line continues to move the other way. It has activated one of our Action PRO systems, “Bet Against Public With Line Move."
In heavily bet games (1.5x the daily average), it’s been profitable to bet home teams getting little public support (10% to 35% of the tickets) when the line moves in their direction (from +9.5 to +7).
Don’t be fooled by Mike’s arguments, because they’re trying to convince you Clemson will win.
Wake Forest +7.5 is the sharp play on Saturday afternoon.