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What We Learned After Clemson's Most Complete Game of the Year

Clemson's 48-27 win over Wake Forest was impressively simplistic and showed that the Tigers still have a fastball, despite the injuries, poor offensive performances and losses.

Clemson still has a fastball. 

It might not clock in at 100 mph on the radar gun this year, but nevertheless, the Tigers can still bring the heat. That might've been the biggest lesson learned in Saturday's impressively simple 48-27 victory over No. 10 Wake Forest, which ended the Demon Deacons' undefeated run in conference play. 

It was the biggest game in Death Valley this season. Seniors were honored. Emotions were high. And Clemson rose to the challenge, and it didn't need some weird breaking pitch to break Wake.

The Tigers (8-3, 6-2 ACC) dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. The defense held Wake to 36 rushing yards while the offense rushed for 333, the most in over two years. It doesn't get more simplistic than that. 

Here's what else what learned and what it all means heading into the state championship against South Carolina: 

Look who's still in it

Dabo Swinney called this a "championship game," even though the Tigers didn't break out the orange britches. But he's not wrong about what beating Wake meant. Clemson still has a shot at the Atlantic Division title, even though it's slim. Here are the scenarios: 

  • Wake Forest (9-2, 6-1) HAS to lose at Boston College in the regular-season finale.
  • AND NC State (8-3, 5-2) must fall to North Carolina in Raleigh. 
  • If both of those things happen, Clemson heads to Charlotte for a rematch with Pittsburgh. 
  • If Wake wins, the Deacs claim the Atlantic crown. 
  • If Wake loses and NC State wins, the Wolfpack wins the 3-way tiebreaker by division record. 

Getting to the ACC title game would be a pretty big deal for a Clemson team that was thought to be out of the race for a seventh consecutive conference crown after the double-overtime loss at NC State, so the win over Wake showed that this team hasn't given up hope of reaching one of the five primary season goals. 

"We didn't want anybody coming to Death Valley to get a trophy handed to them," Swinney said. "They'll have to go to Boston to earn that." 

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No quit

On a day of many highlights, 300-pound defensive tackle Tyler Davis trying to run down Wake Forest receiver A.T. Perry, one of the best in the ACC, stood out. 

"How about Tyler Davis chasing that receiver down," Swinney said. "Are you kidding me? Effort."

Davis didn't quite get there before Perry went out of bounds, but it was wild to see a man of that size get down there. For Swinney, it was a teaching moment. He said that play represented the fight his team has shown. Despite the injuries, bad offensive performances and three losses, Clemson's fundamental philosophies about never giving up showed through on that play and throughout the entire game. That's not been lost.

Don't forget about Pace

Will Shipley has received most of the attention in Clemson's backfield, and when healthy, he's earned it and been an impressive freshman. But Kobe Pace proved against Wake that he can't be forgotten. Even though he did fumble, he more than made up for his miscue, rushing for a career-high 191 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns. 

He was the perfect weapon against a porous Wake defense that doesn't tackle well and wanted nothing to do with the hard-running Pace. Shipley also went over 100 rushing yards, scored twice on the ground and threw a touchdown pass, but Pace has the look of a big-game back. This duo is going to wreak havoc for years in the ACC, and it's time to recognize both can really play. 

Venables vs. Clawson

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables owns Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson. That's not something that was learned Saturday. After all, Clemson had given up just 19 total points in the previous three meetings, so it shouldn't be a huge surprise that the Deacs were held to 17 points below their season average. Wake picked up some garbage points late, but it turned the ball over three times and had to settle for two field goals in the red zone. That was basically the biggest story in the game. Quarterback Sam Hartman has harassed the entire game and sacked seven times. 

It was just pure domination from Clemson's entire defense. If Clawson couldn't score enough points and finally figure Venables, who mastered defending that slow mesh run play, this year, then is he ever? Clawson's done a great job at Wake and should be considered for more high-profile jobs. And he might want to consider taking one because he's never going to get the best of Venables. The other option is recommending schools that call him to go get Venables and get him out of the ACC. Whichever, it's the only way Clawson can win this battle. 

Where's that blocking been?

Clemson is as hobbled at offensive line and receiver as any team in college football, and those are the two positions that have to block in order to have a productive run game. So how in the world did the Tigers put together their best effort of the season? Sure, Wake's tackling and talent deficiencies certainly helped, but Clemson executed and got the running backs to the second level with two make-shift groups. 

That just hasn't happened much all season. Right guard Will Putnam returning from a two-game absence to deal with a foot injury made a huge difference, and he played really well. While an occasional lineman still ran around looking for somebody to block at times, those who did get a hat on hat cleared holes. And the receivers, down to freshmen Dacari Collins and Beaux Collins and senior Will Swinney, made sure Clemson's rushers could get to the edge as well. It was a really good game all around from those groups, and Tigers need to find a way to bottle that up.  

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