Who didn’t see this one coming? Correct answer: absolutely no one, almost.
Heading into the 2017 season, defending national champion Clemson and Florida State were the overwhelming picks to win the ACC Atlantic and the conference championship. Not only that, but they were viewed as the league’s only realistic shot at a return to the College Football Playoffs.
With the seventh week of the season almost entirely in the books, and thanks in large part to Clemson spitting the bit Friday night, it’s North Carolina State that’s seated somewhat comfortably in the divisional driver’s seat following an impressive 35-17 win at Pitt.
If the Wolfpack is to win its first-ever divisional its and its first conference championship since 1979, however, they still have a couple of hurdles to clear.
While they’ve already knocked off Florida State and Louisville, they still have to face Clemson. The good news on that front, though, is that the Wolfpack gets the Tigers at home. Their other three conference opponents, Boston College, North Carolina and Wake Forest, are at the moment a combined 2-8 in ACC play.
Whether Clemson has its offensive leader in Week 7 remains decidedly up in the air.
In the third quarter of No. 2 Clemson’s win over Wake Forest Saturday, starting quarterback Kelly Bryant went down with what was later confirmed as an injured left ankle. In meeting with the media after the win, Bryant wouldn’t commit to playing in Friday’s game against Syracuse in the Carrier Dome, intimating that he’ll have to see how the ankle responds to treatment before making that determination.
“I just got hit high and got hit low and rolled my ankle so I’ll be in treatment all week to recover from it,” the junior said according to TigerNet.com.
The seriousness and extent of the injury are expected to be known at some point Sunday. For his part, head coach Dabo Swinney downplayed its seriousness.
Prior to the injury, Bryant had passed for 200 yards and a touchdown — and an interception — on 21-of-29 passing. Hunter Johnson (5-5, 42 yards, one touchdown) and Zerrick Cooper (2-6, 16 yards) split the quarterbacking duties after Bryant’s injury.
No. 2 Clemson (6-0, 4-0 ACC) kept the wins coming with a 28-14 victory in Death Valley over Wake Forest (4-2, 1-2 ACC), but the health of starting quarterback Kelly Bryant will be in the spotlight. Bryant came out of the game in the third quarter with an apparent lower-body injury that left him limping.
the hit that took Bryant out occured near the goal line, just before Clemson managed to push its lead to 21-0. Bryant remained on the field to finish the drive before being evaluated by trainers.
Zerrick Cooper was the first quarterback off the sideline to replace the injured Bryant (who had already completed 21-of-29 pass attempts for 200 yards and a score with one interception), and Hunter Johnson also got in the mix in backup duty. Johnson added a touchdown pass to help push the Clemson lead in the second half for a 28-0 lead. Clemson had score don their first two offensive possessions of the game in the first quarter, but the offense did enough to avoid a decent scare at home against Wake Fores, although Wake Forest scored a couple of touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
It was not a perfect day for Clemson, however. The Tigers lost the turnover battle with two giveaways to none, but the Tigers defense continued to lead the charge and avoided allowing Wake Forest many opportunities to do much of anything. Wake Forest was playing with backup quarterback Kendall Hinton as well, which didn’t help their cause much either.
Clemson heads up north to play Syracuse next week. For now, the Tigers are still sitting in a good spot for a second-half run to the ACC crown, although Clemson fans will keep a close eye on the status of Bryant moving forward.
Wake Forest will have next week off, which is needed after back-to-back losses against Florida State and Clemson. When they get back in action, they will be on the road against Georgia Tech, with Louisville looming after that.
Playing Clemson in Death Valley is always a tough task for any opponents, especially when you announce just prior to the game you will be doing so without your starting quarterback. Wake Forest quickly dug itself a 14-0 hole after Clemson scored on their first two drives, but a missed field goal and a lost fumble have allowed Wake Forest to at least hang around a little bit.
Clemson leads Wake Forest 14-0 at the half and the Tigers are hoping to get the offense going again in the second half. Kelly Bryant connected with Deon Cain for a 28-yard score on the opening drive of the game for a quick 7-0 lead just two minutes in, and Adam Choice finished off a 12-play drive with a four-yard touchdown on the next possession. Wake Forest had missed a 34-yard field goal in between the Clemson touchdown drives and the Demon Deacons punted after a three-and-out on their next opportunity.
Wake Forest has held down Clemson for the most part since then but a lack of offense against this Clemson defense is a tall order. Wake Forest had just 82 yards of offense with three minutes to play in the half, and just three first downs to Clemson’s 16. Wake Forest is 0-for-5 on third down.
Even coming off one of its best starts to a season in years, Wake Forest was facing an uphill climb against second-ranked Clemson. Just before kickoff, that climb got a lot tougher.
The Demon Deacons announced just prior to the start of today’s game with the Tigers in Death Valley that starting quarterback John Wolford will be sidelined because of an unspecified injury. In his place, sophomore Kendall Hinton will make his fourth career start.
The football program did say that Wolford would be available in an emergency.
Through the first month of the season, Wolford is fifth in the ACC and 33rd in the country in pass efficiency (152.1). He’s thrown just one interception in his 117 pass attempts.
Hinton has completed 11-of-13 passes this season for 179 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
As of this posting, Wake’s offense is doing very little against Clemson’s talented defense as the defending national champions hold a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.