Clemson enters SC week back in a groove after routing Wake
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) Clemson's offense clicked with enough precision to build a huge lead. The defense got back on track after a rather leaky loss.
The No. 4 Tigers sure seem like they're back to playing like the Atlantic Coast Conference's top national title contender.
Just in time for the playoff push to really get serious.
Clemson (10-1, 7-1) wrapped up its conference schedule by claiming the Atlantic Division title and the spot in the ACC title game that comes with it, beating Wake Forest 35-13 after scoring touchdowns the first four times it touched the ball.
''A very, very good, complete football game,'' coach Dabo Swinney said.
They celebrated with a trophy in the locker room after the game - hoping it was the first in a series of such celebrations over the coming weeks that they can repeat.
They face South Carolina in what they call their state championship next week, then will play either Virginia Tech or North Carolina on Dec. 3 in the ACC title game. Clemson won both of those games last year on its way to the College Football Playoff.
''It's hard to be the champs,'' quarterback Deshaun Watson said. ''It's hard to constantly be winning, go back to back. We're going to celebrate it (Saturday night and Sunday) and then move on from it and get ready for the state championship.''
The victory over Wake Forest started out with precisely the kind of performance expected of a team coming off an appearance in the national championship game and featuring a Heisman Trophy finalist. It came two nights after division rival Louisville and Heisman contender Lamar Jackson effectively played themselves out of the playoff picture with that blowout loss at Houston.
Clemson has spent all year in the top five, but it hasn't always been a smooth ride , with five wins decided by a touchdown or less.
The Tigers won a thriller at home against Louisville , then sidestepped an upset bid by North Carolina State - which shanked a chip shot field goal on the final play of regulation - and won in overtime, before claiming a dramatic victory over Florida State .
It caught up with the Tigers last week when they allowed 464 total yards - and a season-worst 308 through the air - to Pittsburgh, which won on a field goal in the final seconds.
Neither the voters nor the selection committee punished them too harshly, though, keeping them in the top five of the polls and in the top four in the playoff rankings. But for a week there was a lingering dilemma about whether Louisville deserved to jump them.
Nobody's having that conversation anymore, not after Louisville's loss. And not after Clemson got back to basics during the week and then took out any lingering frustrations on the Demon Deacons in the game's first 15-plus minutes. The defense, gashed by Pitt the previous week, held Wake Forest to 197 total yards.
''That's what we wanted to do was start fast and make sure we caught Wake Forest just a little bit, push them back and put the pressure on them,'' Watson said. ''And we just handled our business.''
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