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Clemson vs. Wake Forest prediction, pick and odds as the Tigers and Demon Deacons face off in Death Valley. Matt Hayes gives us his pick for this ACC game

Clemson vs. Wake Forest Prediction: Clemson The Favorite Against ACC-Leading Wake Forest

Spread: Clemson -3.5

Total: 55.5

Game time: Saturday, 12:00 p.m. ET

Where to Watch: ESPN

Clemson vs. Wake Forest odds

Clemson vs. Wake Forest Prediction - Out of the tunnel

We’re more than two months into the season, and the lack of respect continues to swirl around the Wake Forest program.

The Deacons are No.2 in the nation in scoring offense, averaging 45 points per game. No team has stopped their RPO-based offense, and no one has come close to figuring out how to pressure QB Sam Hartman or get him off his mark during a remarkable season.

Yet here we are, with Wake Forest traveling to Clemson as a touchdown underdog. Think about that for a moment.

A Clemson team that’s a shadow of its former championship self, that can’t score points and struggles to string together first downs, is a touchdown favorite. In Wake Forest’s only loss this season, the Deacons scored 55 points against North Carolina.

Wake has four receivers who average at least 15 yards per catch, and three running backs (and Hartman) who have combined for more than 1,800 yards and 25 TDs. Yet we’re to believe Clemson, which is averaging 21.1 ppg., in ACC games; whose quarterback (DJ Uiagalelei) is completing 54 percent of his passes and has a TD/INT ratio of 8/7, is going to score enough points to beat Wake Forest?

Maybe it’s all about the Clemson defense, which has given up only 18 TDs all season and is giving up a paltry 15.3 points per game.

Then again, this is one of those rare games when nothing seems right about the line – and then it plays out exactly like it should.

Wake Forest Prediction - When Wake Forest has the ball

Think LSU, circa 2019. Seriously.

While Wake doesn’t have the NFL talent that LSU had in 2019, the efficiency with which it runs the RPO offense is scarily similar. The system is based on the offense's ability to make linebackers and safeties commit – and moving the play opposite of the decision. All in a matter of 1 or 1.5 seconds.

The quarterback is the key to everything. Hartman, like LSU’s Joe Burrow in 2019 (again, not at the same NFL level), is making nearly every right read. The only difference between Burrow and Hartman: accuracy.

Hartman is barely at 60 percent; Burrow was in the high 70s.

Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson has added a wrinkle to the system, too: Hartman rides the mesh point on the zone read longer before making a decision, causing more confusion in coverage. The Deacs can do this because their offensive line controls the point of attack, and defenses can’t commit so quickly to the run – because the ball then goes over the top if/when they do.

Wake has 30 plays of 30-plus yards, 20 plays of 40-plus yards, 8 plays of 50-plus, and 6 plays of 60-plus. And for good measure: 3 plays of 70-plus.

WRs A.T. Perry (19.5 ypc., 11 TD), Jaquarii Roberson (16.9 ypc., 8 TD) will stress Clemson’s ability to cover the deep ball, and RBs Christian Beal-Smith (533 yards, 7 TD) and Justice Ellison (477 yards, 6 TD) are hard runners who have the ability to break explosion plays.

The Clemson defense will do what others have tried and failed: disrupt the offense at the point of attack by hurrying decisions and breaking the mesh point with an active and aggressive front seven that has kept the Tigers in every game this season.

Clemson Preview - When Clemson has the ball

In a word: brutal. It’s the worst offense Clemson coach Dabo Swinney has put on the field since he took over as interim coach in 2008.

The easy finger to point is at Uiagalelei, who hasn’t played well and isn’t remotely close to what Clemson was used to with the trio of Tajh Boyd, Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence. But understand this: Uiagalelei is the same guy who threw for more than 400 yards at Notre Dame last season when Lawrence missed the game because of Covid.

The Clemson offensive line is a mess, a patchwork of players that aren’t close to what the Tigers have had in the past. They’re not run blocking like they have in the past (and there’s no Travis Etienne or Wayne Gallman at tailback, either), and the pass protection has been shaky at best.

The Tigers are struggling to run the ball and protect, and the blame shifts directly to Uiagalelei, who is having a “poor season.” It’s laughable, really.

Uiagalelei is the same talent he was last season, and offensive coordinator Tony Elliott is the same coach/play caller who developed those elite offenses of the past. The players around the quarterback, though, are different and it has impacted Uiagalelei ‘s growth -- and stunted the offense.

Uiagalelei bails too quickly on his reads, and his mechanics are a mess because he’s constantly dodging the rush. Clemson is averaging a measly 4.2 yards per carry. To put that in perspective: in 2019, Clemson averaged 6.4 yards per carry.

Clemson vs. Wake Forest - The bottom line

To believe Clemson will win this game is to believe the Tigers’ defense will dominate the Wake Forest offense like no one has this season.

The best offense Clemson has faced this season is Pittsburgh, and the Tigers gave up 27 points in a 27-17 loss. The Panthers are currently fourth in the nation in scoring offense (43.5 ppg.).

If that’s your comparison, and Clemson can hold Wake Forest to 27 points, it’s on the Clemson offense to beat that number.

Clemson vs. Wake Forest Pick

Prediction: Wake Forest, 30-26

Pick: Wake Forest +3.5 @ -108


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