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Clemson Rebounds Against Wake Forest: Tigers defeat Demon Deacons 35-13 to Clinch ACC Atlantic

After their first regular season loss in more than a year last week against Pitt, the Clemson Tigers travelled to Winston-Salem to take on Wake Forest. The game was a must-win for the Tigers in a multitude of ways. A win secured Clemson a spot in the ACC Championship game while a loss would have left them sitting at home, not only for the ACC Championship, but for the College Football Playoffs as well. 

Head Coach Dabo Swinney and the Tigers knew what was on the line in the game, the question was, how would they respond? 

That question was answered very quickly as the Tigers went up 28-0 very early in the second quarter of the game. Wake Forest was able to gather some momentum in the second and third quarters to put up 13 unanswered points before Clemson slammed the door shut and won 35-13. 

The game showed a lot about this team, both in how they respond to adversity and in how they have progressed. 

This was the first game since the season opener against Auburn where running back Wayne Gallman rushed more than 20 times. The last several weeks, the Clemson offense has been one-dimensional with Deshaun Watson throwing the ball on almost every play. 

With the myriad of weapons around Watson, it doesn’t seem strange that they would put the ball in the hands of the best player on the field, but Watson hasn’t been as sharp this season. This was evident in the Tigers’ loss to Pitt when Watson threw three interceptions, including two in the red zone. 

Gallman is a special running back for Clemson. He isn’t as fast as Dalvin Cook from Florida State or as strong as Derek Henry of Alabama was. However, Gallman is a producer. He almost never has negative yardage plays and consistently picks up three or four yards on every carry. He also has great ball security, with only one fumble on the season and that was after suffering a concussion against NC State. If Clemson wants to compete against a team like Alabama or Michigan, they have to rely on Gallman more in order to take some of the pressure off Watson. 

The plethora of wide receivers on this team are still dropping a lot of passes. Against Wake Forest, there were a handful of plays that should have been made by the receivers but were not. While Watson has not been as sharp as he was last year, these are still plays that have to be made. Against a sub-par Wake Forest team, those drops didn’t hurt the Tigers but they very well could against a better team where every yard matters. 

One of the biggest threats of the Clemson offense last year was the deep ball. Watson was a master at dropping a pass into a receiver in stride and no defense could find a way to stop it. 

This year, Watson has really struggled finding his deep ball pass and is constantly overthrowing wide open receivers. While it is better to overthrow than underthrow, Watson needs to get his touch back in order to add another weapon for the postseason. 

The Tiger defense was atrocious against Pitt last week, giving up 43 points at home and looking like they were severely outmatched against a team who shouldn’t have been able to run on them. The defensive line has prided itself this season on stopping downhill running. They even kept the dynamic Cook from running up the middle, forcing the Seminoles to run him on the outside to have success. Pitt’s James Conner had his way with the defense and exposed that they may not be as good as the statistics suggest. While not much stock should be placed in how well they played against Wake Forest’s offense, they did look better. The defensive front was able to hold the Demon Deacons to 71 rushing yards. 

However, they still made a few mistakes that cost them. There were a couple busted coverages that allowed receivers to make wide open catches and run for extra yards after the reception. 

There weren’t as many as there were against Pitt, but still too may for Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables to be happy about. There were also a few missed tackles that allowed for yards after contact. Against a better offense, those plays could be the difference in a win or loss. 

After the game, Swinney said “We have always responded well from the few losses we’ve had. I’m proud of a bunch of young men that came out and responded in a great way.” 

The Tigers did respond well to their loss but they still have a few tough tests in front of them before they have a chance at their second straight playoff berth. 

The Tigers will face in-state rival South Carolina next Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Death Valley before heading to the ACC Championship game in Orlando December 2. 

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