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Paws up, paws down: Clemson vs. Wake Forest

Caleb Browder, Photo Editor

Kobe Pace (20) has helped jumpstart the Clemson offense into one of the best rushing teams in college football.

Clemson football has had its ups and downs this season, but on Saturday the Tigers defeated No. 10 Wake Forest with plenty of positives and few things to criticize. 

Paws up: Clemson’s ACC Championship hopes  

Nearly two months ago, Clemson sat at 2-2 and faced heavy criticism. Now, they are 8-3 and still alive in the ACC Atlantic divisional race. 

With the win over Wake Forest, Clemson now needs Boston College to defeat Wake Forest and North Carolina to defeat North Carolina State.  

Pittsburgh has already secured the Coastal division, but who will face them in December remains a mystery. The Tigers still need help from others, but they did their job in defeating Wake Forest and can still secure a trip to Charlotte for the ACC Championship game.  

Paws up: Clemson’s run game 

Clemson’s run attack had its most productive output of the season, rushing for 333 yards on 54 attempts. It was led by running back Kobe Pace and running back Will Shipley, who had 191 yards and 112 yards, respectively.  

“We were able to just run the football and they couldn’t stop it,” said head coach Dabo Swinney after the game. “That’s guys getting it done up front. Backs running really, really hard. Guys blocking on the perimeter.” 

Both Pace and Shipley also scored two rushing touchdowns each, denying Wake Forest any chance to claw back into the game.  

With the plethora of injuries on offense for the Tigers this season, the run game’s success on Saturday provided relief to quarterback DJ Uiagalelei and the young wide receivers.  

Paws down: Ball security 

In the win over Wake Forest, the Tigers’ offense scored 48 points, their most points of the season against an ACC team. Despite the scoring output, Clemson still turned the ball over three times.  

Pace fumbled the ball after a 17-yard run with 3:10 remaining in the first quarter.  

Then, with 1:07 left in the second quarter, Uiagalelei threw a pass over the middle of the field to freshman wide receiver Dacari Collins. Collins was unable to secure the catch, resulting in the ball being lobbed up in the air and caught by Wake Forest defensive back Malik Mustapha.

The turnovers did not end there. In Clemson’s opening drive after halftime, Wake Forest recovered a fumble by Uiagalelei that was lost on a speed option pitch play.

After the game, offensive coordinator Tony Elliot took the blame for Uiagalelei’s fumble.

“That one was on me,” Elliot said after the game. “The option there, just trying to change it up a little bit. Probably should have just handed it off and went straight downhill.”

Paws up: Pass rush 

The Tigers’ defense has been dominant all season, but racking up a season-high seven sacks against a top-three scoring offense might be this season’s most impressive achievement.

Prior to Saturday, the most sacks Clemson has had in a single game was four.

From the Demon Deacons’ opening offensive drive, defensive coordinator Brent Venables was not afraid to dial up pressure on Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman.

Paws up: Uiagalelei and Beaux Collins’ chemistry 

Coming into the game, Uiagalelei was without Justyn Ross, Joseph Ngata, Frank Ladson Jr. and E.J. Williams, all of whom are injured. Those injuries left Beaux Collins, Dacari Collins and fifth-year walk-on Will Swinney to start at the receiver positions.

Uiagalelei and Beaux Collins were high school teammates, so against Wake Forest, the connection between the two needed to be cohesive. It clearly was.  

Uiagalelei connected with Collins on a 52-yard pass down the sideline in the first quarter, which led to the Tigers scoring their first touchdown of the game. 

Later, the two completed a 58-yard catch and ran down the sideline with 5:36 left in the third quarter. Unlike the 52-yard pass, this play scored a touchdown.  

“Happy to see Beaux thrive,” Uiagalelei said after the game. 

“To be able to see the things I’ve seen him do in high school and be able to translate to college, I mean it’s just been special to be able to watch him.” 

Paws up: Gathering at the paw returns 

Gathering at the paw had been suspended since the 2020 season due to risks associated with COVID-19. The tradition made an emphatic return on Saturday, as a sea of orange and purple covered almost the entirety of the field. 

“Appreciate our fans,” said head coach Dabo Swinney. “It was an awesome, awesome environment.” 

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