WINSTON-SALEM Wake Forest knows it’s in a predicament and how it got there.
The Deacons also know a way out, as precarious as that way may be.
By beating third-ranked Clemson on the road Saturday at Death Valley, Wake Forest would be right back in the running for the ACC’s Atlantic Division title.
“We’ve talked about it,” senior receiver Michael Campanaro said. “We control our own destiny.
“It’s definitely a huge challenge – but, in-house, we believe. No one is really giving us a chance outside of our own locker room, but we’ve got an older group of guys, which will help going into a game like this.”
Not even last week’s 25-11 victory at Army could make full amends for Wake Forest’s two earlier losses – at Boston College and at home against Louisiana-Monroe. The Deacons have long known the schedule would stiffen precipitously, starting with the long, seldom-rewarded drive to Upstate South Carolina.
The Tigers, in Dabo Swinney’s fifth full season as coach, have lived up to their ballyhooed preseason billing by beating Georgia 38-35, S.C. State 52-13 and N.C. State 26-14.
Quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins are back after setting school records in last season’s 42-13 rout at Wake Forest’s BB&T Field, where Boyd completed 27 of 38 passes for 428 yards and five touchdowns, and Watkins caught eight passes for 202 yards and a touchdown.
Clemson’s defense ranks fourth in the nation and is averaging four sacks and nine tackles for loss a game.
And the Tigers have had two extra days to prepare after playing at N.C. State on Sept. 19 – although offensive lineman Isaiah Battle has been suspended by Clemson for punching a Wolfpack player in the last game. Receiver Martavis Bryant also will be disciplined for his throat-slash gesture, but Swinney wasn’t specific as to what the punishment will entail.
“And you know how tough it is to go to N.C. State to play,” Grobe said. “We think Death Valley’s a tough place, but N.C. State is a tough place to play and N.C. State has bumped off a bunch of Top 25 teams.
“Clemson got a win at N.C. State, and that’s pretty impressive.”
History offers a bit of a solace, but no more. Since the schools started playing in 1933, the Tigers have 60 wins to the Deacons’ 17. Clemson has beaten Wake Forest four straight times and six times out of the last seven.
Wake Forest last won at Clemson in 1998, when a team coached by Jim Caldwell — on the way to a 3-8 record — stunned the Tigers 29-19.
But besides his three victories over Clemson (in 2003, 2005 and 2008) over his first 12 seasons as the Deacons’ coach, Grobe also has given the Tigers a scare on a few other occasions. Five of the Tigers’ victories have been by 10 points or fewer; conversely, Clemson also has trounced Wake Forest by scores of 44-10, 38-3, 30-10 and last season’s 42-13.
“We’ve played them tough two or three times and a couple of times they’ve dusted us off pretty good, too,” Grobe said. “But we’ve had opportunities down there to win; we just haven’t gotten it done. So that would be something pretty special for this football team.
“But you can’t have any illusions. You’ve got to go down there and you’ve got to play every snap as hard as you can play and as good as you can play.”
The Deacons based their hopes of contending for the Atlantic title on the return of 13 seniors, all of whom are playing vital roles. It was a hope that got battered at Boston College and at home against Louisiana-Monroe, but one that could be as good as new with an improbable victory at Clemson.
“No question,” Grobe said. “The year we won (the conference title) I believe we were 6-2 in the ACC. So, most teams are not going through unscathed.
“Clemson certainly has the talent to do that, but most teams have not done that. Every week you’ve got to earn it.
“Now we’re behind the eight-ball a little bit. We’ve stubbed our toe a couple of times, not in games we should have won but in games we could have won. So, we’re not in a great position, but you’ve just got to play good every week out.
“You can’t imagine what a win down there would do.”
The Winston-Salem Journal is a news partner of the Observer. For more Wake Forest coverage go to http://www.journalnow.com/sports/wfu/
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