Clemson fans finally got the DJ Uiagalelei game they’ve been waiting for, finishing with 371 passing yards and five touchdowns. You’d think that kind of day would lead to No. 21 Wake Forest exploding with the defense we’re used to seeing from the Tigers. After two overtimes and over 1,000 total rushing yards, the perennial conference champions held off the defending ACC kings, 51-45.
Demon Deacon QB Sam Hartman tallied six touchdown passes, repeatedly hitting receivers for big plays – or pass interference flags – until second overtime when hopes of an upset were dashed during a fourth uprising towards the end zone. Tiger cornerback Nate Wiggins, who had been on target all day, broke up the game-sealing pass, and Dabo Swinney’s side escaped Winston-Salem with their winning streak – now at 10 – still intact.
As heartwarming as Uiagalelei’s performance is, the defense is just as concerning. The defensive front was deprived of one of its best players, so it is not complete. Still, they’ve shown signs over the past two weeks that they may be missing coordinator Brent Venables, and now those signs are flashing bright red.
I liked Wake Forest’s chances in Saturday’s game, but my questions were more about the quarterback. Clemson has allowed more than 40 runs only five times in the past five years. Notre Dame, LSU, Ohio State and Pitt were responsible for the previous four, and now Wake Forest is on that list.
Outside of a one-game possession that drained the final 14 seconds of the first half, Wake scored on five consecutive drives from the second quarter through the fourth. Dave Clawson’s insistence on the run during the Deacs’ last chance for a score in regulation — Clemson’s only second-half stoppage — was an odd strategy given Hartman’s heat.
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To say Dabo outplayed him might not be accurate either, as his equally hot attack didn’t even have a chance to get within goal range with 49 seconds left to try and win the match. without OT and Wake’s hemorrhagic rods. (He also ran his kicker for 52 yards to tie the game with four minutes left, and his confidence was rewarded when BT Potter drilled the kick.)
The day, however, belonged to Uiagalelei. It was the exact type of command and play Clemson fans expected of him, and it came in a high-pressure situation. The 371-yard pass is the second-highest production of his career and his first game for 300+ yards since Nov. 7, 2020. The five passing scores are a career-high three touchdowns.
He made plenty of tough throws, but the toughest came on a two-run conversion in the third quarter to tie the contest at 28. Under pressure, with a Deacon clutching his leg, he found receiver Beaux Collins as he had only one foot on the ground.
Even though Wake’s defense leaves a lot to be desired — three-man forward rushes gave Uiagalelei enough time to write a memoir — it was as perfect a game as a quarterback can play.
No. 12 NC State and QB Devin Leary visit Death Valley next week, and if the Wolfpack can get past UConn, College Gameday could end up with another orange destination. The Clemson defense will have another veteran quarterback to contain, but that can be said for both teams.