Matt Connolly

5 things we learned from Clemson’s win against Wake Forest

A look back at what we learned from Clemson football’s 28-14 victory Saturday against Wake Forest before the Tigers travel to Syracuse:

Clemson is committed to playing a ton of guys

Clemson’s coaching staff is committed to building depth and is giving its young players plenty of opportunities for playing time. The Tigers don’t try to build a big lead and then turn to reserves. Clemson rotates its backups in early on in the game. In the first quarter of Saturday’s win over Wake Forest, all four Clemson running backs received a carry. Kelly Bryant also had eight intended receivers in the first quarter, including freshmen Tee Higgins and Amari Rodgers and third-teamer T.J. Chase.

“That’s the only way we’re going to continue to mature and develop this team and develop our depth,” Tigers coach Dabo Swinney said. “We played a bunch of guys in critical situations.”

Starting defense wants more from backups

Clemson shut out Wake Forest for three quarters on Saturday, but the Demon Deacons scored a pair of touchdowns in the fourth quarter after the Tigers built a 28-0 lead. Wake Forest’s touchdowns came against mostly Clemson’s backup defenders, and the starters were not happy with the play of the reserves.

“We were upset when they scored. There should be no drop-off no matter who’s in the game,” Clemson defensive end Austin Bryant said. “Me, Christian (Wilkins), Clelin (Ferrell), Dexter (Lawrence), all the starters were upset. There shouldn’t be any change when somebody else goes into the game because we all hold each other to a standard. ... That wasn’t our best. We need to clean that up.”

Hunter Johnson looks more ready than Zerrick Cooper

If Kelly Bryant is unable to play against Syracuse or misses time later in the year, Hunter Johnson could be Bryant’s replacement instead of Zerrick Cooper. Johnson was 5-for-5 passing for 42 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown pass to tight end Cannon Smith. Cooper struggled with his accuracy, completing 2 of 6 passes for 16 yards. He severely under-threw a wide open Deon Cain in the fourth quarter on a play that should have been a touchdown.

“I’m happy for Hunter to get some success. He was good in there,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “It was good for those guys to go in there and it just shows that they’ve got to be ready and a further illustration for coach (Brandon) Streeter to be able to tell them that they’ve got to be ready. You never know and you’re just one ankle turn away from being in the game.”

It was just one game and a limited sample size, but Johnson could be the No. 2 quarterback moving forward.

Clemson is owning teams in the red-zone

Clemson went into the offseason wanting to clean up its red-zone offense and it appears the Tigers have done so. Through six games Clemson has reached the red-zone 20 times and has scored points 19 times. The Tigers have scored touchdowns on 17 of 20 red-zone trips. For comparison, Clemson has allowed its opponents to reach the red-zone 13 times. The Tigers have surrendered nine scores and only six of the 13 drives have ended in touchdowns. Clemson had three red-zone trips against Wake Forest and scored three touchdowns. The Demon Deacons scored on only two of their four trips inside the 20.

Players are noticing students leaving early

Swinney challenged Clemson fans to create the best environment of the season and stay the entire game against Wake Forest, but the noise level and intensity were nowhere near what they were for the Auburn game. The hill also had several areas with noticeable gaps in the second half, and midway through the fourth quarter there were holes in the bleachers in the student section as well. Clemson players, including linebacker Dorian O’Daniel, took notice.

“If I’m being honest, I feel like us being such a program that’s been very successful in previous years, I feel like people expect us to blow everyone out. And that’s not the case,” O’Daniel said. “Teams practice hard just like we do. And we’re a target. Whenever people play us, they’re going to bring their A-game because if they beat the defending national champion, their season’s made. .... They just expect blowouts every game and they have to understand that teams are going to play hard. We’re not going to blow everybody out.”