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November 12, 2011
Five keys: Wake Forest at No. 9 Clemson
Wake Forest at No. 9 Clemson
Location: Clemson, SC
Stadium: Clemson Memorial Stadium - Death Valley
Kickoff: 12:00 PM ET
Wake Forest: 5-4, 4-2 ACC (Lost to Notre Dame 24-17)
Clemson: 8-1, 5-1 ACC (Lost to Georgia Tech 31-17)
Series history: Clemson won 30-10 at Wake Forest last season. The Tigers are on a two-game winning streak against the Demon Deacons, who have not won in Death Valley since its 29-19 victory in 1998. Clemson has an all-time series lead of 58-17-1.
What is on the line with this game: A Clemson win awards the Tigers with the Atlantic Division title, and a spot in the ACC Championship. If Wake Forest is victorious it will be bowl eligible, and will only have to defeat Maryland to win the Atlantic Division and advance to the ACC Championship.
Quotes of the week
"Very athletic, quick, I think they had one of the best recruiting classes in the nation last year. Clemson has a heck of a team, and we're just going to do our best to execute. The coaches have a great game plan in place, and we're going to try our best to execute on Saturday. I went on a recruiting visit there. It was unreal, the size of the stadium, the fans, the tradition there, and it's an honor to get a chance to play there, and try to beat the Clemson Tigers. They're a great team, obviously very deserving of their ranking. We're going to try our best to go down there and beat them. It's a huge week, and I think Clemson knows that too, because if we're lucky enough to win Saturday we control it, and pretty much have to beat a tough Maryland team as well, be we've got to take it week by week and try our best to execute. Obviously we have a huge task ahead of us at Clemson." - Wake Forest offensive guard Colin Summers
"We could go to the ACC Championship with seven wins. I think that's something that this team has realized, and our coaches for sure. It's exciting to see our coaches still so excited this late in the season. That's one thing as players we respect more than anything the way our coaches have stayed positive and have believed in us all year, so we're going to keep staying motivated, and playing for a championship as long as we can. I just think coaches and players just have a whole different mindset right now in this time and point in the season as opposed to last year in this point in the season. We're playing for a championship. We know that, and we're going to take care of business hopefully at Clemson. I think we have a great game plan, and we have the right mindset to go and do that." - Wake Forest inside linebacker Scott Betros
"I've waited two years to come back and play in this game, and so I'm real excited. It's one of the games I've had marked on the calendar for a while. I would go to the [Clemson] games, but I wasn't a big fan, just liked watching the games." - Wake Forest tight end Cameron Ford, who grew up near Clemson.
"You got something else to play for, that's true. Two weeks in a row now we've had a lot to play for, and haven't been able to get it done, so hopefully third time's the charm. We'll see. I think they have 27 four and five-start recruits in their two-deep, in the two-deep; not on their team, in the two-deep." - Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe
"Wake Forest has had a really good year. They were capable of winning all their games. North Carolina got away from them a little because of turnovers, but they always compete. They compete with all they have. This is a tough out. We'll get the best they have and our guys know that." - Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney
Keys to the game
Everyone on Wake Forest's defense needs to take a deep breath, because they are not going to solve the conundrum known as the Clemson offense in one play. If the Demon Deacons are going to be successful they have to prevent big plays from happening.
That does not mean they have to stop the Tigers, but make them earn everything they get and keep everything in front.
Tajh Boyd is averaging 297 yards passing per game. Wake has to figure out a way to get him out of his rhythm, whether that is bringing pressure or confusing him with coverages the Deacs need to figure something out.
"The dual-threat of Tajh Boyd and how well he's played as a first-year starter he's played incredible," Betros said.
Wake Forest has only recorded 10 sacks. If Boyd is given time he will pick the Demon Deacons apart, and Sammy Watkins does not need much time to get open for a big play.
The true freshman wide receiver has caught 63 passes for 972 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Add in the Tigers rushing duo of Andre Ellington and true freshman, Mike Bellamy, who have combined for 1,055 yards and nine touchdowns, and the nightmare gets worse.
"Number five [Bellamy] in the backfield I've never seen before, and he is blazing fast. He's a burner," Betros said. "They just have speed everywhere, and they're big up front, and they've got a great quarterback, so it's going to be a tough challenge. I think we're up for it though."
2) Play their game
Not until its five-turnover debacle at North Carolina did Wake Forest have a turnover problem. The Demon Deacons nearly fixed it against Notre Dame except for Brandon Pendergrass' costly fumble inside the Fighting Irish red-zone.
"Mistake-free football, we have to take care of the ball first and foremost, and we have to catch and run the ball," Ford said.
Offensively Wake cannot afford to make mistakes that would give Clemson's (473.2 yards of total offense and 38 points per game) high-powered offense a short field.
Defensively the Deacs need to keep things simple, because Chad Morris' offense is already complex enough.
"Your dilemma as a coach is you start feeling like you have to do a lot offensively and defensively to compete with a team that has so much talent, but typically when you do a lot you make a lot of mistakes, and so you end up in a situation where you can beat yourself against anybody; not just the good teams," Grobe said.
3) Establish the run
Wake Forest is dead last in the ACC in rushing, with an anemic 104.7 yards per game on the ground. To make it worse Josh Harris has been saddled with a strained hamstring for the last month, forcing Grobe to take the redshirt tag off Orville Reynolds to help Brandon Pendergrass shoulder the load.
"It's Pendergrass, Reynolds; it's
Pendergrass, Reynolds; Pendergrass, Reynolds; Pendergrass, Reynolds, and I hope it stays that way, because that means both of them are healthy," Grobe said. "We haven't given up on Josh. We'll just see where that goes."
Through the first five games Tanner Price had thrown for 1,352 yards, 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions, since then he has passed for 802 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions; an indication opposing defenses are figuring out how to slow down the Deacs.
"The biggest issue that we've got with the teams we're playing is if we don't run it once in a while just as a throw away run you cannot protect," Grobe said. "If they think you're never going to run the football you are absolutely dead, and the secondaries and linebackers that we are playing against are not going to let you dink and dunk them to death they'll walk right up in your moustache and get their hands on you, and there's nothing there."
If Wake cannot find a way to spring Pendergrass or Reynolds free it will be open season on Price for Andre Branch and Brandon Thompson.
4) Get Givens going
Chris Givens is right up at the front of the class among the ACC's top receivers along with Watkins. The redshirt junior has caught 58 passes for 985 yards and eight touchdowns.
He has 12 receptions in the last two games, but has been held to 99 yards and no touchdowns. North Carolina and Notre Dame kept Givens from making his game-breaking plays. If Clemson's secondary can keep Givens in front then his stats will be similar to his numbers from the last two games.
5) Starting strong and finishing well
In the Demon Deacons loss to Virginia Tech, Wake jumped out to a 10-0 lead before the Hokies outscored the Deacs 38-7 the rest of the way. Last week against Notre Dame, Wake Forest led 17-10 at halftime before giving up 14-unanswered points in the second.
If the Demon Deacons are going to win in Death Valley they have to start strong, and cannot afford to fall asleep at halftime, or the Tigers will do exactly what the Hokies and Fighting Irish did and dramatically worse.
"We've come out of the locker room in the second half, and it's taken us a long time to get warmed up again," Betros said. "I don't know how to prepare for that or practice for it, but that's something that's not acceptable. We've got to change it soon, or we're not going to have a chance at this championship."