CLEMSON, S.C. — There wound up being an 11-point difference on the scoreboard.
Basically, this juggernaut of the ACC that is Clemson settled for a field goal and didn’t tack on a touchdown in the final minute. That’s the difference between 52-3 on Saturday at Memorial Stadium and 63-3 last season at BB&T Field when these teams have met in the past two seasons.
The difference was so much greater within those 11 points, though.
“It felt different. It might not have looked different, but it definitely felt different,” sophomore safety Nasir Greer said.
Coach Dave Clawson said earlier this week that last season’s game against Clemson was one of the few in his now-six-year tenure at Wake Forest that he felt the Deacons quit.
He said of that performance, “that tore me up, and I didn’t sleep for a few days,” that he and his staff would own the aspect of being ill-prepared for Clemson, but that Wake Forest would have to own what was on film.
They’ll own this latest onslaught, too — but Clawson didn’t come away with a similar feeling.
“It was different than a year ago. I really thought last year our kids quit, and I didn’t feel they quit today. I felt they competed,” Clawson said. “I mean — that’s the best in the country. They’ve done that to everybody in our conference other than one team, and you know, we’re not at that level yet and we’re certainly not close to that level when we’re shorthanded.”
Wake Forest (7-3, 3-3 ACC) had 105 yards of offense — about 370 under its season average. It had five first downs — about 20 under its season average.
Wake Forest did exactly what it couldn’t do in the first five and last five minutes of the first half, and that’s when Clemson scored all of the touchdowns for its 31-3 halftime lead.
This, obviously, was the worst game of the season for the Deacons. But it didn’t leave the same bitterness that came with last season’s annihilation at the hands of the No. 3 Tigers.
“Coach made that point right after the game. Just the feeling from last year to this year was totally different,” senior offensive lineman Nate Gilliam said. “We didn’t give up, we didn’t quit, regardless of what number was on the scoreboard. We just didn’t get it done.”
Clemson didn’t need things to be made easy for it — but the Tigers were happy to take advantage of two first-half interceptions thrown by Jamie Newman and of a punt that put the coverage team in a precarious situation.
Of the Tigers’ four first-half touchdowns, three started on Wake Forest’s side of the 50-yard line and took less than five plays to find the end zone.
“They’re No. 3-ranked team, and that’s just one of those games you can’t make mistakes,” senior receiver Kendall Hinton said. “You pretty much have to have a perfectly detailed game and we made errors, we had turnovers, we let them score points.”
The part that Gilliam didn’t mention and that Clawson did was who was missing for the Deacons: Sage Surratt, Justin Strnad and Luke Masterson are out for the season, and Scotty Washington was on the sideline with his right foot in a boot for the second straight week.
“I mean, I don’t think we’d have beat them (if the injured players had played). But I don’t think we’d have scored three points either, or had whatever, 40 yards passing,” Clawson said. “I mean, they’re no dummies. And when they knew what was out, I mean — that whole game, we didn’t make one play on the perimeter.”
The Deacons didn’t make many plays, period. But they were there, and they continued to be throughout.
That much is at least a launching point for these last two games in the regular season, and whatever bowl will follow.
“It was just things got out of hand, especially in the middle eighth of the game. They took off in the last four minutes of the second quarter and first four minutes of the third, that’s when the points really swung their way,” Greer said. “It looked worse than it really was.
“I mean, it looked — yeah, worse than it really was.”
Now the task becomes looking better — a lot better — in a push to sweep the Big 4 opponents at home.