Last week’s results:
No. 3 Clemson (3-0, 1-0 ACC) beat NC State 26-14.
Wake Forest (2-2, 0-1 ACC) beat Army 25-11.
Most important storylines of the week:
Can Clemson’s offense find its groove?: A year ago, Clemson’s offense ranked sixth nationally in scoring offense (41 ppg) and ninth in total offense (512.9 ypg). The offense was expected to reach similar heights this season with fifth-year senior quarterback and Heisman Trophy candidate Tajh Boyd at the controls, but it’s currently operating a notch below those levels.
Through three games, Clemson averaged 38.7 ppg (34th nationally) and 464.7 yards of total offense (45th nationally). Offensive coordinator Chad Morris said this week that Boyd was “pressing” in the offense and needed to relax and calm down. He said Boyd played much better later at N.C. State, leading a pair of late touchdown drives to put the game out of reach.
Boyd has struggled to find a game-breaking receiver with DeAndre Hopkins in the NFL; former All-American Sammy Watkins has 19 catches but averages only 12.7 yards per catch. Junior Charone Peake is done for the season with a torn ACL, and while fellow junior Martavis Bryant caught a pair of touchdowns last week, his playing time will be curtailed for what Dabo Swinney called an “inappropriate” gesture following a score.
“This week is about understanding what we’re trying to do, what they’re trying to do and taking advantage of opportunities when we have them,” Boyd said. “We have to keep working. We’re on the right path. It’s like a freight train. Once we get going, there isn’t going to be any stopping, any slowing down.”
Can the Tigers line find some continuity?: Entering this season, Clemson’s offensive line was projected as a strength; the only loss from a solid 2012 group was center Dalton Freeman, a two-time Rimington Award finalist. But while Freeman’s replacement, sophomore Ryan Norton, has been solid, the line has spent little time together. Following a season-opening win over then-No. 5 Georgia, the first string played only 22 snaps in a rout of South Carolina State.
Last week, junior right tackle Gifford Timothy was pulled with what was diagnosed as a concussion. He is questionable for this week. If he can’t go, sophomore Shaq Anthony would receive his third career start. The line needs all the time it can get together; Clemson averages 183 yards rushing per game, 62nd nationally.
Can Clemson contain Nikita Whitlock?: Wake Forest’s senior nose guard is one of the ACC’s best defensive linemen. He is coming off a standout performance at Army, where he made 14 tackles including three for loss. He shared ACC defensive lineman of the week honors with Clemson defensive end Vic Beasley.
Whitlock is an excellent run-stuffer and has a motor that never stops. Swinney won’t be sad to see him go.
“It all starts for them with Whitlock up front,” Swinney said. “I thought he was gone. I couldn’t believe he was still on the roster. I don’t think that guy will ever get out of this league.”
Time: 3:30 p.m. ET, Saturday
Place: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
Radio: Clemson and Wake Forest radio networks (regional); ESPN (national)
Spread: Clemson -28.5 via VegasInsider.com