Clemson-Wake Forest Preview
Injured freshman Deshaun Watson is healthy enough to resume his starting role under center in Clemson's offense.
But that doesn't necessarily mean he'll return Thursday night for the No. 19 Tigers, who look to record a sixth straight victory and continue their dominance over host Wake Forest.
Watson, who took over the starting quarterback job after he replaced ineffective senior Cole Stoudt in a 23-17 overtime loss at then-No. 1 Florida State on Sept. 20, has been out since he broke a finger on his throwing hand in a 23-17 home victory over Louisville on Oct. 11.
Though coach Dabo Swinney originally targeted Nov. 15 at Georgia Tech as the most likely return date for Watson, he said Tuesday that his QB's condition improved greatly during Clemson's bye week, that he threw the ball strongly and was ready to play should the Tigers need him.
''It'll probably be the most watched pregame warmup we have,'' Swinney said. ''He really looks good.''
The Tigers (6-2, 5-1 ACC) continued to win minus Watson, who has completed 67.0 percent of his passes for 1,176 yards with 12 touchdowns and two interceptions. However, the offense totaled 33 points in the last two games with Stoudt back under center.
Since stepping in for Watson against the Cardinals, Stoudt has averaged just 5.81 yards per attempt - nearly five fewer than Watson's 10.5 - with one touchdown and three picks. He threw two of those interceptions and lost a fumble in a 16-6 win over Syracuse on Oct. 25.
Freshman back Wayne Gallman, however, delivered a boost by rushing 28 times for a season-high 101 yards.
''We keep finding ways,'' said Swinney, whose team also has been hit with injuries in the backfield, on the offensive line and within the receiver corps.
''This is a battle-tested group. They're tough-minded.''
They've been paced by a defense that's yielded 36 points over the last four games and ranks second nationally in average yards allowed (268.6) and 10th in points allowed (18.3).
That unit, which held Syracuse to two first-half field goals and 170 total yards, doesn't seem too concerned with the offense's recent lack of production.
''There's no frustration. There's nothing to be frustrated about,'' defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said. ''We know what our job is and we want to do it in all situations.''
Clemson has won five in a row over Wake Forest (2-6, 0-4), including two straight in Winston-Salem by a combined 72-23 score.
Aside from a 31-28 home victory over the Demon Deacons in 2011, the Tigers have given up 33 points while winning the other four by at least 20. Clemson's 39.4 scoring average over those five was boosted by a 56-7 rout in 2013.
None of that bodes well for the Demon Deacons, who rank last among the 125 FBS schools in total offense (213.5) and rushing (34.5), and 122nd in scoring (14.8 ppg). They've been outscored 116-37 during a four-game slide, but showed some fight by nearly recovering from a 17-0 halftime deficit in a 23-17 home loss to Boston College on Oct. 25.
"We're learning some painful lessons," first-year coach Dave Clawson said.
"We've got a lot of things to clean up. We're early in this process and if we can establish effort as a starting point then we are headed in the right direction."
Freshman John Wolford went 22 of 30 for 242 yards against Boston College, but has thrown one TD and six INTs in the last four contests. Wolford has been sacked 29 times this season, tied for fifth-most in the FBS.
Clemson's 28 sacks are tied for 10th.
Wake has lost 10 in a row against ranked opponents since a 35-30 home victory over No. 23 Florida State on Oct. 8, 2011.