I am a numbers guy. Always have been.
I typically pour over the stats of each team when writing these articles and attempt to include many of them when giving my breakdowns. Stats do not always tell the whole story about a team, but there are certain ones that give you a feel for why a team is as good or bad as they are.
What is their third-down conversion percentage? How many times have they scored when inside the red zone and how many of those scores have been touchdowns? What is their average yard per play for rushes and passes?
The list goes on.
I followed my routine this week and spent a few hours looking at different numbers. I took a lot of notes on things that caught my attention. I had everything ready to go and sat down with my laptop.
Then it hit me.
Stats mean very little in the Clemson/Wake Forest game. Sure, a lot can
still be learned from looking at the two teams on paper, but in the end they really do not matter, at least that has been the case over the last three years.
Clemson has been the more talented team during that span. Yet they are 1-2 against the Demon Deacons. And the scores do not need repeating. Clemson coaches, players, and fans know all too well the outcomes.
Execution is always important in football and that sentiment has never rung truer than in their last three meetings. Wake has executed and Clemson has not. Stats, talent, size of stadium…all of that means nothing if you do not perform.
Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe has possibly sacrificed in the short term, by redshirting players in hopes of improving over the long term. That approach appears to be paying off as nine of 11 defensive starters are redshirts.
They are led by junior middle linebacker John Abbate. It seems as if the All-ACC selection from a year ago and member of the Bednarik and Nagurski watch lists has been there for five years.
He has led the Deacs in tackles each of the last two seasons and is on track to become only the fourth player in ACC history to lead his team in tackles his first three years. At 5’ll” and 245 pounds he may not be the most athletically gifted linebacker around, but he has been a thorn in Clemson’s side.
Joining him are Aaron Curry (6’3”, 240) and Stanley Arnoux (6’1”, 245).
Curry was a second-team freshman All-American last year as a starter.
Arnoux runs extremely well and plays with a lot of intensity. Their linebacker corps is their biggest strength.
Wake’s secondary is led by free safety Josh Gattis and strong safety Patrick Ghee. Gattis has started 25 games while Ghee has started 27. Both have played in all 39 games during their career.
Kevin Patterson and Riley Swanson are the two corners. Patterson started 6 games last year as a freshman and was having a good season until it was derailed by an appendectomy. Swanson is their best coverage guy in man-to-man defense and has two interceptions this year.
Wake’s front four is undersized in comparison to most ACC teams.
Jyles Tucker is the starter at one end. He is regarded as the best athlete on the team, who uses his speed and quickness to his advantage. He has 22 starts entering the weekend.
Jeremy Thompson is the top guy at the other end. He started eight games last year before tearing his ACL. He returned an interception 86 yards for a score earlier this year against UConn.
Bryan Andrews is the first man off the bench when either guy needs a rest.
Andrews started the first four games of the season while Thompson eased his way back into the rotation after the injury. Andrews has 11 starts to his credit.
At nose guard is fifth-year senior Jamil Smith. This is the first season as a starter for the 6’2, 294-pounder, but a majority of the playing time in all five games has gone to redshirt freshman Boo Robinson. At 6’2” and 325 pounds, he is more of a prototypical nose guard who is excelling as a youngster.
Tackles Zach Stukes (6’2”, 260) and John Russell (6’3”, 250) are built more like ends. Stukes was expected to be an end coming out of spring practice, but moved inside because of his experience. Russell has only 75 career snaps with 73 of them coming in the last three games.
It is no secret Rob Spence wants to run the ball and his guys have excelled at doing just that the last few weeks.
I think the Clemson offensive line will be able to handle Wake’s front four.
The question is how well they will do once they get to the second level.
Abbate, Arnoux, and Curry are not the fastest guys, but they are extremely physical linebackers who do a good job of filling holes and getting off blocks.
Ghee is a big safety that I think will be asked to move into the box a number of times in order to help stop the run. Spence has said all along he will always take what the defense gives him, and I think he will take to the air when the Deacs try to load the box.
How productive Will Proctor can be in through the air will go a long ways towards determining how many points Clemson puts on the board. Clemson’s pass protection has been excellent all year while giving up just four sacks.
Wake enters with 17 sacks, 13 of which have come in the last three games, so Clemson must continue to excel.
The loss of Chansi Stuckey will be important from a confidence standpoint because he has been Proctor’s go-to guy. Some have indicated C.J. Spiller may see some time at the slot, and that could very well be the case, but I think his time there will be limited because it is a lot to ask of a freshman to learn two positions.
Aaron Kelly’s should see his role as a deep threat increase because he has the ability and the best way to soften a defense stacking the line of scrimmage is to hit a few deep balls.
Wake lost starting quarterback Ben Mauck, all-conference candidate tailback Micah Andrews, and starting left tackle Arby Jones to injuries earlier in the season, but has not seemed to miss a beat.
Steve Vallos moved to left tackle from the right side after the injury to Jones. Vallos has started all 39 games in his career and is on many postseason award watch lists. He is by far their best linemen and possibly the best left tackle in the conference.
Guards Louis Frazier and Chris DeGeare are both in their first full season as starters. Frazier began last year as the starter, but was lost after three games to an injury. DeGeare possesses excellent size (6’4”, 360) and strength.
Center Steve Justice is in the running for All-ACC honors after starting all of last year. He is extremely quick and will pull on occasion.
The other tackle is redshirt freshman Jeff Griffin. He has started just two games and his only action in the first two games came on special teams.
Receiver Willie Idlette is a big-play threat because of his speed. He was a member of Wake’s ACC champion 4x400 relay team last year. Idlette is also one of the best blocking wide receivers in the conference. He is joined by Kenneth Moore and Nate Morton. Morton has started 21 games in his career, but is working his way back up the depth chart after missing the spring with an injury.
Tight ends Zac Selmon and John Tereshinski are big guys who block well.
Tereshinski fills the H-back role in certain personnel groups. Both are good receivers who have six receptions apiece through five games.
South Carolina native De’Angelo Bryant has taken over for Andrews at tailback and has performed well so far. Bryant is more of power back that uses his 6’0”, 235 pound frame very well between the tackles.
Fullback Rich Belton only has 10 carries on the year, as he is used mostly as a blocker. Wake Forest has had some punishers at that position during the Grobe era and he certainly fits the bill.
The man responsible for keeping the offense on track after Mauck’s injury has been redshirt freshman Riley Skinner. He entered the season in a battle for the backup position and many expected to also see Brett Hodges if Mauck went down, but Skinner has solidified his role with his play.
He has been more than efficient as a passer by going 42-of-72 (65.3%) with two touchdowns and no interceptions for 619 yards. He is not as big of a threat running as Mauck and his predecessor, Cory Randolph.
Skinner’s biggest attribute to date has been his poise. He took over for in the third quarter of the Syracuse game with the Deacs holding a slim 13-10 lead and led them to victory. He also guided them on a 7-play, 63-yard drive with less than three minutes remaining against Duke to get the go-ahead touchdown.
Wake’s scheme gives a lot of teams fits because so few teams are accustomed to it. Their linemen employ a lot of cut blocks, which is hard to adjust to after seeing so many teams that typically use zone schemes with linemen who stay up. Add to that a lot of misdirection and the occasional option, and it is easy to see why a lot of teams do not like facing a Grobe offense.
One tool that Wake has revived in the last few weeks is the use of orbit motion. This is when a receiver comes down the line, then arcs into the backfield. It is useful because it adds an element of misdirection; the receiver can also become another ball carrier, and mismatches can be created by using him as a receiver in the play action game.
The key for any defense facing Wake is for each player to maintain their responsibilities. They burned Clemson for two long touchdown passes last year when C.J. Gaddis and Sergio Gillam overcommitted and were out of position.
The same is true for Wake’s running game. Clemson’s linebackers and ends are extremely fas,t but that speed can work against them if they begin to over pursue because Wake thrives on those type of mistakes.
Clemson fared better last year against Wake’s running attack because the interior linemen were better than in the past and the depth kept them from tiring as much. The line is improved over last year and depth is still an advantage.
A lot will be riding on the play of Scott, McKissick, Jackson, Clark, and Murchison. Their performance will be judged more on how freely the linebackers are able to maneuver rather than the number of tackles they accumulate. Their job will be to cause enough disruption to force double teams, and keep the Wake line from getting to the second level.
The Deacs were 8-of-16 on third-down conversions last year and the biggest reason for that is they were 20-of-25 in the passing game. Koenning will have to find a way to get his defense off the field in those situations.
Otherwise, drives are prolonged and more opportunities are created for them to capitalize on mistakes.
Wake Forest’s Sam Swank is one of only eight kickers in the country who handles the punting, placekicking, and kickoff duties. He was the only freshman named as a semifinalist for the Lou Groza award last year after going 19-of-24 on his attempts with a long of 52 yards.
He has notched another 52-yarder this year and has three kicks of over 50 yards in his career. He is 7-of-10 on the season with two of his misses coming from 51 yards.
He has done a good job of replacing All-American Ryan Placemeier at punter.
He has an average of 42.5 yards with a long of 86 yards and seven kicks downed inside the 20-yard line.
Cole Chason has a miserable day for Clemson in last year’s game that included a block and an audible for a fake field goal late in the game that set up Wake’s winning drive. Chason has been much improved this year and is coming off a great performance against Louisiana Tech. He will need to continue to be solid Saturday because field position played a big role last year.
Jad Dean had a good week of practice after suffering his fourth block of the year last week. He and his coverage unit will need to regain the form they showed against Florida State and North Carolina because Willie Idlette and Kenneth Moore have the ability to hurt opponents in the return game.
Can Clemson get over the mental mountain that is Groves Stadium?
This game will be easy to predict if Clemson will execute. They should continue to put up good offensive numbers and limit their opponents on defense. There is no question they are a much more talented team and should win easily.
They have shown a lot of resolve through five games by overcoming a touch loss to Boston College with a big win at Florida State and then following that up with overwhelming performances against North Carolina and Louisiana Tech. The Tigers seem to be unlike teams of the past in that they are never out of the close ones and thrive in the easy ones.
If this game were played earlier in the season, I would have my fair share of doubts. There are still a few lingering questions in my mind but I have been impressed with the leadership the seniors have provided.
The Tigers are rolling and seem to be taking each game as if it is the biggest of their careers. Until they prove otherwise, I have bought into their ability to not only get it done, but also get it done in an authoritative manner.
Clemson wins 34- 10.