Clemson reserve running back Kyle Browning scored on an 11-yard middle screen pass from quarterback Charlie Whitehurst in the second overtime to give the 16th-ranked Tigers (1-0, 1-0 ACC) the win.
And even though Clemson struggled plenty on offense, a win is a win.
“We hadn’t shown much production out there for a whole half, but we just kind of kept our poise and got it done,” said Whitehurst, who helped the Tigers erase an eight-point deficit in the final minutes of regulation and send the game into overtime. “If we would have lost, I wouldn’t have said that it was that devastating. But it would have been. When you look at the plays that we should have made in the first half… The blame’s going to go on a lot of guys’ shoulders. I’m just glad we pulled it out.”
The Demon Deacons (0-1, 0-1 ACC) had a chance to tie it in the second overtime, but Wake Forest quarterback Cory Randolph overthrew an open Willie Idlette on fourth down to end the game, upon which the students on the grassy hill stormed the field to celebrate.
“The kids never gave up,” Clemson head coach Tommy Bowden said. “I’m hoping that this will do some things for our character and our heart, things like that that you have to have.”
Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe was disappointed with the outcome, yet pleased with his team’s performance.
“It’s totally to Clemson’s credit that they came back and won,” he said. “We had some chances in the second half to score some more points and we had good field position, but we just couldn’t get it done. We didn’t give it to them, it’s totally to Clemson’s credit.”
It’s safe to say that without the right arm of Whitehurst, the Tigers would have been doomed to lose their second straight to Wake Forest. The running game was nonexistent and looked horrid at times.
As a team, Clemson finished with 35 rushes for 83 yards, for an average of 2.4 per carry. Yusef Kelly, the starting tailback, didn’t help matters as he carried it 19 times for a scant 57 yards.
“We’ve got to improve on that,” Whitehurst said. “I don’t know what happened, but I don’t think the passing game was up to par, either. … Sure, we’d like more production out of the running game.”
Bowden said he’s not sure what’s going to happen with the running game, even when injured back Duane Coleman returns for his broken foot.
“Duane thinks he’s going to play next week, but I would think it would be very difficult,” Bowden said. “But I just don’t think he can rehab. I don’t know if it will be the answer that gets us over the hump in the running game. Duane will come back and our running game will probably be similar to what it’s been the last three or four years.”
But when receivers Airese Currie and Chansi Stuckey perform the way they did, it sure takes some of the sting away from not being able to run the ball.
Kyle Browning's touchdown reception sent Death Valley into a frenzy Saturday evening.
Currie finished with nine receptions for 152 yards and a touchdown, while Stuckey added eight receptions for 112 yards, in his first-ever start.
“I wouldn’t say that we’d be able to win if it came down to passing all the time because then defenses would key on one area of the game and it’ll be hard for us,” Currie said. “We have to step it up in the running game. We made a lot of mistakes today.”
In the first overtime, each team kicked a pair of field goals as Wake Forest’s Matt Wisnosky first connected on a 38-yarder, then Steven Furr smacked a 23-yarder to tie it at 30.
In regulation, Wake Forest seemed to be in control after tailback Chris Barclay busted through the middle for a 50-yard touchdown run to give the Demon Deacons a 27-19 lead with 12:20 left in the game. He finished with 29 carries for 179 yards.
However, to Clemson’s credit, it didn’t quit and put together a drive for the ages as it marched 78 yards in 4:47 and scored on a 1-yard run by Kelly with 1:48 left to play. The Tigers were helped by two pass interference calls in the end zone by Wake Forest defensive backs.
The big play for the Tigers came on the two-point conversion as Whitehurst, who was 20-of-41 passing for 288 yards and two interceptions, lobbed a pass in the left corner of the end zone to receiver Kelvin Grant, who jumped over the much smaller Wake Forest defensive back Marcus McGruder to haul in the pass and tie the score at 27.
“You just throw it up there and hope that he comes down with it,” Whitehurst said. “He did a great job.”
But prior to that last drive, the Tigers struggled mightily to move the ball with any consistency at all. The offensive output for the Tigers in the third quarter was nearly nonexistent as they managed just 18 yards of total offense. Wake Forest, on the other hand, had 75 yards in the quarter from rushing alone.
The second quarter wasn’t much better, either.
The Tigers led 19-3 at one point in the first half, but they failed to generate much of anything until the final drive of the game.
Then, just before halftime with Clemson leading 19-17, the Tigers had a chance to create some distance on the scoreboard, but Whitehurst threw a pass into double coverage and it was intercepted at the 1 to stop the threat.
“We probably should’ve (blew them out), and that’s no disrespect to them,” Whitehurst said. “We definitely had the momentum. If I don’t throw that interception and throw a touchdown pass, that might have started it.”
The Tigers had one solid chance to put a positive drive together in the third quarter following a Justin Miller fumble recovery at the Clemson 49. However, two plays later, Kelly gave it right back to Wake Forest after he fumbled at the Clemson 48.
The Demon Deacons then managed a 12-play drive, eating up over four minutes that resulted in a 43-yard field goal from Wisnosky to give Wake Forest a 20-19 lead with just four seconds remaining in the quarter.
Thanks to some outstanding special teams play by Stuckey, the Tigers jumped to a 19-3 lead with over 10 minutes remaining until halftime. Stuckey also had eight receptions for 112 yards.
Stuckey was responsible for all five of Clemson’s points in the quarter as he blocked a punt out of the back of the end zone for a safety. The ensuing free kick by Wake Forest to Clemson then resulted in a 42-yard field goal by Furr that hit the left upright and barely fell over the crossbar for the points.
That’s when Wake Forest found its groove offensively.
The Demon Deacons struck gold when reserve quarterback Ben Mauk entered the game. His first-ever pass attempt resulted in an 85-yard touchdown pass to receiver Jason Anderson to make it 19-10 with 9:58 left in the half. Anderson finished with seven catches for 139 yards, nearly all of which came against Clemson’s Miller.
On its next possession, Wake Forest made it 19-17 after Cornelius Birgs rambled for a 2-yard touchdown run with 6:21 left to play.
Wake Forest put the first points on the scoreboard for either team with 4:46 left in the first quarter after Wisnosky booted a 39-yarder for a 3-0 lead.
The Tigers, however, scored two quick touchdowns in the final minutes of the opening quarter after Airese Currie hauled in a 31-yard touchdown pass from Whitehurst with 2:09 to go. Currie ended with nine receptions for 152 yards.
The quarter’s most exciting play came on the final play as Miller darted his way for a 69-yard punt return for a touchdown to give Clemson a 14-3 lead. It was the second punt return for a score in his career, which ties a school record.
Clemson was hurt on its first possession as Furr hooked and missed a 33-yard field goal attempt. The missed kick obviously came back to haunt the Tigers.