Clemson rolled offensively, was dominant defensively and provided a special play on special teams on its way to a monumental 44-10 victory over the Demon Deacons Saturday at a packed Memorial Stadium.
The win sets up an all-or-nothing game against Boston College in Death Valley next week.
If the Tigers (8-2, 5-2 ACC) win, they will win the Atlantic Division and be set to square off against the Coastal Division champ in the ACC Championship Game on Dec. 1, in Jacksonville, Fla.
“This is definitely a lot of fun,” said wide receiver Aaron Kelly, who had two touchdown receptions against Wake Forest (6-4, 4-3 ACC). “I can’t wait to see all the fans in the stadium next week and cheering us on. This is why you play football.”
The fans had more than enough reason to cheer against Wake Forest, as Clemson only had to punt twice, while scoring on their other eight possessions.
Tigers quarterback Cullen Harper had his typical stellar performance, completing 27-of-35 for 266 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Kelly and fellow receiver Tyler Grisham combined to catch 19 of those passes for 193 yards and grab all three touchdowns.
All this came despite the fact that the running game was stagnant as James Davis tallied just 62 yards on 21 attempts. At one point C.J. Spiller had just 11 yards on five rushes, but he broke a long one and finished with 54 yards on eight carries.
Even though the offensive line struggled to open up running holes, it did a very good job of protecting Harper and gave him ample time find the open receiver, which he did more times than not.
“Anytime the line gives Cullen time to throw the ball, he’s going to get it to receiver,” Kelly said. “The line did a great job all day of protecting him.”
The story of this day, however, was the play of the defense, particularly the defensive line, which harassed Wake Forest quarterback Riley Skinner from start to finish.
Clemson had five sacks and untold pressures and hurries. This was the best that unit has looked since the first half against Florida State. That front four and the periodic blitzing linebacker were completely dominant.
As the offense kept scoring, the defense became more aggressive.
But leave it Koenning to not be completely pleased with the effort.
“The got 287 yards,” he said. “But it could be (the best performance by our defense. I think we did some things to help ourselves. But I’d like to watch the film before I sit there and say (it’s the best we’ve played).”
In the special teams department, everything went better than expected as placekicker Mark Buchholz made three field goals longer than 43 yards, including the first 50-plus field goal at Clemson in 10 years.
And just for good measure, Spiller added a 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
"There have been times this year where the special teams struggled,” Spiller said in the understatement of the year. “So, it feels good to make a positive impact today.”
For the pessimist, everything was almost too perfect against the Demon Deacons. Clemson was in complete and total control from the game’s opening drive.
Thus it begs the question, will the Tigers have one of their classic letdowns against Boston College or will they continue their stellar play and punch their ticket for Jacksonville?
“That’s the million-dollar question,” Bowden said. We’ll find out.”
A few minutes later, he went further with his answer.
“I think it’s natural that sometimes you get up for big games then you rest on your laurels, you read the newspapers, but it doesn’t look like it’s happened so far with this team,” Bowden said. “I can’t see it happening this week simply because of the opportunity and with two years of being so close. Obviously it doesn’t necessarily guarantee you’re going to win.
“But I think we’ll play well. … I don’t think it will happen where we’ll lose to Duke. I don’t think it will be that type of a performance. If we lose next week to B.C., I think they’ll be the better team, where when we lost to Duke, they weren’t the better team.”