No. 4 Clemson will host Wofford and head coach Josh Conklin at 4 p.m. Saturday (ACC Network) at Memorial Stadium in Clemson. Conklin was the defensive coordinator at Pitt when the Panthers upset Clemson and handed the Tigers their most recent home loss in 2016. Clemson has won 20 consecutive home games since then and has never lost to Wofford at home.
Here are our top five questions heading into the game:
1. Will Clemson get off to a fast start?
It is common for teams that are huge favorites to “go through the motions” when playing a lesser opponent. It is hard to get emotionally ready for every game in college football, particularly when you are a huge favorite. Clemson has excelled at being ready for every opponent under Dabo Swinney and playing to a standard week in and week out, whether the Tigers are facing Alabama or an FCS opponent such as Wofford. Last year’s group had no problem playing well as a huge favorite in every game, but it’s a different kind of challenge this year as this is one of the youngest teams Swinney has had. The Tigers would like to start fast against a physically overmatched Wofford team, particularly after the Tigers had slow starts earlier this season against North Carolina and Louisville.
2. Will Wofford’s option offense give Clemson any trouble?
The Terriers run a triple-option offense, usually out of the shotgun. They have several different formations that are designed to keep defenses from settling in. “Their scheme kind of neutralizes you a little bit and is advantageous in games like this,” Swinney said.
One of the top contenders in college football last season had its share of struggles against an FCS opponent running an option offense as Alabama was tied with The Citadel at the half before pulling away in the final two quarters. Clemson has more experience playing option teams than Alabama, as the Tigers faced Georgia Tech and its option attack every year until Paul Johnson left after the 2018 season. Still, there’s a history of option teams giving some of the top contenders in college football some issues. Oklahoma needed overtime to beat Army last season.
3. Can Clemson record its first shutout of the season?
Clemson’s defense has been stellar this year, ranking No. 4 nationally in total defense and No. 6 in scoring defense. But the one thing the Tigers have yet to do is record a shutout. Clemson has held five opponents to 10 points or less, including holding Boston College to seven points last week. But what the Tigers really want to do is hold a team scoreless for four quarters.
“What I want is a shutout,” Clemson safety K’Von Wallace said. “I want to actually beat a team badly, like dominate them from the beginning whistle to the last whistle. And in order to do that we have to dominate each and every snap and we have to tackle well each and every play.”
4. Can Clemson continue its record-breaking pace?
Through eight games Clemson has yet to allow an opponent to reach 300 yards of offense. The Tigers had not held eight consecutive opponents to under 300 total yards since 1956 before this current stretch. Offensively, Clemson is averaging 254 rushing yards and 272 passing yards per game. The Tigers have never averaged 250-plus rushing yards and 250-plus passing yards in the same season in school history. Clemson and Oklahoma are the only teams in the country averaging at least 250 yards in both categories this year.
“And you’ve got a lot of these games where these fourth quarters have gotten away and we could easily skew the stats even more than what they are,” Swinney said. “But we play a lot of guys. That’s part of developing our team.”
5. How many players will Clemson play?
Speaking of playing a lot of guys, Swinney loves to get as many players as possible into games. The Tigers played a school-record 111 players earlier this year against Charlotte and may try to top that number on Saturday. The one thing that could keep that from happening is the fact that Clemson is a little banged up. Defensive end Xavier Thomas is expected to be available, but Clemson would like to hold him out for one more game as he recovers from a concussion that has sidelined him the previous two weeks. Backup defensive tackle Xavier Kelly is also available but will likely be held out with an AC joint sprain. Safety Denzel Johnson will miss the game with a bruised shoulder.
Prediction: Clemson seems to be hitting its stride after playing its best game of the season last week against Boston College, and Wofford has bigger goals ahead, which means it will likely pull its starters if the game starts getting out of hand quickly. Wofford has a really good FCS program and the Terriers will make a few plays. But don’t expect a scare like Alabama had last year against The Citadel.
Pick: Clemson 63, Wofford 10