The players may change over the years, but there has been one constant: Clemson usually beats Wake Forest. Starting with a 13-0 victory in Charlotte, NC back in 1933, the Tigers have dominated the all-time series against the Demon Deacons, 69-17 with one tie.
Since Dave Clawson took over as head coach, the Tigers have won eight in a row — in fact, the last time Wake Forest beat Clemson was in 2008, a fateful game that resulted in the Tigers firing their head coach and promoting little-known wide receiver coach Dabo Swinney to the interim position.
While the losses have been lopsided, there are things to learn and patterns that have been established in the Clawson vs Dabo matchups. Let’s take a look at the history of this series and see if there are any important takeaways ahead of this week’s duel.
2014: No. 19 Clemson 34, Wake Forest 20 (in Winston-Salem)
Wake Forest was 2-6 heading into this matchup, and in year one of the Dave Clawson era, it was no surprise that Clemson would win. However, the Deacs were surprisingly competitive throughout the game.
Freshman quarterback John Wolford threw a touchdown pass with one minute to go in the first quarter, giving Wake a 7-0 lead. The Deacons would keep the game close in the first half — a 50-yard Mike Weaver field goal tied the game at 17 heading into the break. Even into the fourth quarter, the Deacons had a chance to win. But Clemson went up 27-20 on a 68-yard touchdown pass with 10:53 to go, and then held Wake Forest to only 29 total yards on three drives to finish the game.
Clemson dominated the stats, outgaining the Deacs 427-119 in total yards. The reason Wake Forest stayed close was due to turnovers and a missed field goal. Ultimately, the difference was the Deacs going 0-7 on second half third down conversions and two big plays at the end — the long touchdown pass and a 30-yard scamper by Clemson RB Wayne Gallman that put the game away.
2015: No. 1 Clemson 33, Wake Forest 13 (in Clemson)
2015 was the first year Dave Clawson took a team to Death Valley. Right from the beginning, Clemson had control. With a 20-0 lead at the end of the first quarter, the undefeated Tigers were on their way to a victory. Kendall Hinton ran for a touchdown in the second quarter and threw for another in garbage time at the end of the game, but this one was all Clemson.
The notes from this game point out that Wake was coming off a difficult loss to No. 4 Notre Dame the prior week. Amidst a difficult stretch in this season, there’s little surprise the Deacs struggled against a team that wound up in the national title game.
Taking one positive from this contest, Wake Forest forced four turnovers.
2016: No. 5 Clemson 35, Wake Forest 13 (in Winston)
The first bowl team that Dave Clawson coached, once again the Deacons were knocked out of this game early. Wayne Gallman was back with a 42-yard touchdown run on the opening drive of the game. Deshaun Watson and Mike Williams connected on a touchdown pass, and Watson ran in two scores as well.
The Deacs were 1-9 on third downs in the first half of the game. Although they won the second quarter 10-7, Clemson once again cruised to a victory.
A pattern was beginning to appear in the Clawson-Dabo matchup — Wake wins the turnover battle, but failing on third downs and a large early deficit are too much to overcome.
2017: No. 2 Clemson 28, Wake Forest 14 (in Clemson)
The 2017 Wake Forest team won the Belk Bowl. They were a legitimately good offensive team, capable of scoring against anyone. In fact, they averaged 35 points per game.
Once again, Clemson’s defense held the Deacs to little points. The Tigers went up 14-0 in the first quarter, taking another strong lead to start the game. By the time Kendall Hinton found Scotty Washington on a 14-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, the Deacons were down 28-0 and only eight minutes remained.
Kelly Bryant threw an interception and Boogie Basham recovered a fumble, but it just wasn’t enough to jumpstart an offense missing starting QB John Wolford.
2018: No. 4 Clemson 63, Wake Forest 3 (in Winston)
After a few early punts, Travis Etienne got loose for a 59-yard touchdown run. It was all Tigers from there. Etienne scored on runs of 59, 70 and three yards in the game. The backup running backs joined in too, scoring on runs of 64, 65 and 52 yards. Trever Lawrence connected with Justyn Ross on a 55-yard touchdown pass, and threw another 20-yard score to Tee Higgins. Even current Appalachian State quarterback Chase Brice went 4-4 for 50 yards and a touchdown.
We will remember this Clemson team as one of the best college football teams of all time. There was no stopping them and no scoring against them. That’s no hyperbole — Wake gave up a whopping 698 yards of offense.
2019: No. 3 Clemson 52, Wake Forest 3 (in Clemson)
This game was rough. On offense, quarterback Jamie Newman finished 6/14 for 41 yards and two interceptions. On the ground, the Demon Deacons gained 64 yards. 105 yards, five first downs, and three points, nowhere near enough to take down Trevor Lawrence.
Nothing went right for Wake Forest in this game. Even the lone Wake Forest field goal was the result of a Clemson muffed punt. Dave Clawson had some strong words about the Deacs’ performance.
“It’s so easy to say it was Clemson, but when you go back and watch the film, the amount of times we beat ourselves and our inability to execute, a result like that is never acceptable.”
2020: No. 1 Clemson 37, Wake Forest 13 (in Winston)
This was one of the stranger sporting events that I’ve had the privilege of (sort-of) attending. College Gameday was in Winston-Salem for an opening week matchup between the up-and-coming Demon Deacons and the once again No. 1 Tigers. Excitement built as the Deacs had a chance for a new beginning. Unfortunately, the game was a repeat of years past.
Trevor Lawrence and the Tigers won the first half 27-0. Until a Mitch Griffis to Taylor Morin touchdown pass at the end of the fourth quarter, the game was 37-6 Clemson. We know looking back how odd this season was due to COVID-19, but still, quite an ugly way to start the year.
Once again, Wake Forest won the turnover battle with a late interception, but struggled mightily on third down, going 5-17 (starting 3-9 in the first half). The difference in this one was time of possession — Clemson had the ball on offense for almost ten more minutes than the Demon Deacons.
2021: Clemson 48, No. 13 Wake Forest 27 (in Clemson)
Maybe the most disappointing loss to Clemson during this stretch, Wake Forest went to Death Valley off the heels of a riveting senior night victory against NC State. There was a feeling that this might be the year that the Deacons were finally going to get it done.
To their credit, Wake Forest fought hard to keep the game close. Trailing 17-10 at halftime, the Deacs had overcome a trick-play Will Shipley touchdown throw and managed to stay in the game. However, the wheels came off with a key fumble at the start of the third quarter. That one mistake was all Clemson needed to take control.
As Wake settled for a field goal and fumbled the ball again, Clemson won the third quarter 21-3. There wasn’t enough time left for Wake Forest to mount a comeback, and the Tigers kept their winning streak alive.
Even as the Deacs fought to keep this one close, a few big plays, timely turnovers, and struggling on third down conversions made the difference. For eight seasons, Dabo’s Clemson Tigers have used this formula to beat Wake Forest over and over again. Odds are these key areas will be the difference as the two undefeated foes meet in Winston-Salem.