Clemson’s winning streak has helped it get back into the race in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. Wake Forest’s run is over, but it’s also right in the mix for the division title.
The 20th-ranked Tigers host the Demon Deacons on Saturday, with the loser likely to have its chance of playing in the ACC championship game come to an end.
Clemson (7-2, 4-2) opened this season with four straight victories and moved up to No. 13 in the rankings, but consecutive defeats knocked it out of the poll. Three wins in a row, though, have put the Tigers back in the Top 25 and just one-half game behind eighth-ranked Boston College in the Atlantic.
Wake Forest (6-3, 4-2), meanwhile, fell from the rankings this week after having its six-game winning streak snapped with a 17-16 loss at Virginia last Saturday. The Demon Deacons also are one-half game back of the Eagles in the division.
Boston College, however, beat Wake Forest 38-28 on Sept. 1. Clemson hosts the Eagles next Saturday.
The Tigers will be facing a bigger challenge this week after beating lowly Duke 47-10 last Saturday. Clemson trailed the Blue Devils 7-3 following the first quarter, but took the lead for good on Cullen Harper’s touchdown pass midway through the second and added 16 points in a 39-second span late in the quarter to take a 26-7 lead at halftime.
Harper had a 3-yard touchdown run with 1:10 remaining in the second, Clemson registered a safety with 45 seconds left and C.J. Spiller returned a kick 84 yards for a TD with 31 seconds to go in the quarter.
“All of a sudden, we got a big play here, and we got a big play there,” said Harper, who set a school record with his ACC-leading 23rd touchdown pass. “That’s the fastest I’ve ever seen 16 points scored.”
Clemson is trying to avoid a performance similar to last season, when it was ranked 10th in the country with a 7-1 record before dropping four of its last five - including a 28-20 loss to Kentucky in the Music City Bowl.
“We’re doing what we didn’t do last season, we’re playing strong at the end of the season,” said running back James Davis, who had a career-best 70-yard touchdown run against Duke. “That’s kind of what everybody wanted to see.”
Wake Forest was playing well, too, until last weekend’s defeat. The Demon Deacons had a 16-10 lead over the Cavaliers in the fourth quarter, but gave up the lead with 2:18 remaining and missed a 47-yard field goal attempt with 2 seconds left.
Wake Forest, the defending ACC champion, suffered its first loss since falling 20-17 to Nebraska on Sept. 8.
“Missing the last field goal was a very small part of the game,” coach Jim Grobe said. “We had opportunities in the first half and the second half that we didn’t take advantage of both offensively and defensively. It’s really a team loss.”
The Demon Deacons have lost their last three visits to Clemson, getting outscored 123-60. The Tigers won 27-17 at Wake Forest last year by scoring 24 points in the fourth quarter.
Spiller and Davis combined for 199 rushing yards in that game, but they’ll be running against a Wake Forest squad that has held six of its nine opponents under 100 yards on the ground this season.
The Demon Deacons, though, give up 224.4 passing yards per game and the Tigers lead the ACC in passing efficiency and are third in passing offense (258.0 ypg). Overall, Clemson is second in the conference with 424.7 offensive yards a contest.