Seeking ACC Atlantic title, No. 10 Wake Forest clashes with Clemson

NCAA Football

Wake Forest has a chance to clinch its first Atlantic Coast Conference Atlantic Division title since 2006 on Saturday when the 10th-ranked Demon Deacons head on the road to oppose longtime nemesis Clemson.

The Tigers, under coach Dabo Swinney, are 12-0 against the Demon Deacons. The average margin of victory over the past three years was 44.3 points.

“This certainly is a team we’ve struggled against in the past,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “We head down to Death Valley to play what’s been the most dominant programs in the ACC and one of the most dominant programs in the country over the last six to eight years.

“Obviously it would be a huge win for our program if we can find a way. They’ve certainly had our number.”

Wake Forest (9-1, 6-0 ACC) has produced some impressive numbers of its own this season. The Demon Deacons have one of highest-scoring offenses in the country, averaging 44.7 points per game — a figure that ranks second nationally only to Ohio State.

Quarterback Sam Hartman has been the catalyst, passing for 3,168 yards and 30 touchdowns against eight interceptions. His passing TD total ranks second in the ACC and eighth nationally.

“Offensively they’re a handful,” Swinney said. “Their quarterback is a savvy, relentless competitor, great leader. Their offensive line has a ton of cohesion and these are the best receivers that we’ve played all year. They lead the country in passes of 30-plus yards.”

Clemson quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei has struggled for much of the season. He has passed for 1,752 yards with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions, and his 107.4 quarterback rating ranks last in the ACC.

The Tigers (7-3, 5-2 ACC) have been riddled with injuries, and that trend continued this week when Swinney announced that wide receiver Justyn Ross would miss the game with a foot injury. Ross is the team’s leading receiver with 46 receptions for 514 yards and three touchdowns.

“We don’t have a single senior starting for us with Ross out, and we only have two juniors starting for us,” Swinney said. “We’re still in a development stage. True freshmen at receiver, a freshman at tight end, a couple of freshman backs and a sophomore back.”

Despite the Tigers’ abundance of youth, they remain in contention for a seventh consecutive ACC championship. To accomplish that, they would have to defeat Wake Forest, then hope the Deacons lose at Boston College in their final game while North Carolina State loses one of its final two games against Syracuse and North Carolina.

Clemson’s defense certainly is capable of doing its job. The Tigers lead the ACC and rank third nationally in scoring defense (15.3 points per game).

“I really think that this has been one of his best coaching jobs,” Clawson said of Swinney. “Sometimes when everything goes your way, things run themselves. This has not been a year when everything bounced their way, and you can tell he’s never lost his team. They’ve gotten better.

“They’ve won three in a row, so they have the longest winning streak in the ACC right now, they’ve won five of their last six. They’re still in the hunt for the ACC Atlantic, so again in my mind, this is another championship game and we’re going to a place where they’ve won 33 games in a row.”

Clemson hasn’t lost a game at Death Valley since a one-point loss to Pitt on Nov. 12, 2016 — a stretch that is the longest active home winning streak in the nation.

“This is a game of strength on strength,” Swinney said. “We’ve been really good on defense, they’ve been really, really good on offense.”

–Field Level Media

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