"I thought we had a great opportunity and we didn't take advantage of it. We talked all week about if we had any shot at Clemson we had to play four quarters of football, and I think our kids took it to heart. I don't think we could have played any harder than we did today."
- Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe following his team's 31-28 loss Saturday afternoon at Clemson
Wake Forest had the Atlantic Coast Conference's Atlantic Division in the palm of its hand Saturday afternoon in Death Valley as it held a two-touchdown advantage in the third quarter, but Clemson rallied for 17 unanswered points down the stretch, climaxed by a Chandler Catanzaro field goal as time expired, that won the game 31-28 for the Tigers.
The Demon Deacons, in losing its third straight contest, once again had every opportunity to come out on top, just as they did last week at home against Notre Dame. But they were unable to capitalize on several errors by Clemson, and they were unable to make any key plays down the stretch as the Tigers were in the midst of their late rally. The Tigers quickly scored after falling behind 28-14 to pull within one touchdown, and then they tied it late in the fourth quarter before Catanzaro's dramatic game-winner.
The heartbreaking loss for the Demon Deacons eliminates their chances of winning the ACC for a second time in six seasons, but they still have a chance to produce a winning record and play in a bowl game if they can find success in their final two home games in the coming weekends.
QB: Tanner PriceClick Here to view this Link.: While it wasn't his most spectacular game statistically as a Wake Forest player, the sophmore signal-caller did just about everything he could have done to put the Demon Deacons in position to win. He didn't throw any interceptions while completing just under 65 percent of his passes. He was outstanding on third down, helping the Demon Deacons convert half its third down conversions in the game, and he threw a touchdown while only getting sacked once at the very end. This one certainly will sting for Price, but the young quarterback continues to get better, and he's learning with each passing game what it takes to be a consistent winner.
Honorable Mention: LB: Kyle Wilber: Wilbur was the top performer on a Wake Forest defense that was in position to make a lot of big plays against the Tigers, but wound up giving up a ton of yardage. Nonetheless it was a big day for the Wake senior defender, as he racked up a game-high 13 tackles, along with one tackle for loss and one quarterback hurry. Wilbur made several big tackles in run support over the course of the game.
WAKE COMES TO PLAY EARLY
Wake Forest showed from the outset that it wasn't intimidated by the surroundings at Death Valley, and even after Merrill Noel nearly recorded a safety against his team with a shocking change-of-course opening kickoff return, the Demon Deacons marched into Clemson territory on its opening drive. Although Wake failed to score, the early drive sent a message that they had come to battle the Atlantic Division-leading Tigers.
Clemson marched down the field and scored to take a 7-0 lead, but the Demon Deacons came right back and counter-punched the home team. Campanaro made a couple of key grabs to set up a series of rushes by Price. The Wake quarterback then found senior Danny Dembry over the middle to put the Deacons inside the Clemson 5, and tight end Cameron Ford made a leaping grab towards the back of the end zone to tie the game with under a minute left in the first quarter. In all, Price completed seven of his first 10 passes and six of seven attempts on the scoring march.
After Wake Forest failed to capitalize on Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd's first interception the Tigers marched 80 yards to take a 14-7 lead---the lead they would take into the locker rooms for halftime. Wake Forest had a chance to score just prior to the half, but a costly 13-yard loss on a lateral pass to Pendergrass pushed back Jimmy Newman's field goal attempt to 47 yards, which he missed.
THIRD QUARTER SURGE
Trailing by a touchdown heading into the second half, Wake Forest came out charged up in the third quarter. The defense made several big plays and both the offense and special teams brought it all together at key moments that resulted in a flurry of points for the visitors from Winston-Salem.
It didn't start quite so hot, as the Deacons were stuffed on a fourth down play in which head coach Jim Grobe challenged the spot but was unable to get the ruling changed to his team's favor. But then the ball was punted to Campanaro, who toed the line along the right sideline but managed to stay in bounds for a touchdown that totally changed the momentum of the game.
Over the next five minutes Wake Forest would score twice more, both coming courtesy of the running back having his best game yet in the Old Gold and Black. The Deacons recovered an Andre Ellington fumble, and Pendergrass broke free from 19 yards out to give Wake Forest a 21-14 lead. Then Josh Bush recorded an interception, his third in two games, and the Deacons were able to again find paydirt.
Again it was Pendergrass, who found a running lane between right tackle and guard and raced untouched to the goal line for a stunning touchdown. Remarkably, Wake Forest had scored 21 points in just four minutes and fourteen seconds. That, combined with the news that Clemson freshman star receiver Sammy Watkins was out for the game, put a brief pall over the spectators in Memorial Stadium.
SO MANY MISSED CHANCES
Although Wake Forest led 28-14 in the third quarter and would have multiple chances in the fourth quarter to win, this game will go down to haunt the team in the number of missed opportunities in terms of possible big plays by the defense. Twice there were sure interceptions dropped---one by Bush and another by Riley Haynes---but fortunately those were soon followed on those same drives by picks courtesy of Zach Thompson and Bush.
But there was also the interception that linebacker Mike Olson just missed that could have led to points just before halftime for the Demon Deacons, and there was another that was just missed by Wake in the second half. Any one of these possible interceptions could have gotten the Deacons over the hump, but unfortunately it wasn't to be.
The missed chances by the defense doesn't even get into the missed opportunities in the kicking game by the Deacons. One of the big misses wasn't completely the fault of Newman---the setback in the first half. Had Wake been able to get a little bit closer, Newman might have had a better chance to convert. Newman's missed 32-yard attempt with 8:45 to play was one that he honestly should have made, but it certainly wasn't the sole thing that kept Wake from winning. It was just one of a series of lost chances that contributed to Wake coming up barely on the wrong side of the score.
Clemson was able to do a lot of what it wanted to do offensively against Wake Forest. At least that's what the statistics say. The Tigers racked up well over 500 total offensive yards, including nearly 350 through the air and 179 yards on the ground. Boyd wasn't hitting his mark a lot of the time---we've already gotten into all the missed chances for interceptions---but Clemson was able to slice its way through the Demon Deacons at times.
Over the next week in practice Wake really needs to work on improving not only its ability to get a consistent pass rush on the quarterback, but also in finding a better way to establish itself along the line of scrimmage. Although the Deacons didn't get dominated up front, the Tigers were able to punch holes in the Wake front where they needed to open up space for their athletic ball carriers.
Maryland tries to spread opposing defenses out in a fashion not entirely unlike Clemson, and while they're not as talented, the Terrapins will surely see things on film from this game out of Wake's defense that they'll try to exploit.
The challenge for the Demon Deacon defenders over the next several days will be to overcome and let go of what happened Saturday in Death Valley, while also knowing that there's still plenty of time and opportunity to get better. While they struggled at times against the Tigers, they made enough plays to give a very good opponent everything they could handle on their home field, and the sledding should be a little more downhill over the next couple of weeks against Maryland and Vanderbilt compared to two of the more athletically-gifted teams in the country in Notre Dame and Clemson.
TWO FOR A BOWL
While Saturday's loss to the Tigers is devastating in a lot of ways for Wake Forest---eliminating the team's chances of returning to the ACC championship---there's still a great deal for this team to play for over the next two weeks. The Demon Deacons have a pair of winnable home games coming up against Maryland and Vanderbilt, and wins in either one of them would make the team bowl-eligible. If Wake beats the Terrapins, regardless of what happens against Vandy, the Deacons would have a winning record in ACC regular season play at 5-3, which would improve the team's bowl prospects over other league members with lower conference marks.
Clemson was obviously a big football game, but now that it's over and gone, this Wake Forest collection of veteran and youth has to come together for a solid week of practice and take care of business next Saturday when they play Maryland. If the Demon Deacons lose for a fourth straight time in that particular ball game, one would then be able to argue that the team doesn't necessarily deserve a bowl berth at all. But anybody who has seen the heart this Wake Forest team has played with against teams like Syracuse and Clemson---only to fall ever-so-slightly on the wrong end---knows that they're worthy of playing in the postseason.
Despite everything that's happened the last couple of weeks, Wake Forest controls its postseason fate. Now they just have to go out and execute over the next two weeks to secure that opportunity for this deserving group of outgoing Demon Deacon seniors. The younger players owe it to their older teammates to work their butts off in practice the next couple of weeks to make sure they're ready for the Terrapins and Commodores.
Saturday, November 19 vs. Maryland at BB&T Field, 3:00 pm (Raycom Network).