Thursday Night Football: Clemson at Wake Forest
by Matt Severance - 10/08/2008
The fact that I am leading this column with an injury update on a kicker should tell you two things about Thursday night's ACC battle between Clemson and Wake Forest:
1) That it should be a close game, and Wake is a slim 2.5-point home favorite on 5Dimes.
2) This is one really good kicker.
Well, both are definitely the case. The winner probably emerges as the Atlantic Division favorite, and both teams need a victory coming off bad losses: Wake to Navy and Clemson to Maryland.
As for that kicker. His name is Sam Swank, and he probably will win the Lou Groza Award this year. The senior strained his right quadriceps in practice Monday and is officially listed as questionable for Thursday night and will be a game-time decision.
Swank has an NCAA-high 10 field goals this season, has connected on a field goal in 14 straight games - including the game-winner in the final seconds this year against Mississippi, made every PAT try in his career and is the school's all-time leading scorer. Oh, and did I mention he's the punter as well?
"We won't know until we get over there Thursday whether he can kick or not," Wake Coach Jim Grobe said. "Hopefully his thigh will loosen up and he'll be able to go, but we'll see."
If Swank is sidelined, Shane Popham will kick and punt for the Deacons. Popham is a redshirt freshman who has yet to attempt a college kick.
While a Deacons' loss wouldn't end their ACC title hopes, it likely would do so for the massively (again) underachieving Tigers. Clemson entered the season in the Top 10 of both polls but was routed by Alabama. Now the Tigers are unranked following that loss to the Terps, and Coach Tommy Bowden is back on the hot seat. But a win likely gets the Tigers back in the Top 25 and possibly poised for one of those typical late-season runs under Bowden.
"It'll be a good chance for us to kind of redeem ourselves and maybe put ourselves back on the map," QB Cullen Harper said.
Clemson offensive coordinator Rob Spence reportedly spent the bye week installing a series of trick plays designed to feature both of Clemson's star running backs, James Davis and C.J. Spiller, so maybe that jump-starts the offense.
Wake Forest, meanwhile, is struggling on the ground this season. The Demon Deacons haven't produced a 100-yard rusher and have reached triple digits as a team only once. Their average of 2.35 yards per carry ranks among the worst in the country. That has forced Riley Skinner to throw too often, and he does lead the ACC with 243.5 yards passing. But all that throwing caught up to him against Navy, as he was a turnover-machine in the loss to the Midshipmen, throwing four picks and losing a fumble.
"We tend to put so much pressure on Riley that if he has a bad day, like he did against Navy, it really handcuffs you," Grobe said. "That just may be who we are. We'll find out Thursday night."
Here's a positive trend for Wake Forest bettors on 5Dimes: Clemson is just 2-7 on Thursday nights under Bowden and five of the seven losses have come by 17 points or more.
Bowden is 7-2 in his career against Wake Forest, and Clemson shredded Wake 44-10 last November. But the Tigers have lost two of their past three visits to Winston-Salem and this will be their first true road game of the year.