CLEMSON, S.C. -- No. 1 Clemson closed its ACC slate and its home slate in style Saturday by scoring touchdowns on three of its first four possessions to stomp out any chance of a Wake Forest upset. The Tigers’ 33-13 win got them to 11-0 on the season, 8-0 in ACC play and 7-0 at home.
That might not be the end for Clemson in Memorial Stadium this year, though: Coach Dabo Swinney promised a pizza party for the Death Valley faithful if his team makes the College Football Playoff. If the Tigers win at South Carolina next weekend and beat Coastal champion North Carolina in the ACC title game a week later in Charlotte, North Carolina, they will likely accomplish just that.
Heisman candidate Deshaun Watson finished with more than 300 yards passing and four total touchdowns, though he threw two interceptions as well. Freshman Kelly Bryant saw plenty of time in the second half and even lined up at quarterback on one third-down play on which Watson was split wide as a receiver. (They did not connect.)
There was also some history Saturday, as on his third punt, which came in the first quarter, Wake Forest punter Alex Kinal broke the NCAA career record for punting yardage. This came a week after he broke the NCAA career record for punts.
Here’s how everything else went down in Death Valley:
What the win means for Clemson: Well, the Tigers now officially know who their ACC title game opponent will be (UNC). They probably shouldn’t lose too much sleep over next week, after rival South Carolina lost Saturday to an FCS team, The Citadel. (Clemson fans won’t: They let out raucous applause when the P.A. announcer delivered that final score over the loudspeaker.) As for this game, Watson tallied three touchdowns in the first quarter -- two passing, one rushing -- to give the Tigers plenty of breathing room early. The sophomore’s two second-quarter picks, which came over a span of three passes, were rough, but he answered with a beautiful, 47-yard touchdown pass to Germone Hopper that made it 27-7 late in the first half. Hopper had himself a day, with three catches for 120 yards. The Tigers, who sat running back Wayne Gallman (ankle) and cornerback Mackensie Alexander (knee), did lose linebacker Ben Boulware early, though the junior was active on the sideline for most of the game and appeared to be wearing a headset.
What the loss means for Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons knew they had their work cut out for them coming out of the bye two weeks ago, as they traveled to No. 4 Notre Dame and No. 1 Clemson in consecutive weeks. Although the Deacs could not be too disappointed with their performance in South Bend, Indiana, they had little shot Saturday in Death Valley from the early going, as Clemson made a living in their backfield and ended Wake’s first three possessions by notching a pair of sacks and a forced fumble. Wake fell to 3-8 on the season and 1-6 in ACC play, though the Deacs will have a chance to improve on last year’s three-win campaign next week, when they host Duke at home.
Unsung hero: Senior tackle Daniel Stone closed out his home career in style. After touching Howard’s Rock and making his Senior Day rounds, Stone raced right to the sideline to meet his girlfriend, whom he surprised with a ring and marriage proposal. She said yes to add to an already charmed season in Death Valley.
Uh, what? Clemson got the ball at its own 28 with less than 31 seconds before halftime. After a Watson 2-yard run, Wake Forest tackle Shelldon Lewinson was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct. The reason? He lost his helmet on the play but followed the action and tried to chase down the ball. Those 15 yards likely awakened an aggressive Tigers offense, as they then played their way into field goal range, which allowed Greg Huegel to connect from 40 yards at the buzzer and make it a 30-7 game. The flag was obviously in the name of player safety and the result of a rule that is well-intentioned, but you wonder what Lewinson was left to do in a situation such as that.