As Coach Swinney said Tuesday and Austin Bryant said after the game, “This was not your normal Wake Forest team.”
John Wolford was injured at some point before the game, but it is unclear if it was in the week prior or in warmups. Coach Swinney was looking for number 10 (Wolford) on the first play, because Wake Forest either didn’t know their plan or kept it under wraps. Austin Bryant said that “To be honest, the first two plays, I didn’t even realize that it was a different quarterback. It wasn’t anything different. We knew that both No. 10 and No. 2 were good runners. They didn’t deviate from the plan we had seen on film. It was just a different guy playing.”
Kendall Hinton started the game and performed admirably despite several crucial drops by his receivers. He completed 14 of 30 passes for 203 yards and two scores, while rushing 24 times for 92 net yards (113 total yards).
The defense was outstanding and only allowed three big plays (two passes and one rush) that combined for 118 of Wake’s 336 total yards. The Demon Deacons were 4 for 16 on third down and averaged 23.7 yards per carry against one of the best defenses in the nation.
Clemson was up 28-0 midway through the fourth quarter before Wake Forest notched two late scores, but Austin Bryant (and other defensive leaders) were not happy with the late scores: “We take a lot of pride in that, but we were upset when they scored at the end because there should be no drop off no matter who is in the game. We hold each other to a standard, and that’s the best that you can do and that best that you have. That wasn’t our best. We need to clean that up going forward.”
The small electric redshirt freshman Greg Dortch caught five passes for 78 yards while notching eighty combined return yards, becoming Wake’s main playmaker that was not Hinton.
Tight End Cam Seringe was quiet, only catching three passes including the score near the end to cut the deficit to 28-14
While Wake Forest is a good and fundamentally sound team defensively, Clemson shot themselves in the foot repeatedly on offense after the first two drives.
The first two drives combined for 19 plays, 151 yards, 7:08, and 14 points. Feaster, Etienne, Choice, and Bryant all made appearances during the first two drives as the offense marched down the field displaying athletic flashes combined with precise execution.
In a stark contrast, next five drives combined for 39 plays, 111 yards, two turnovers, and zero points. On Clemson’s last drive of the first half, punter Will Spiers threw a five yard pass to Cornel Powell on 4th and five. Cornell Powell set career highs with three catches for 39 yards.
The total nine penalties for 79 yards played a big role in the first half struggles.
The Tigers finally put together a scoring drive that was sparked by Bryant’s 29 yard throw to Hunter Renfrow on 4th and 3. Two plays later, freshman phenom Travis Etienne (ETN) ran for the one-yard score to extend the lead to 21-0 midway through the third quarter.
Unfortunately, Kelly Bryant hurt his ankle during the drive and did not return to action. Zerrick Cooper commandeered two drives consisting of 11 plays for 29 yards, but was then benched in favor of true freshman Hunter Johnson.
Johnson then led a quick four play, 32-yard drive as he completed four passes, including a 13-yard touchdown strike to tight end Cannon Smith down the seam.
Ray Ray McCloud was a determined punt returner all afternoon long, but costly penalties nullified two solid returns. Despite the bad luck, he still returned four punts for 58 yards while evading the Demon Deacon tacklers. He also caught his 100 career pass in the first quarter.
Wake’s kicker was a perfect ten for ten on the season before today, where he missed a controversial 34-yard attempt by inches and a 50-yard attempt in one of the worst shanks of the year.
While Wake had a few plays of success on the ensuing drive, five of their six trips inside the 40-yard line ended in zero points: a Hail Mary, two missed field goals, a punt, and a failed fourth down conversion.
Wake had the opportunity to place pressure on the Clemson offense, but a combination of their mistakes and Clemson’s overwhelming defensive talent managed to quash chances of an upset.
Kelly Bryant completed 21 of 29 passes for 200 yards, one score, and one pick. He added 39 net yards of rushing (58 total) before exiting the game late in the third quarter. The only bad throw was a brutal pick to open up the second half, where the corner route was covered by an underneath defender that he did not see.
Zerrick Cooper started as the number two quarterback, but it appears as if he will be demoted to third string after being benched in favor of Johnson. Cooper finished two for six for 16 yards, missing several wide open receivers.
Johnson completed all five of his passes for 52 yards and a score to seal the win early in the fourth quarter.
Clemson passed for 263 yards while rushing for 190, as the five rushers averaged four yards per carry.
While Etienne was the leading rusher (15 for 67 and a score), he did not break a long run that he has become known for. Etienne became the first true freshman to rush for five touchdowns since Deshaun Watson. Feaster finished not far behind him, as he ran 11 times for 54 yards as the starter.
Hunter Renfrow caught all six of his targets for 61 yards and the crucial 29 yard fourth down conversion. McCloud caught his five targets for 38 yards, but contributed in the return game in hidden yardage. Deon Cain caught the first score on a 28-yard catch, finishing with four catches for 38 yards.
Despite some of the struggles during the game, the big picture is bright for Clemson. Kelly Bryant is the second quarterback in Clemson history to win the first six starts of his career, and is the third consecutive 6-0 start in Clemson history (first time since 1928-1930).
Clemson has won 20 of its last 21 games, 37 of its last 39, 20th consecutive ACC Atlantic game, ninth in a row over Wake Forest, and 49 of its last 50 games against an unranked opponent. Clemson and Alabama are the two top programs and main dynasties of the decade, and Clemson’s consistency is unparalleled in college football.
The Tigers play in the Carrier Dome against Syracuse at 6:30 on Friday night.
The team knows better than anyone that they have room to improve, but don’t focus on the faults of the team. College football season is so short, there is a long way to go until January, and the essence of college football is tradition and fun. Enjoy the 2017 Tigers, and enjoy the golden era of Clemson football.