There is generally a better sense of Clemson at this point in the season. Dabo Swinney isn’t afraid of a tough non-conference game, and it just so happens that the Tigers’ big non-ACC game at Notre Dame takes place in early November this year. Obviously, this would be better for building resumes before the Irish fall out of the top 25, but that’s beside the point.
The thing is, the Tigers haven’t played anyone this season, with back-to-back wins over Georgia Tech, Furman and Louisiana Tech. If the Yellow Jackets weren’t in such dire straits, we might be able to glean more information from the one game against a power five opponent. That’s not the case as the Jackets swept the Clemson and Ole Miss games by a combined score of 83-10.
So it’s fair to say that Clemson hasn’t played anyone, and you can even add that those wins, as lopsided as the final score looked, weren’t particularly convincing given the opponent and the expectations of Clemson football. This week the Tigers visit defending ACC champion No. 21 Wake Forest (I know that was as weird for me to type as you read) and we’ll see if Swinney’s team deserves a top-five ranking.
It’s not about talent as much as who gets the ball on talent. After a rough first year under center in 2021 by any school’s standards, starting quarterback DJ Uiagalelei entered this season as the starter with the caveat that he might be pressured by Cade Klubnik, a five-star freshman who was the No. 1 QB in the division and went undefeated as a starter in Texas high school football’s most competitive division.
Whether it’s just a slow start, or some conspiracy to keep fans from calling the Klubnik, the Tigers have only won the super fresh five series. After one possession in each of the Georgia Tech and Furman contests, it looked like Klubnik would have time to himself as Clemson went on a 34-6 run late in the third quarter against Louisiana Tech.
After a three-and-out, a botched four-play drive and two Bulldog scores, Uiagalelei had to go in again because the lead was down to 34-20 and Swinney was pissed. If you’re saying, “Well, didn’t DJ get them the lead in the first place?” It was 13-6 at halftime, and Tech opened the second half by throwing picks on the first two drives that led to Tiger touchdowns, one of which came on a single 32-yard run by Will Shipley.
The longest play from scrimmage this year for the Tigers is a 41-yard pass. This Shipley score is the longest. For comparison, the Demon Deacons have four guys with plays of that length or longer, including a 68-yard completion, and eight guys with 20 or more gains compared to Clemson’s six. Granted Wake has also been playing underdogs and had to stop on a two-point conversion to beat Liberty last week, but it can still move the ball.
The Demon Deacons played well enough to get their backup. Mitch Griffis has 14 more attempts and 222 more yards than Klubnick. Clemson gives up more yards per game (244.7) than it throws for (243). Wake actually enters this matchup with the higher average offensive output (434 yards per game to 425).
Demon Deacon coach Dave Clawson and quarterback Sam Hartman stole the ACC last season, are already in sync and will put up enough points to force Clemson to roll. Longtime Tiger defensive coordinator Brent Venables now coaches Oklahoma. Furman completed passes and continued drives with well-designed scenarios and ended up winning the possession battle with 10 minutes left in their visit to Memorial Stadium.
A season ago, the Tigers beat the Deacs, 48-27, in Death Valley in the midst of a six-game winning streak to finish the season 10-3 after starting it 4-3. That means Uiagalelei has the team on a nine-game winning streak overall. In those wins, he is 156 for 263 for 1,806 yards, 10 TD passes and six picks. That’s 200 yards a game, with a 59 percent completion rate. Only once in that span did he rush for more than 36 yards – he had 62 on the ground against La. Tech – and in no game did he break 300 yards through the air. And these are victories we are talking about.
The Tigers didn’t light the early-season cupcakes in a way that would convince you Uiagalelei has turned the corner, and they failed to get significant reps on plan B. 3-0 is the goal for most programs — it wasn’t for Clemson .
This is a bigger game than you might think to start on Saturday, and I know how much that extra East Coast tailgate time helps. Winston-Salem should have good weather and better people. Who knows about their defense, but who cares.
And now a few words about Tennessee-Florida
The last time College Gameday came to Knoxville was in 2016, and it was also the last time these two rivals met as rivals. The 14th-ranked Vols ended up defeating the No. 19 Gators, 38-28, on their way to a 9-4 record, finishing 22nd in the AP Poll. This was also the last time UT finished the season ranked in the top 25.
The meat of the SEC schedule comes after Saturday, with LSU, No. 8 Kentucky, No. 2 Alabama and No. 1 Georgia scheduled for four of the next five weeks. Good luck to coach Josh Heupel and crew.
Hendon Hooker is a dynamic QB in this offense, and if they play the way they’ve shown they can, this should be a Vols win. It seems like a decade ago that Gator QB Anthony Richardson was leading Florida over No. 7 Utah in the season opener, but it was still only September. He has yet to score this season and has four interceptions in the last two games.
Today’s Tennessee fan would see that and say, “Yeah, it’s got to be done, and we’re screwed.” Calm down. Remember your breathing techniques. You have it. ESPN is here. Brad Nessler, Gary Danielson and CBS are here. It’s your special day. What can go wrong? It’s just Florida.