No. 19 Clemson visits struggling Wake Forest
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) For Clemson to play its way back to the Orange Bowl, the No. 19 Tigers can't afford any more slip-ups.
Coach Dabo Swinney's team always seems to avoid those against Wake Forest.
Clemson looks to extend its recent dominance of the Demon Deacons on Thursday night while staying on track for another major bowl berth.
The selection committee ranks the Tigers (6-2, 5-1, No. 21 CFP) as the Atlantic Coast Conference's second-best team. If they maintain that position and No. 2 Florida State makes the playoff, they will earn their third Orange Bowl berth in four years.
''For us, it's really about trying to continue the momentum that we've created,'' coach Dabo Swinney said. ''We want to have a great November. And if we want to have a great November, we've got to go win on the road.''
A rare loss to Wake Forest (2-6, 0-4) - a three-touchdown underdog - would certainly spoil that.
Since Swinney took over at Clemson during the 2008 season, he's won all five meetings with the Demon Deacons and four of them have come by at least 20 points. Wake Forest's last win in the series came in a nationally televised Thursday night game in '08 that hastened Tommy Bowden's midseason departure.
The Demon Deacons have struggled in Dave Clawson's first season, especially on offense. Their ground game is the worst in the Bowl Subdivision, averaging just 34.5 yards per game.
They put a scare into Boston College in their last game, with freshman quarterback John Wolford throwing for 233 yards in the second half of a 23-17 loss in which they gained 6 total yards in the first half.
''We have had moments this year that we look like a competent offense,'' Clawson said. ''We have not had the ability to sustain it. ... It's hard to ever be a consistent offense when you don't run the football.''
Some things to know about Clemson's visit to Wake Forest:
PAGING WATSON: Swinney says QB Deshaun Watson is healthy enough to play and will dress for the game, but may not use the talented quarterback unless he's needed. Watson missed two games with a broken bone in his hand but Swinney says his condition improved during the Tigers' week off. He is expected to start against Georgia Tech the following week. ''It would be good for us,'' Clawson said, ''if they feel like they have to play him.''
CLEMSON D: It's been tough for Wake Forest's worst-in-the-FBS offense to move the ball on anyone. It could be especially tough against a Clemson defense that ranks No. 2 in yards allowed, giving up an average of just 268.6. The Demon Deacons average just 213.5 total yards - about 35 fewer yards per game than the nation's second-worst team, SMU. An offensive line full of freshmen and sophomores will have a huge challenge in keeping Clemson DE Vic Beasley away from Wolford. ''They've got big-time players at every level,'' Clawson said.
WAKE D: The Demon Deacons will have to count on their defense to keep them in the game. Wake Forest has the ACC's third-best D against the pass, giving up 180 yards per game. Clemson has averaged just 16.5 points in the two full games Watson has missed and Cole Stoudt became the starter again. ''It's going to be a good challenge from a defensive perspective,'' Wake Forest DB Kevin Johnson said.
DABO VS. DEACONS: Wake Forest has a 4-1 record in ESPN-televised Thursday night games with the lone loss coming in Clemson's visit in 2012. That 42-13 defeat was one of the Tigers' four blowout wins in the series under Swinney. The only close game Wake Forest has played against his Tigers came in 2011 when Clemson won 31-28 on a last-play field goal.
WAKE VS. TOP 25: Wake Forest has lost 10 straight against Top 25 opponents since upsetting No. 22 Florida State in 2011. The Demon Deacons have not beaten a ranked Clemson team since 1945.
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
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