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Swinney, Tigers to take on Demon Deacons

Running+back+Will+Shipley%E2%80%99s+undeterred+confidence+and+unmatched+energy+have+led+the+offense+this+year%3B+pictured+after+scoring+over+Florida+State+in+September.
Ashleigh Snyder
Running back Will Shipley’s undeterred confidence and unmatched energy have led the offense this year; pictured after scoring over Florida State in September.

The Clemson Tigers will look to record their second in-conference win of the season this Saturday at 3:30 p.m. when they welcome the Wake Forest Demon Deacons (3-1, 0-1 ACC) to Death Valley.

Historically, Clemson (3-2, 1-2 ACC) holds the series record at 70-17-1 over the Deacons, and the Tigers have not lost since 2008. Last season’s memorable matchup was a physical, high-scoring game that ended with the Tigers coming away with a 51-45 win in double overtime as quarterbacks DJ Uiagalelei and Sam Hartman combined for over 700 passing yards and both teams combined for 1,006 total yards.

But this year’s homecoming meeting will look quite different. Now that Uiagalelei has left Clemson for Oregon State and Hartman has departed Wake Forest for Notre Dame, both teams are learning under new quarterbacks and leadership.

Sophomore signal-caller Cade Klubnik is coming off a 31-14 victory over the Syracuse Orange last weekend when he completed 23 of 37 pass attempts for 263 yards and two touchdowns. Meanwhile, Deacons quarterback Mitch Griffis returns to the field after a bye week preceded by Wake Forest’s 30-16 loss to Georgia Tech, in which he threw for one touchdown and three interceptions.

Offensively, the Tigers have utilized far more players than the Demon Deacons. Clemson has played 17 total receivers this season for 1,364 yards, led by freshman Tyler Brown, who has 21 receptions for 316 yards. Conversely, only seven Wake Forest players have a completion this season, as the pass-catchers have combined for 999 yards.

“Tyler is as steady and as mature a freshman as we’ve had,” Swinney said of Brown. “And he’s got elite ball skills. We knew he could really run, but I did not know just how elite his ball skills were.”

“I’m glad he is just a freshman,” he added.

Clemson is led on the ground by running backs Will Shipley and Phil Mafah, who have 353 and 278 rushing yards, respectively. In total, Clemson has had 11 rushers gain 922 yards this season. In comparison, the Deacons have had five runners gain 707 yards.

Shipley accounts for over one-third of the team’s total rushing yards, making him the offensive powerhouse to emulate for younger players of his position, such as freshman Jay Haynes. Haynes became the first Tiger since 2020 to record a rushing and receiving touchdown in the same game against Charleston Southern, and two weeks later, Shipley accomplished the same feat against Florida State.

Critics have been loud about a lack of explosiveness in Clemson’s offense, and bringing this Shipley energy to a young rushing core may be the solution.

“Each week is a season of its own,” Shipley said. “Gotta go 1-0, and that’s really what we’ve been emphasizing.”

“That’s one thing that’s easy for me; it’s just my competitive nature. It’ll never allow me to take something off whether I want to or not, whether it’s tough to get up and maybe have the same motivation,” Shipley added. “My competitive nature is driven by discipline.”

Wake Forest’s strength lies in its defense, led by linebacker Jacob Roberts, who has 37 total tackles and five sacks this season. The Demon Deacons’ defensive unit has four more sacks than Clemson’s in one less game, making them a formidable threat to the Tigers’ offense.

Clemson’s defense has allowed the Tigers to tread water through their first five games, highlighted by plays such as Xavier Thomas’ fumble recovery last week against Syracuse and cornerback Nate Wiggins’ pick six in the FAU game.

Swinney still sees room for improvement in some areas, including red zone defense and making the fundamental plays.

“We need more situational awareness, and we had too many missed tackles,” Swinney said. “We can do some things better from a disguise standpoint. We have some things we can clean up. We’ve had a bust in the red area over the last two games. But these guys are playing their tails off defensively. It’s been five really good games all in all.”

As for special teams, Wake Forest may have an advantage, as place kicker Matthew Dennis has made nine of 10 field goals this season, compared to three of eight between Clemson kickers Robert Gunn III and Jonathan Weitz.

Nonetheless, Swinney is eager to enter the Tigers’ bye week on a positive note.

“It was awesome this week, but we’ve got a long way to go,” he said after Syracuse. “We’ve got another tough game this week with Wake, so we’ve just got to find a way to win another game. If we can do that, it puts us at 4-2 going into the break and try to get some guys (healthy).”

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Grace O'Donnell, Sports Editor
Ashleigh Snyder, Photo Editor
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