Stats and Storylines: Clemson controls game vs. Wake Forest

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Etienne had an impressive stat-line (Photo per ACC).
Etienne had an impressive stat-line (Photo per ACC).

The top-ranked Clemson Tigers finally took the field and began their season against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons on Saturday night. What a joy it was to stop talking about if we’ll see college football and actually sit down and enjoy it.

After a quick three-and-out on the first drive, the Tigers took control and built a 27-0 halftime lead before taking their foot off the gas and inserting backups. Despite a 37-13 final score that didn’t cover the spread, it was an impressive showing for the Tigers. As I’ll continue to do throughout the season, below I share some interesting statistics from the game and what they may mean for the Tigers.

WR Amari Rodgers: 90 yards; Tight ends: 114 yards, 1 TD

Ever since it was announced that WR Justyn Ross would undergo off-season surgery and miss the season, we wondered who would step up at wide receiver alongside the veteran Amari Rodgers. It turns out it may be the tight ends. Rodgers was excellent, reeling in five catches for 90 yards. After that, the tight end group with Braden Galloway pulled in five receptions for 60 yards. JC Chalk caught a TD, and Davis Allen grabbed a 42 yard pass down the middle. Without Tee Higgins and Justyn Ross, Clemson’s offense attacked the middle of the field, and it was lethal.

Travis Etienne: 17 carries, 102 rushing yards, 3 receptions, receiving 47 yards, 1 rushing TD

Travis Etienne was spectacular, and the coaching staff wasn’t shy about giving him the ball. He received 17 carries despite not playing much in the second half. As promised, the Tigers ran it in the red zone. Trevor Lawrence ran it in twice, and Etienne once. Etienne now has 57 career rushing touchdowns. He is 21 away from breaking the all-time career record for a running back, currently held by Montee Ball (Wisconsin). He needs to average just over 1.6 rushing touchdowns per game (if Clemson plays the maximum number of games) to break the record.

Wake Forest Running Backs: 23 carries for 57 yards (2.5 YPC)

Wake Forest running backs were ineffective. 29 of their 57 yards came on one run. They were almost completely shut down beyond that. Even without defensive ends Justin Foster and Xavier Thomas, the Tigers’ defensive line looked improved. They may not quite be the Power Rangers, but they could be nearly as dominant. KJ Henry played like a starter for a championship team. Freshmen Myles Murphy (2 sacks) and Bryan Bresee (0.5 sack, 1 blocked FG) made a splash in their first game. Wake Forest doesn’t have a particularly strong offensive line, but it is hard to not be encouraged by Clemson’s defensive line play.

Reversal of Fortunes in Kicking Game: BT Potter 3/3, Nick Sciba 2/4

Clemson kicker BT Potter was just 13 for 21 last year, but he started off 2020 on the right foot. He made all three of his field goal attempts (including a 52-yarder that may have been good from 70) and four extra points. Wake Forest’s Nick Sciba was an outstanding 24 for 25 last season but missed two in this contest (one was blocked). If Potter can maintain that consistency (the leg strength is undeniable), the Tigers will be even tougher to keep off the scoreboard.

Notre Dame Struggles to Put Away Chase Brice and Duke Blue Devils, 27-13

I highlight the Duke at Notre Dame game for two reasons. Firstly, Clemson-turned-Duke quarterback Chase Brice looked sharp. He finished with 259 passing yards and one rushing TD despite being outmanned by the opposing Fighting Irish. Secondly, although the Irish’s defense looked stout, the offense was shaky. Perhaps it was just a matter of knocking off the rust after a weird off-season. Nevertheless, scoring just 27 points (with starters playing the whole game) in a home game against Duke isn’t too impressive. QB Ian Book is back along with all five primary starters along the offensive line, but they are replacing a bevy of skill position players (most notably WR Chase Claypool and TE Cole Kmet). Again, it could just be a matter of shaking the rust off, but if this is what their offense looks like in November then Clemson’s trip to South Bend may be less dangerous than expected.

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