No. 5 Clemson hangs on to beat No. 21 Wake Forest 51-45 in 2OT thriller

No. 5 Clemson hung on to grab a 51-45 overtime win at No. 21 Wake Forest.

D.J. Uiagalelei found Davis Allen for a leaping grab to start the second overtime and the Clemson defense prevented Sam Hartman and the Wake Forest offense from getting a first down in the Demon Deacons’ possession. It’s the 14th consecutive win in coach Dabo Swinney's tenure for the Tigers over the Demon Deacons.

Wake Forest won the ACC Atlantic division a season ago despite a loss to Clemson. That division title snapped a five-year division winning streak for the Tigers dating back to 2014. But now Clemson has an effective two-game lead over Wake Forest in the ACC title game race before the calendar hits October.

D.J. Uiagalelei’s fantastic game

It’s not a stretch to say that Clemson QB D.J. Uiagalelei played his best game since a spot start against Notre Dame in November of 2020. Uiagalelei was 26-of-41 passing for 371 yards and threw for five touchdowns with no interceptions. He kept plays alive with his legs in the passing game and, most importantly, consistently delivered accurate throws into tight windows to Clemson’s receivers.

Clemson quarterback DJ Uiagalelei (5) looks to pass against Wake Forest during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Winston-Salem, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Clemson lost three games in 2021 because its offense struggled. That was largely a product of Uiagalelei’s play. He threw for just 2,246 yards and had more interceptions than passing touchdowns. Heck, the five TDs he threw on Saturday were more than half of his entire 2021 total (nine).

Uiagalelei set high expectations when he filled in for Trevor Lawrence against Notre Dame in 2020. While the Tigers lost that game in double-overtime, Uiagalelei threw for over 400 yards and had three total touchdowns a week after he threw for 342 yards and had three total scores against Boston College.

With Lawrence off to the NFL, Uiagalelei entered the 2021 season as the undisputed starter. He failed to crack 250 yards passing in any of Clemson’s 13 games and had just four games with a completion percentage of 60% or better.

Wake Forest shows 2021 was no fluke

Hartman matched Uiagalelei with 337 yards and six touchdowns. The Demon Deacons torched Clemson’s secondary throughout the day and also benefitted from pass interference penalties because of it. Many of Clemson’s 10 penalties for 120 yards were defensive pass interference calls when Clemson defenders pushed or dragged down Wake Forest receivers in single coverage.

But Wake Forest couldn’t put Clemson away in the second half. The Demon Deacons went ahead for the first time in the third quarter. But Wake never got more than eight points ahead at any point in the second half.

After Clemson tied the game at 35-35 with 11:16 to go, the teams traded field goals and Wake Forest punted to the Tigers with just seconds left in regulation.

It’s easy to see how the Demon Deacons could be the second-best team in the ACC after Saturday’s game and will get a chance to show they deserve New Year’s Six consideration with just one ranked team remaining on their schedule the rest of the way. And it’s a shame the ACC’s divisions are still in existence. If the conference’s plan to scrap divisions started in 2022 instead of 2023, it’d be very plausible that we’d get a rematch of this fun game in the ACC title game. Instead, just one of Clemson or Wake will be in Charlotte. And the Tigers have the upper hand.