The trip to Death Valley went better than most expected this past Saturday as Wake Forest (4-2, 1-2) went down to Clemson, South Carolina and endured a tough 28-14 loss to the Clemson Tigers (6-0, 4-0). Although rough on paper, the loss is a mark of improvement for Dave Clawson’s football program. After suffering a 35-13 loss at the hands of Dabo Swinney and Deshaun Watson in BB&T Field last year, covering the spread in one of the nation’s toughest places to play, Death Valley, is a feat.
Backup quarterback Kendall Hinton was thrust into the spotlight against one of the nation’s top defenses and played like a seasoned veteran. The stat line may not support the claim that he had a strong game – 14/30 for 203 yards and two touchdowns and a total 24.8 QBR – but visually he played better than expected. His arm strength and deep ball accuracy were terrific; if it wasn’t for the many dropped balls by Wake Forest wide receivers his stat line would have been much improved and the result of the game might have been closer. Many Demon Deacon fans, including myself, have been calling for a less conservative approach to play calling, and Hinton brought that change to the gameplan. Hinton also showed great elusiveness and awareness in the pocket, avoiding potential sacks from one of the best defensive lines in the nation, led by AP preseason All American sophomore Dexter Lawrence. His scrambling ability provided receivers time to get open and allowed him to run for 92 yards on 24 carries. Going forward, we will see if Wolford can get back from his shoulder injury in time for next game and if Clawson decides to go back to the senior, or stick with the sophomore, at the helm of the offense.
The small mistakes killed any sort of consistency that Wake had on either side of the football. On offense, dropped passes and penalties ruined some promising drives. Although there were only four penalties for a total of 25 yards, these came at the most crucial points in drives. In the third quarter, a holding penalty that was not near the ball, and thus totally unnecessary, negated a long first down run by Kendall Hinton and ended up forcing the Demon Deacons to punt. Dropped passes were also a big factor into the offense’s inability to put up points; Kendall Hinton was on point with many deep balls but the receivers were unable to do anything with them. Turning around to the defense, tackling was the main problem. They did a good job forcing two turnovers (one interception and one fumble), but could not bring down the Clemson running backs or wide receivers. Lead rushers Travis Etienne and Tavien Feaster both averaged above four yards per carry, and the Wake Forest secondary could not bring down the Tigers receiving corps after the catch. This was highlighted by a Hunter Renfrow catch and run on a crucial third and long where he was hit by the cornerback and looked to be short of the first down marker, but then spun out of it and ran for a 29 yard gain.
The Demon Deacon’s special teams could use some work after a poor performance this past Saturday. They looked disorganized, sloppy, and undisciplined. The field goal unit was unable to contribute to the score after kicker Mike Weaver went 0/2 from 50 and 34 yards. After going 10 for 10 to start the season, Weaver missed a field goal in the first quarter (controversially called a miss after going over upright), and a long attempt in the second quarter. If those two field goals were made the Deacons could have been within one score going into halftime. Furthermore, Clawson had to burn a timeout early in the second half because the field goal unit was not set in time to get the play off. While it did not prove costly, that was a mistake that Wake simply cannot afford to make. The punt coverage unit and return units both looked unprepared to match the Tiger’s intensity. Clemson downed the ball inside our own 10 multiple times when punting, and the average return only went five yards. Meanwhile, Clemson returner RayRay McCloud had four returns for 58 yards. Head Coach Dave Clawson and Special Teams Coach Wayne Lineburg will need to address these nagging problems in the bye week so that Wake Forest will not make the same mistakes in pivotal games against Georgia Tech and Louisville.
Wake Forest is off this week but will be back in action at Georgia Tech on Oct. 21.
Clemson has to manage a short five day week as they travel to Syracuse for a Friday night game.