Clemson remains in the hunt for a seventh-straight ACC Championship after taking down No. 10 Wake Forest 48-27 on Saturday in Death Valley. The win marked the fourth-straight victory for a Tigers team that has caught its stride in the late stages of the season, leaving the door open for a strong finish that seemed unlikely when the team was 4-3 with a couple of conference losses back in late October.
The victory over the Demon Deacons was also the best performance of the season for a Tigers offense that entered the game ranked last in the ACC in yards per game and 12th in scoring offense at 24.4 points per game. But there's no cure for what ails an offense quite like Wake Forest's defense. The Tigers totaled 543 yards with much of that coming on the ground. The one-two punch of Will Shipley (112 yards, 2 TDs) and Kobe Pace (191 yards, 2 TDs) at running back dominated the day, and Shipley even got on the board with a touchdown pass thanks this jump-toss to Davis Allen.
While quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei was not able to connect with receivers as consistently as Clemson would prefer -- he was 11-of-19 passing for 208 yards, a TD and a pick -- he still displayed the escapability and strength that made him such an impressive prospect at the quarterback position. In the first quarter when Clemson held just a 3-0 lead, Wake Forest thought it had Uiagalalei down for a key sack twice only to have the quarterback break free and make a deep throw to Beaux Collins for a 52-yard gain that set up the first touchdown of the day.
Uiagalelei would connect with Collins again later in the first half for one of the best catches we might see all day. The Tigers freshman pulled in the deep third down pass from his former high school teammate with one hand while a defender was tight in coverage. Once the completion was secured, Collins hit the gas and pulled away from the Wake Forest defender 30 more yards for a touchdown.
The loss is not devastating to Wake Forest's efforts of clinching the ACC Atlantic Division for the first time since winning the conference championship in 2006. While their status as a top-25 team will be called into question following the second loss in three games, the Demon Deacons remain in first place in the division with just one ACC loss. Up next is the season finale at Boston College, which lost 26-24 to Florida State on Saturday.
So here's how the rest will play out. The ACC Atlantic Division will come down to Wake Forest, NC State and Clemson, and the Tigers have completed their conference schedule with a 6-2 record. One on hand, it's nice that Clemson is done and all the pressure is on the other teams trying to win a non-Clemson, non-Florida State Atlantic Division title for the first time since 2008. But any path to the ACC Championship Game starts with Boston College knocking off Wake Forest to leave the Demon Deacons at 6-2 in league play as well.
Clemson also needs NC State to lose one of its final two ACC games of the season, either on Saturday against Syracuse or next Friday against North Carolina. If Wake Forest and Clemson are tied at 6-2, the Tigers win the division thanks to their head-to-head win this week. If Wake Forest, Clemson and NC State are all tied at 6-2 after two more Wolfpack wins, the three-way tiebreaker scenarios work against both the Tigers (which have a head-to-head loss to the Wolfpack) and the Demon Deacons (which will have the worst winning percentage against division opponents of the three).