ACC: Winston-Salem 0807

Wake Forest one step closer to goal

October, 10, 2008
10/10/08
1:19
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Their goal in the preseason was to become the first Wake Forest team since 1950-52 to have three straight winning seasons, and to be the first to go to three straight bowl games.

 
 Bob Donnan/US Presswire
 It wasn't pretty, but Wake Forest was able to celebrate a victory Thursday night.
"We're almost there," linebacker Aaron Curry said. "... We've got our eyes on the prize. We're almost there."

The No. 21-ranked Demon Deacons took a major step in separating themselves from the rest of the Atlantic Division with their 12-7 win over Clemson on Thursday night, as Wake Forest is the only team in the division still unbeaten in league play.

"Of course it gives us an edge," receiver D.J. Boldin said. "Clemson was predicted to win the ACC at the beginning of the season. For us to come out and beat those guys, it was very major. We just put a big X on our chests. Clemson was projected to win, and every week somebody is losing, but right now this puts us in the driver's seat. It's going to make it harder for us week by week."

Wake Forest's defense has exceeded expectations, and for the second game this season (the other being Florida State) was a major factor in the game, particularly considering the team's inability to score touchdowns when inside the red zone. The Deacs got as close as the 5- and 2-yard lines and were unable to score, despite getting more out of their running game.

Wake Forest has back-to-back road tests at Maryland and Miami to finish the month, but those within the program know they're going to have to score more to maintain their lead in the league.

"It's good to be 2-0," quarterback Riley Skinner said. "It gives us a little bit of a cushion, but that cushion doesn't really mean anything. When you see every team beats everybody. We know that every game is going to be a challenge. Any team could turn it on and play lights out from here."

Clemson's disastrous season just got worse

October, 10, 2008
10/10/08
12:59
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Clemson coach Tommy Bowden scratched his graying head of hair over and over, seemingly unaware he was even doing it.

"We tried everything," he said.

 
 AP Photo/Gerry Broome
 Tommy Bowden and the Tigers must again regroup after Thursday's loss to Wake Forest.

Obviously, none of it worked.

"I didn't think we'd be 3-3," Bowden stammered after the Tigers' 12-7 loss to Wake Forest. "I thought we'd be better than that."

The understatement of the year from the leader of the underachieving team of the year.

Yes, Clemson's No. 9 preseason ranking was too high. But this is also Bowden's most veteran team in his 10 seasons here. With so much talent on the roster, Clemson's 3-3 overall record and 1-2 ACC record are simply inexplicable for a team heavily favored to win its first ACC title since 1991. This was a must-win game for the Tigers not only because of their place in the Atlantic Division standings, but because Bowden and his staff needed to prove they could win.

The play calling has been in question. Bowden's job is in question. But nobody in Clemson's program seems to have any answers right now.

Offensive coordinator Rob Spence had the same lost look in his eyes he had after the Maryland loss. And, similarly, he had few answers, other than injuries and the young offensive line. Clemson has now scored just seven points in its past six quarters.

"I don't understand right now, OK?" Spence said, calmer than it reads. "That's something we've just got to keep working on."

(Read full post)

Final: Wake Forest 12, Clemson 7

October, 9, 2008
10/09/08
10:56
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Well, this is why the ACC is perceived the way it is. Primetime. National television. Ugly football.

I don't know what's worse: Watching Wake Forest's gimmicky, tip-toe offense, or watching Clemson give up 28 yards on third-and-24. No, it was probably Wake allowing 19 yards on fourth-and-SEVENTEEN.

Both of these teams were playing not to lose. Somehow, Wake Forest managed not to, which still makes it the team to beat in the Atlantic Division.

If Clemson's players thought their season was over after the Maryland loss, they probably feel like turning their uniforms in after this one.

Heading down to the locker rooms now. Check back later.

Clemson injury update

October, 9, 2008
10/09/08
10:10
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Clemson wide receiver Tyler Grisham is out with a foot injury and will not return. That's the Tigers' third key player out tonight because of injury, and Wake Forest hasn't been able to take advantage of it.

3Q update: Clemson 7, Wake Forest 3

October, 9, 2008
10/09/08
10:07
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- James Davis has stepped up in the absence of C.J. Spiller, who is out with a leg injury, and Clemson has gotten a bit more production out of its passing game. That's a direct benefit of Chris Hairston returning to the offensive line.

They were finally able to do something Wake Forest was not -- convert in the red zone.

Neither of these teams is looking too impressive tonight, and both have made foolish penalties.

Halftime report: Wake Forest 3, Clemson 0

October, 9, 2008
10/09/08
9:22
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- You know those invisible fences that halt snarling, slobbering dogs right in their tracks, just when you think your left leg stands no chance?

That's what Wake Forest's offense has looked like it's been running into in the first half against Clemson. The Demon Deacons have come barreling downfield only to be stopped just shy of the end zone.

It's probably hurting injured kicker Sam Swank to watch from the sideline more than it would to go out there and boot it. His backup, Shane Popham, has missed 2 of 3 field goal attempts, but the first one was because of a botched snap.

The most impressive aspect of this game so far has been the Demon Deacons' defense. Clemson hasn't mustered one third-down conversion yet and has just 67 yards of total offense. Wake's veteran defensive line is creating major problems for Clemson's young, inexperienced line, and James Davis and C.J. Spiller are going nowhere.

Both Spiller and left guard Cory Lambert are out for the rest of the game with injuries. If Wake Forest can't take advantage of that, it's in trouble.

The best playmaker, arguably, on the field right now is Riley Skinner. He's making plays with his feet, he's completed 9 of 13 passes. Heck, he even lined up at wideout and almost caught a touchdown.

Almost.

The Demon Deacons have been getting clever with their offensive playbook, as they've lined several different players up to take the snap. It's something they've been working on all week at practice, and it seemed like they continued to practice it in the first quarter before Jordan Williams attempted the touchdown pass to Skinner.

Clemson's creativity -- the fake punt -- didn't go over so well. The direct snap to safety Michael Hamlin resulted in 0 yards.

1Q update: Wake Forest 3, Clemson 0

October, 9, 2008
10/09/08
8:21
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- This is unreal. Wake Forest is doing to Clemson exactly what the Tigers did to Maryland in the first quarter -- driving right down the field on them. Only problem for the Deacs is they can't seem to translate it into any touchdowns.

They've been as close as the 5-yard line twice now and should easily be up 14-0. Clemson has just 3 yards of total offense while Wake has 120.

The Demon Deacons are doing an excellent job of stopping the run, while establishing their own running game. It's exactly what they wanted to do.

Clemson injury update

October, 9, 2008
10/09/08
8:02
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Clemson starting left guard Cory Lambert has a sprained ankle and his return is questionable.

Final pregame thoughts

October, 9, 2008
10/09/08
7:44
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- First, expect Clemson to throw the ball downfield more tonight. That's a result of left tackle Chris Hairston re-joining the offensive line. They've been doing it at practice all week.

Second, Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips is keeping quiet about his plans for Tommy Bowden, and has repeatedly said he doesn't discuss personnel issues during the season. While you might think his silence speaks volumes, I just asked him about giving that impression.

He said it's the policy, and that if it were any other way, he'd be fielding questions about it every week. He pointed out the 2003 season, which started off with a loss to Georgia and ended with four straight wins.

As of right now, it's a valid point, because Clemson is just as much in this thing as anyone in the Atlantic Division. Three hours from now, though, it could be a different story, and the questions about Bowden's future will be valid.

Even if it is every week.

Greetings from Wake Forest

October, 9, 2008
10/09/08
6:04
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- Hello from Winston-Salem, where the Dixie Fair is in full swing across the street from BB&T Field, and Clemson fans are out in full force in the adjacent parking lot. It's been raining on and off all day here, and it's threatening to do it again.

The Tigers, though, could use a little Thunder and Lightning. (Sorry, really, it was just too easy).

It's true, though. If Clemson is going to have a chance at winning this game, the staff has to get their playmakers the ball, and James Davis and C.J. Spiller are at the top of the list. Clemson's offensive philosophy seems to have scaled back on the account of its young, inexperienced offensive line, but at some point they've got to put some faith in the talent around it.

Here are a few keys to the game:

  • Clemson does a great job of getting screen passes to Aaron Kelly, an aspect of the offense Wake Forest can't forget while they're trying to get to quarterback Cullen Harper.
  • The Demon Deacons have earned a reputation for forcing teams to hand it over, but recently have gotten a taste of their own medicine. (Riley Skinner accounted for five against Navy). Ball security will essential, especially if it starts to pour.
  • Wake Forest will have to play gap sound defense and make sure that Davis and Spiller don't get loose. On the flip side, Clemson needs to make sure to get those guys the ball more than they did in the second half against Maryland.

Wake Forest kicker Sam Swank, I'm told, is a game-time decision. They're going to bring him out dressed and see whether or not he can do it. If not, the punting and placekicking duties fall to rookie Shane Popham. That will be less of a factor in field goals and moreso on kickoffs to Spiller.

This game is bigger for Clemson than it is Wake Forest. The Tigers have one league loss and Wake Forest does not. Atlantic Division standings aside, a loss would probably not bode well for the future of Tommy Bowden. Then again, it's only October, and this ain't Auburn.

Checking in with Wake's defensive coordinator

October, 9, 2008
10/09/08
2:53
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

I got a chance to catch up with Wake Forest defensive coordinator Brad Lambert, who said the Clemson team that showed up in the first half against Maryland is "the real Clemson."

"They've always played well against us," he said. "Their guys are really focused when they play us. They're really talented and they have a lot of home-run hitters with those guys. We've got to do a great job defensively of being in the right place and making sure we take care of our gaps and our responsibilities on defense and try to contain them, because they're extremely explosive."

The players Lambert said he is particularly concerned about are the same playmakers that worry just about every defensive coordinator in the league -- C.J. Spiller, Jacoby Ford and Aaron Kelly. In watching old game film, Lambert was reminded that Spiller was the one who took off for about 70 yards against the Deacs in 2006, but James Davis as a power runner is also a concern.

Tyler Grisham also caused problems for Wake Forest last year, which is all the more reason Lambert has stressed playing gap-sound defense this week. All it takes is one missed assignment, and any one of Clemson's speedy stars can go the distance.

"When you have the weapons they have, it can be a matter of time 'til they get out on you," Lambert said.

There is a certain familiarity between these two veteran teams, but there is also a tie between Lambert and Clemson defensive coordinator Vic Koenning. They are both graduates of Kansas State. Lambert was a redshirt freshman when Koenning was a senior. They haven't talked this week, but usually catch up during the offseason.

We'll see which one gets the last word tonight.

Wake Forest in prime position against the preseason favorites

October, 9, 2008
10/09/08
10:30
AM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich

Following Clemson's routine team meeting last Tuesday after the Tigers' loss to Maryland, junior center Thomas Austin asked the coaching staff if he could address the team in a players-only meeting.

"We had all Monday off to chew on the loss," Austin said of the Tigers' collapse in a 20-17 home defeat to the Terps on Sept. 27. "It's impossible not to hear what's being said about us in the media, just walking across campus, and classmates and that kind of thing."

So the coaches left the meeting room, and Austin took it upon himself to remind the Tigers to put their "blinders" on and "keep pushing through."

"I think our coaches do a good job of getting us prepared and getting us up for games, but ultimately it's gotta come from us, it's gotta come from the players," he said. "I feel like we have very strong senior leadership on the team and we needed to step up and take hold of the situation and not let the coaches have to do it every time. It was the kind of thing I thought I needed to say and the team as a whole needed to hear."

We'll find out tonight if they listened.

Both Atlantic Division programs are coming off disappointing losses to teams they probably should have beaten, and both have had a bye week to correct mistakes and move forward. The difference is Wake Forest (3-1, 1-0 ACC) is ranked No. 21 in both the AP and Coaches' polls and sitting atop the division standings, and Clemson (3-2, 1-1), once overrated as the No. 9 team in the nation and the overwhelming preseason favorite to win the ACC title, hasn't had an impressive win yet this season. Instead, the Tigers have fallen far below expectations and the coaching staff has come under fire for it. Again.

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