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Hot Read: Tigers Roll Wake Forest in Season Opener

By Dave Holcomb
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Five thoughts from Clemson’s dominating 37-13 victory against Wake Forest on Saturday night:

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the entire world, yet for the Clemson football program, things couldn’t be much more of the same. The Tigers enter the 2020 season with high expectations and after their performance in Week 1, it’s very easy to see why.

Here are five thoughts from Clemson’s dominating 37-13 victory against Wake Forest on Saturday night:

1. Trevor Lawrence Looks as Sharp as Ever

On a day that featured strong defensive play and sloppy offensive performances throughout college football, the Tigers offense was ready to play immediately. Well, almost immediately.

After a three-and-out to begin the game, Clemson scored 24 points on its next five possessions. Lawrence was spectacular, completing 18 of 23 passes for 261 yards and a touchdown in the first half. He also ran for two scores in goal-to-go situations.

During the first half, Clemson averaged almost 11 yards per pass attempt and converted six of nine third-down tries. This type of efficiency is not unusual for a Lawrence-led offense, but a performance like this in Week 1 following a tumultuous offseason which featured as much practice time on zoom as on the field is quite impressive.

Lawrence finished 22 of 28 for 351 yards with three total touchdowns. It was quite a better start than last year’s opener against Georgia Tech, and it allowed the Tigers to play other quarterbacks in the fourth quarter.

2. Lawrence’s Biggest Competitive for the Heisman Trophy May Be a Teammate

Opposing defenses will have to pick their poison this season against Clemson -- try to stop either Lawrence or Travis Etienne. Teams who get caught in the middle attempting to contain both may end up getting burned by Lawrence and Etienne as Wake Forest was at times Saturday.

At one point, Etienne was averaging significantly more than 7.0 yards per carry. The Demon Deacon run defense improved in the latter stages against Clemson, but Etienne still finished with 102 yards and a touchdown while averaging 6.0 yards per attempt.

With only two Power 5 conferences playing the first few weeks of September, Lawrence and Etienne may enter October as the top two favorites for the Heisman trophy in this odd season.

3. Clemson Possesses the Depth to Replace Justyn Ross

The Tigers weren’t really tested Saturday, so it’s probably too early to say they have definitely replaced Tee Higgins and injured Justin Ross, but Clemson spread the ball around to 13 receivers, including Amari Rodgers and Braden Galloway, both of whom had five receptions.

Five of those pass catchers had at least 40 receiving yards. Rodgers is expected to be the leader of the receiver group, but the emergence of Galloway will also help make the loss of Ross a less painful one. It helps that Etienne is exceptional out of the backfield and that Clemson has some very talented route runners at tight end.

4. B.T. Potter Appears To Be One of Clemson’s Most Improved Players

If there was a weakness to the 2019 Clemson Tigers, it was place kicking. Through one week, that’s become a strength for the 2020 season.

Potter went 3-for-3 on field-goal attempts and made all four of his extra-point tries. He made two of his field goals from beyond the 40-yard mark, including a 52-yarder to end the first half.

It’s hard to imagine Clemson becoming an even more dangerous team, but the Tigers will be if Potter can become a consistent kicker this season. He made just 61.9 percent of his field goals last year.

5. Wake Forest Could Still Have a Very Good Season

Clemson has absolutely dominated the series versus Wake Forest under Dabo Swinney. The Tigers are 12-0 versus the Demon Deacons since Swinney became head coach and have outscored Wake Forest 152-19 over the last three matchups.

How is that good news for the Demon Deacons? Well, they still won eight games despite suffering a rough defeat to Clemson a year ago. It won’t be without growing pains, but Wake Forest should improve as the season progresses.

Dave Clawson’s biggest challenge is maximizing the talent of quarterback Sam Hartman, who struggled in his first start since 2018. It didn’t help that the team’s expected top receiver, Sage Surratt, wasn’t on the field. Surratt opted out of the season due to coronavirus concerns; in his absence, freshman Taylor Morin led the Demon Deacons with nine catches for 93 yards and the team’s only touchdown Saturday.