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Clemson Football

Last Look: Wake Forest

September 12, 2020
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Clemson football is back.

After what unexpectedly turned into the longest, most excruciating offseason of all-time, the Tigers are ready to finally lace up their cleats again and play some football. They take the field tonight in Winston-Salem at 7:30 P.M., facing off against Wake Forest.

Although no fans will be present at Truist Field, the excitement from Tiger faithful watching from across the country will be palpable. It’s been eight months since the Tigers last snapped the ball, but for most fans, it likely feels a whole lot closer to eight years.

Countless hurdles had to be cleared in order to get to this point. Those hurdles were so steep, in fact, that two Power Five conferences were unable to maneuver past them, with the Big Ten and Pac-12 both dropping out of a fall season in early August. Many thought Clemson, along with the rest of the ACC, would follow suit.

That didn’t happen, of course, and here we are. Just under six hours from kicking off a season that expects to bring with it just as many unforgettable moments as it does challenges.

For the Tigers, those unforgettable moments hope to begin tonight, as Clemson kicks off its pursuit of a third national title in five years.

This season is bound to make history one way or another. Here at Clemson Sports Talk, we will keep you updated with what you need to know before each game this year, starting with week one, as Clemson travels to take on the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

Clemson Sports Talk
Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson is looking for the Demon Deacons fourth consecutive winning season which would set a program record since the ACC formed in 1953.

SCOUTING THE OPPONENT

Wake Forest finished the 2019-20 season with an overall record of 8-5, finishing 4-4 in the ACC, good for a share of third in the Coastal Divison. They fell to the Michigan State Spartans in the Pinstripe Bowl, 27-21.

It’s always tough to scout opposing teams without having seen them take the field yet, but if this year plays out similarly to any other in recent memory, the Tigers should feel fairly confident going into Winston-Salem.

The Tigers hold an overall series advantage of 67-17-1 over Wake Forest, having handed the Demon Deacons a 52-3 shellacking the last time out in 2019. Clemson has never lost to Wake Forest throughout the tenure of Dabo Swinney, with the Tigers’ last defeat in the series coming in 2008…the final game of Tommy Bowden’s head-coaching career.

The Tigers have also won their last 22 consecutive games against ACC opponents, their last 12 straight true road games and their last five opening games of the season.

Clemson Sports Talk
Tiger fans will look to players like Joseph Ngata to fill the shoes of both Tee Higgens and Justyn Ross.

NEW LOOK TIGERS, NEW LOOK SEASON

Clemson will be replacing several starters on both sides of the ball this season, with perhaps the most glaring differences coming on the offensive line.

The Tigers will be replacing four starters from last season’s offensive line, a unit that finished as semi-finalists for the Joe Moore Award (recognizing the best offensive line unit in college football). While quarterback Trevor Lawrence will be protected by a completely overhauled line this season, the new starters will look to uphold the Clemson standard exhibited during the past few years.

They’ll also be largely a new-look squad on the receiving front, with Justyn Ross injured and out for the season. Tee Higgins, last year’s leading pass-catcher, was taken with the 33rd overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft.

Along with the Tigers, the overall makeup of this college football season is facing some alterations due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Among those changes, Clemson will play a shortened 11-game season, with 10 of those matchups coming against ACC opponents. The lone exception is next week’s draw against the Citadel Bulldogs of the Southern Conference.

Additionally, tonight’s matchup is the latest opening game for the Tigers since the 1986 season, a Sept. 13 home game vs. Virginia Tech. In turn, the regular season will also wrap up at the latest point for the Tigers in recent memory, with the last game on the schedule slated for Dec. 5.

This season will also be the first season in 112 years in which the Palmetto Bowl is not held, and Clemson does not play in-state rival South Carolina.

The fan attendance policies for each away game will vary for Clemson, but as for home games, a maximum of 19,000 fans will be allowed inside Memorial Stadium. Tonight’s game vs. Wake Forest will have no fans in attendance, and it will be interesting to see the effect it may have on the players as they attempt to adjust.

Clemson Sports Talk
Clemson is seeing their 6th consecutive ACC Championship in 2020.

TIGERS CHASING SIX

Last season, the Tigers became the first team in ACC history to win five outright titles in a row, steamrolling the Virginia Cavaliers in the ACC Championship by a score of 62-17. This year, the Tigers have their sights set on another milestone: no team has ever won six straight titles in any conference, ever.

Another ACC title this season would also give Clemson their 20th overall, strengthening the Tigers’ hold on the most all-time.

In this COVID-affected season, however, the ACC has been forced to shake things up a bit. Gone for this year are the Atlantic and Coastal Divisions. Instead, there will be no divisions whatsoever this season, with the two teams holding the highest winning percentage at the end of the season earning a birth in the ACC Championship game.

Perhaps the most consequential and inconvenient shakeup for Clemson this year? Notre Dame will play this season as a member of the ACC, likely presenting the Tigers with the toughest in-conference challenge they’ve faced since the Lamar Jackson-led Louisville Cardinals.

The Tigers and Fighting Irish are guaranteed to meet at least once this season, with Clemson making a regular-season trip to South Bend on Nov. 7.

© Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Clemson’s dynamic duo could both be in contention for the Heisman Trophy this year.

LAWRENCE AND ETIENNE: HEISMAN HOPEFULS

Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne, Jr. both are poised to make a run at the Heisman trophy this season, and both could very well earn it.

Etienne made waves after Clemson’s January loss to LSU in the National Championship, declaring that he would come back to play his senior season as a Tiger.

Etienne has already established himself as the best running back to ever come through Tigertown, shattering school records previously held by the likes of C.J. Spiller and others. In addition, Etienne is currently the active FBS leader in total rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and overall touchdowns.

In fact, Etienne has been so good throughout his time at Clemson, he’s out rushed 15 FBS programs by himself, including the likes USC, Stanford and Florida State.

Lawrence looks to cement himself this season as Clemson’s all-time greatest quarterback, as he heads to his near-certain number-one overall selection in next year’s NFL Draft.

In less than two seasons, he’s already climbed his way into the top-five in Clemson football history in terms of total completions, passing yards, passing touchdowns and total offense.

Working in both Lawrence and Etienne’s favor? Both the Big Ten and Pac-12 unfortunately postponed their seasons to the spring, eliminating many potential Heisman candidates from the equation, including Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields.

© Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Clemson’s Dabo Swinney has done a masterful job of keeping his team locked in throughout his tenure, but 2020 presents challenges like we’ve never seen. How will the Tigers play with zero fans in the stands?

GOAL NO. 1

“Win the opener.” It’s as simple an aspiration as it sounds, really. The goal is perpetually the first one written down for the team each year of Dabo Swinney’s residence at the helm. Tonight should be no different.

The Tigers will look to block out the noise (or in this case, lack thereof) and come out swinging, wasting no time reminding the rest of college football that while things may look different across the board this year, some things really just never change.

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Last Look: Wake Forest

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