Clemson football: Underestimating Wake Forest would be colossal mistake

It’s difficult not to say the Clemson football team is through the hardest part of its schedule, but they might not be out of the woods yet.

For close to a decade, the game against Wake Forest has been anything other than a chance for Clemson to flex its muscles in the ACC. After all, the Tigers haven’t lost since Dabo Swinney took the reins, and just once since then has Clemson’s margin of victory been fewer than 14 points.

Don’t tell Swinney that, though. He knows how tough this iteration of Wake Forest can be. The Demon Deacons are 4-1, and their only loss was by a single touchdown to Florida State last week — a game they led for the majority.

“We have not played a single team, and we probably won’t play another team, that plays as hard as this Wake Forest football team we’re getting ready to play,” Swinney said at his Tuesday press conference, per Matt Connolly of The State. “So if there’s any inclination that people like to create that this team right here is not a legit contender for our division, you have no idea what you’re talking about.”

Wake Forest has outscored its opponents 170-72 so far, and that’s thanks to a stout defense that ranks among the nation’s leaders in a handful of categories.

Stat FBS Ranking
Total Defense 316.8 ypg 26th
3rd down %, defense 31% 33rd
Scoring Defense 14.4 ppg T-12th
Def. Pass Efficiency 97.47 10th
Tackles for loss 10/game 1st
Pass yards allowed 184.4 ypg 31st

The tackles for loss is especially noteworthy. Even though Wake Forest hasn’t played a murderer’s row of opponents thus far as Clemson has, the Demon Deacons are the only team in the country to average double-digit TFLs, and that’s impressive regardless of who you play.

Their defensive line is anchored by DE Duke Ejiofor, a redshirt senior who was named third-team All-ACC last year. He’s racked up 10.5 tackles for loss by himself this season, and he was named the Chuck Bednarik Player of the Week for his performance against Florida State — even though it was a loss. Ejiofor had a career-high 8 tackles — including 3.5 for loss — along with a sack, a QB hurry and a forced fumble.

“I would put [Wake Forest’s defensive line] right there with Auburn. I’m watching that guy on tape, and I’m like, dang, he’s a third-team guy,” Swinney said on the Wednesday ACC coaches’ teleconference. “I just appreciate seeing a team that plays relentless and buys in who they are. They care. They play very smart. Seventeen tackles for loss vs. Florida State and they lead the nation in TFLs per game.”

This isn’t the Wake Forest of a few years ago, or even of last year. These Demon Deacons are scrappy, hungry and unafraid of opponents. Clemson would be smart to take them as seriously as it did Auburn or Louisville, and it seems the Tigers are.

The Tigers are going to have their hands full Saturday, but they’ve shown they possess the ability to handle talented defenses already: They handled Auburn well enough, and heck, they go against what might be the nation’s best every day in practice.

The post Clemson football: Underestimating Wake Forest would be colossal mistake appeared first on Diehards.

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