Clemson faces dangerous test at Wake Forest

Published Oct. 24, 2012 8:09 a.m. ET

Just ask Florida State about the dangers of playing at Wake Forest.

The Seminoles and all of their Florida four and five-star talent couldn’t escape Winston-Salem last season with a victory despite having a superior squad on paper. That’s just the way Jim Grobe’s Demon Deacons roll sometimes. 

Wake is rarely more talented than its opposition, but he’s won more than half of his games there over the last decade following a half-century where Wake may have been the worst major program in the nation. 

Among the victims since Grobe arrived has been FSU three times and Clemson three times. The Tigers have also escaped with some very narrow victories, such as last season’s 31-28 triumph at Death Valley after Wake controlled most of the contest.

And there is also Clemson’s last trip to Wake on a Thursday night whenTommy Bowden was still the head coach. The Tigers couldn’t move the ball that night and fell, 12-7. Three days later, Bowden had been replaced by then-interim head coach Dabo Swinney, who is now fully entrenched as the Tigers’ head man.  

“It was a nightmare. I remember it well,” Swinney said Monday at his weekly press conference. “We just couldn’t do anything right. Oh my goodness, it was a long night and long trip back.”

Those Demon Deacons were more potent than the team that will take the field Thursday night. Ever since wide receiver Michael Campanaro broke his hand in a September home loss to Duke, the Deacs have struggled mightily. Campanaro is that good, and too often Wake’s margin for error or injury just isn’t very extensive. 

But word out of Wake on Tuesday is that the junior may play Thursday. He is practicing this week and Grobe noted during his weekly press conference Tuesday morning No. 3 could be available. 

The difference in quarterback Tanner Price without Campanaro available and with him on the field is considerable. He completed just 7 of 19 pass attempts for 102 yards in a win at Virginia last weekend, and in the three games without Campanaro, Price is 39-for-95. With a healthy Campanaro, Price was 66-112.

That’s why Clemson can’t mess around. It must pounce on the Demon Deacons early. It can’t let its spirited base become a factor, and it can’t give Grobe an opportunity to exercise his masterful psychology skills on his team. The man is a near-genius at getting undermanned teams to believe and perform near their highest possible levels, especially in situations such as Thursday’s opportunity. 

“We say it every year that they’re as well-coached a team as there is in the country,” Swinney said. “Coach Grobe and his entire staff do a phenomenal job giving their guys a chance to win every single week. We’ll have to play well.”

Also consider the Clemson factor. 

If the Tigers didn’t have last year’s self-destruction at N.C. State on their resume the concern among its faithful heading into Thursday might not be so great. But a more desperate Wolfpack team that entered the game reeling last November put a whipping on Swinney’s club. The sting from that debacle will remain until the Tigers can make amends when NCSU visits on Nov. 17

But it must serve as a reminder of what mid-level ACC teams can make happen at home and the depths Clemson has sunk before. On a given night, both can cross paths creating the storm that occurred in Raleigh last season. Raise that possibility a tad more being a road game during a short week. 

Clemson’s history in short weeks doesn’t offer reason for much optimism, either.

“Well, we’re 1-9 on Thursday nights,” Swinney said. “We’ve got to live with that. You have to take the good with the bad when you’re dealing with the history of a program.”

History won’t matter if Tajh Boyd and company take care of business. Clemson is significantly better than Wake Forest, and the objective is to make that stand up, or otherwise deal with the consequences.