With division title at stake, No. 5 Clemson visits Wake
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) looks to throw a pass during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Pittsburgh on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016, in Clemson, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
One loss didn't really cost No. 5 Clemson a shot at the national title. A second one won't be as forgiving.
The Tigers (9-1, 6-1 ACC, No. 4 CFP) are still in control of the league's Atlantic Division, and remained in the top four of the College Football Playoff rankings – even after Pittsburgh beat them last week.
A loss at Wake Forest (6-4, 3-3) on Saturday night, though, would change everything.
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Quarterback Deshaun Watson called that one-point loss to Pitt ''a good learning lesson'' before pointing out that it's something they know they can't afford to experience again.
''I haven't had too many losses, especially in college,'' Watson said. ''It's new around here. But you live and you learn. You're going to take losses at some point in your life. Everyone's not perfect. There's no one that's playing football right now that's completely undefeated, regardless if you're a player or a coach. It's a good time to learn and grow from it.''
With a win, Clemson will wrap up a share of the division title with Louisville and would earn a spot in the ACC championship game in two weeks in Orlando, Florida. A loss, and it's the Cardinals who will represent the Atlantic Division – and would move into prime position to claim one of the four playoff spots.
Wake Forest felt the potency of those Cardinals last week, and now wants to do a better job of playing the full 60 minutes against Clemson.
The Demon Deacons led Louisville and had Heisman Trophy front-runner Lamar Jackson bottled up through three quarters before the Cardinals reeled off 34 points in the fourth quarter of a 44-12 victory.
''I told the team that you battled your butt off and had everyone in the country turning the channel to see the fourth quarter of a Wake Forest football game and we didn't finish the deal,'' coach Dave Clawson said. ''What can we learn from that? I think the lesson is to beat a team of that caliber, you have to execute for four quarters. If there is any let up, a team like that makes you pain instantly and dearly.''
Some other things to know about the Clemson-Wake Forest game:
WATSON'S TENDENCIES: Watson is passing more often and throwing less frequently than he did last year when he was a Heisman finalist. The Clemson QB is averaging five more pass attempts and four fewer rushes than in 2014, though those passing numbers might be skewed by the 70 throws he made against Pitt last week. He's rushed eight times or fewer in three of his last five games.
TURNOVER MARGIN: Takeaways are always key and Wake Forest can give itself a chance at the upset by continuing to force turnovers. The Demon Deacons lead the ACC with a turnover margin of plus-9 – a marked improvement over last year, when they were minus-13 – and Watson threw three interceptions in the loss to Pitt.
DABO VS. WAKE: Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is 7-0 against the Demon Deacons and the combined score is 264-94. Wake Forest's last win in the series came in 2008 and three days after the game the Tigers parted ways with then-coach Tommy Bowden and promoted Swinney on an interim basis.
ONE WHO GOT AWAY: Keep an eye on Clemson DT Dexter Lawrence, a freshman from Wake Forest, North Carolina, who had nine tackles in the Pitt loss while also recovering a fumble and blocking two kicks. Only three other players in school history have that many blocks in one game.
AP Sports Writer Pete Iacobelli in Clemson, South Carolina, contributed to this report.
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