CLEMSON – There was a time, not so long ago, when Wake Forest was the proverbial thorn in the Tigers’ paw, sidetracking many a promising season for the Tigers, particularly under Tommy Bowden’s watch.
The Demon Deacons upset the Tigers three times in Bowden’s final six seasons, and a 12-7 loss in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, in 2008 was Bowden’s ultimate undoing, leading to his dismissal and eventually Dabo Swinney’s new gig.
The series has taken a distinct turn in Clemson’s favor since – the Tigers are unbeaten in seven games against Wake under Swinney, winning by average margin of 38-13. But that recent domination isn’t about to put Swinney at ease about Saturday’s task of delivering an Atlantic Division title and ACC Championship Game berth.
Swinney and the Tigers are simply looking forward to playing again following last week’s one-point loss to Pittsburgh.
“The last time we lost a game we had to wait nine months (to play again),” Swinney said. “This time we get to play in less than a week. We’re excited about the opportunity to go play again and get back on track.
“There’s a lot on the line for us. We’ve got a chance to win this division. The good news is we’ve got a very good football team.”
So, too, does Wake Forest, apparently.
“They’re a much-improved team,” Swinney said. “They’ve got some cats who are long and athletic.”
Just ask Louisville. The Demon Deacons led Louisville by 12 early and by two going into the fourth quarter a couple of weeks ago at Louisville, and despite an eventual 44-12 loss, Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said he walked into a post-game locker room that believed it should have won the game.
“Sometimes when we’ve had those games, I don’t know if those kids really thought they could win. Those kids were heartbroken they didn’t win. So we’re past the moral victory stage of our program, which I think is a major step.”
The Deacons, who are 1-57 all-time against Top 10 opponents, have a chance to take another major step against No. 4 Clemson.
“Lucky us,” Clawson said. “We get another opportunity this week.”
For all intents and purposes, all of the pressure will be on Clemson. Wake Forest already is bowl bound while Clemson must win to earn a trip to Orlando, Florida, and maintain its position in the College Football Playoff rankings.
But Swinney embraces the pressure, and wants his team to do likewise.
“I was at Alabama for 13 years and this is my 14th year Clemson – I don’t know anything other than we’re supposed to win,” Swinney said. “I love that type of pressure.
“To me, there’s more pressure when you’re not really expected to win and really aren’t good enough. I like pressure of knowing you’ve got a good team and you’re expected to win. When we’ve lost, it’s not good, but we’ve always tried to get better. When we’ve lost games, we’ve responded. The world didn’t come to an end.”