Fifth-ranked Clemson hasn’t defended the pass well this season and figures to see a lot of balls in the air when it battles No. 21 Wake Forest on Saturday in Atlantic Coast Conference play at Winston-Salem, N.C.
Clemson is looking for its 14th consecutive win over the Demon Deacons, a streak that began after a 12-7 road loss in 2008. But keeping the streak intact might necessitate an improvement in passing defense.
The Tigers (3-0, 1-0 ACC) are allowing just 14 points per game but are tied for 86th nationally in passing defense at 244.7 yards per game. Meanwhile, Wake Forest (3-0, 0-0) features the 10th-most prolific yardage passer in ACC history in Sam Hartman.
Clemson standout defensive end K.J. Henry, who is a native of Winston-Salem, says more players on the defensive side need to step up.
“We had some guys out (with injuries) or whatever, but we’re going to play a lot of great teams and going to have to sub a lot of people,” Henry told reporters. “And I think one of the better parts of our team and this defense is our depth. So just really pushing that when one guy is in and one guy is out, the standard stays the same.”
Hartman became Wake Forest’s all-time leader in passing yardage (9,891) during last week’s 37-36 home win over Liberty. He passed Riley Skinner (9,762 from 2006-09).
Hartman completed 26 of 44 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns against Liberty. But he also was intercepted twice and was off-the-mark on several other throws.
“We’ve seen that before in his career,” Demon Deacons coach Dave Clawson said of the fifth-year junior. “When he gets a little shaky, he usually recovers. … He kind of collects himself and gets back in the moment. He doesn’t get frustrated.”
Wake Forest is averaging 42 points per game and its other wins have come against VMI and Vanderbilt.
Clemson defeated Georgia Tech and Furman to start the campaign before posting a 48-20 win over Louisiana Tech last week. The Tigers are averaging 41.7 points per game.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney isn’t too interested in making a big deal over his squad’s unbeaten start.
“I don’t think anybody knows who anybody is right now after three ballgames,” Swinney said. “I know the rankings and all that stuff — we’re wherever, a top-5 team, but that’s all based on past success. It really is at this point. And that’s great to have some street cred if you will. You have to go earn it. So that’s what we’re in the process of trying to do.”
Tigers running back Will Shipley is off to a strong start by rushing for 249 yards and six touchdowns. Quarterback DJ Uiagalelei has thrown for 662 yards, five touchdowns and one interception.
Clemson also is expected to have standout defensive tackle Bryan Bresee back on the field. He missed the Louisiana Tech game after his 15-year-old sister, Ella, died of brain cancer two days earlier.
Wake Forest is allowing 23.7 points per game and is receiving solid play from safety Malik Mustapha, who leads the squad with 21 tackles and two forced fumbles.
Clawson said the Demon Deacons are better on the defensive side this season despite allowing 36 points to Liberty.
“We did a lot of good things,” Clawson said. “It’s never all good and never all bad.”
The Tigers defeated visiting Wake Forest 48-27 last season when they racked up 332 yards on the ground, including 111 and two scores from Shipley. Hartman passed for 312 yards, one touchdown and one interception for the Demon Deacons.
–Field Level Media