Clemson fans finally got the game from D.J. Uiagalelei that they’ve been waiting for, finishing with 371 yards passing and five touchdowns. You’d figure that kind of day would lead to a blowout of No. 21 Wake Forest with the defense we’re accustomed to seeing from the Tigers. After two overtimes and more than 1,000 yards of total offense, the perennial conference champions held off the reigning kings of the ACC, 51-45.
Demon Deacon QB Sam Hartman tallied six touchdown passes, repeatedly hitting receivers for big plays — or pass-interference flags — up until the second overtime when the hopes of an upset were dashed on a fourth down heave to the endzone. Tiger cornerback Nate Wiggins, who was getting targeted all day, made the game-sealing pass breakup, and Dabo Swinney’s team escaped Winston-Salem with its winning streak — now at 10 — still intact.
As comforting as Uiagalelei’s performance was, the defense is just as concerning. The defensive front was without one of its best players, so they’re not at full strength. Yet they’ve shown some hints the past couple of weeks that they might be missing coordinator Brent Venables, and now those signs are blinking bright red.
I liked Wake Forest’s chances in Saturday’s game, but my questions were more about the quarterback. Clemson has allowed more than 40 points only five times in the past five-plus years. Notre Dame, LSU, Ohio State, and Pitt were responsible for the previous four, and now Wake Forest is on that list.
Outside of a one-play possession that ran out the final 14 seconds of the first half, Wake scored on five-straight drives from the second quarter to the fourth. Dave Clawson’s insistence on the run during the Deacs’ final chance at a score in regulation — Clemson’s only stop of the second half — was a weird strategy considering how hot Hartman was.
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Saying Dabo out-coached him might not be accurate either as his equally hot offense wasn’t even given a chance to get within field goal range with 49 seconds left to try to win the game sans OT, and Wake hemorrhaging yards. (He also ran his kicker out for a 52-yarder to tie the game with four minutes left in the game, and his trust was rewarded as B.T. Potter drilled the kick.)
The day belonged to Uiagalelei though. This was the exact type of command and playmaking Clemson fans have been waiting for out of him, and it came in a high-pressure situation. The 371 yards passing is the second highest output of his career, and his first game with 300-plus yards since Nov. 7, 2020. The five passing scores are a career-high by three TDs.
He made plenty of tough throws, but the hardest came on a two-point conversion in the third quarter to tie the contest at 28. Under pressure, with a Deacon holding his leg, he found receiver Beaux Collins despite only having one foot on the ground.
Even though Wake’s defense leaves a lot to be desired — the fangless three-man rushes allowed Uiagalelei enough time to write a memoir — this was as perfect of a game as a quarterback can play.
No. 12 NC State and QB Devin Leary visit Death Valley next week, and if the Wolfpack can get by UConn, College Gameday could find itself with another orange-heavy destination. The Clemson defense will have another veteran quarterback to contain, but that can be said of both teams.
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