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Stock Report: Wake Forest Week

STOCK UP

Quarterback Tajh Boyd set a Clemson single game passing record with 428 yards against Wake Forest.

Dabo Swinney
Swinney has taken his share of criticism that goes along with being a young head coach navigating the shark-infested waters of big time college football. However, he seems to have steadied himself after a tumultuous 2010 and has Clemson on a solid upward trajectory. Clemson won its first ACC title in 20 years last season, and finds itself sitting in the Top 10 again this season at 7-1, with a good chance to put together back-to-back 10 win seasons. If all goes well for the Tigers, 11 wins may on the table along with a second consecutive BCS game. Combine the results in the win column with some savvy coaching hires, and another Top 15 recruiting class on the horizon, and there's a lot to like about how Swinney is doing business in Clemson these days.

Defense
At times this season the Clemson defense has been almost unwatchable, with offensive players running freely down the field and tackling among the worst ever seen from a Tiger defense. There remain some personnel issues that will only be improved by an infusion of new players, and that help is on the way should Clemson hold their committed players. Nevertheless, over the last two games the Clemson defense is starting to show promise under new coordinator Brent Venables. Virginia Tech and Wake Forest aren't offensive juggernauts, but Clemson did an admirable job in holding thee teams to 17 and 13 points respectively, or 13 and 7 points below their scoring average entering their matchup with the Tigers. With 4 games remaining, Venables' defense has climbed up to 51st in the nation in scoring defense, including a sterling mark of 15th in red zone defense.

The main drivers for this improvement lie in the play of the front 7, which has been more active in recent games, getting after the quarterback at a higher rate along with better fundamental tackling and gap control. For the better part of the season Clemson lagged in the bottom quarter of the country in sacks and tackle for loss, but has improved in each category of late and now sits at 70th in sacks and 51st in tackles for loss. Not great, but improving, and that's all you can ask from a new coordinator trying to find the right pieces to mix and match while implementing a new defensive scheme.

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STOCK DOWN

Offensive Line

Clemson's offensive line was at one time a quiet success story on the season, and in total has exceeded expectations for a group playing with three new starters. However, of late the line play has plateaued, and possibly even regressed, resulting in a Clemson offense that has sputtered here and there in recent games despite a plethora of skill position talent at Chad Morris' disposal. Over the last four games, Clemson's rushing attack has managed a paltry 3.5 yards per carry on average, while quarterback Tajh Boyd has been under increased pressure in the pocket.

The rushing issues and sacks aren't all on the linemen, as teams have stacked the box more and more to take away Clemson's running game and force the Tigers to beat them with downfield passing. However, as Chad Morris indicated earlier this week, the line is still not blowing anyone off the ball even when the defense isn't bring extra defenders into the box. The bottom line here is the Clemson's offensive efficiency goes as the offensive line goes, and when they protect Boyd and open a few creases for Andre Ellington, the offense is basically unstoppable.

Special Teams
Outside of kicker Chandler Catanzaro, who's having an exceptional season in converting 12/13 field goal attempts, the remainder of the Special Teams has been just ordinary. The return game is especially puzzling, as Clemson ranks only 98th in punt returns and 84th in kickoff returns. Given the wealth of speed an playmakers on the roster, these numbers are highly disappointing. Clemson also seems overly passive in punt blocking, rarely if ever threatening the opposing punter, and not doing much blocking for the returner either.

Punting has also slipped, as Clemson punters are averaging just 39 yards per kick on the season, and just 34 yards on average over the last 2 games (13 total punts). Clemson is defending the punts pretty well, which goes along with the short punts they've been covering, but kickoff coverage is a mediocre 61st in the nation.

All this adds up to losses in field position, requiring Clemson's offensive and defensive units to work even harder.

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PLAYERS OF THE WEEK – WAKE FOREST GAME

QB Tajh Boyd
Boyd had his best game of the year in setting a school record for passing yards in a game with 428, while tossing 5 touchdowns to 5 different receivers.

WR Sammy Watkins
Watkins caught 8 passes for 202 yards and 1 touchdown, including a sizzling touchdown run after catch in the second quarter.

LB Jonathan Willard
The ever-steady Willard turned in another solid performance in leading the defense with 5 solo tackles, 3 assists and a 7 yard tackle for loss on the night.

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THE FIRST STRING

NOTE: This is NOT a copy of the depth charted released by the Clemson University SID. Instead, it is the latest projection of where Clemson247 believes the lineup stands -- heading into the next game -- while taking into account info regarding possible suspensions or injuries, Clemson’s main expected defensive formation (ex. base 4-3 or nickel?) and general comments from coaches. Every attempt will be made to identify one projected starter when possible at each position.

Quarterback
Tajh Boyd
Hold on position: Strong
Next in line: Cole Stoudt

Tailback
Andre Ellington
Hold on position: Strong
Next in line: Rod McDowell/DJ Howard

H-Back
Darrell Smith
Hold on position: Strong
Next in line: None

Wide Receiver
Sammy Watkins
Hold on position: Strong
Next in line: Adam Humphries

Wide Receiver
Jaron Brown
Hold on position: Moderate
Next in line: Charone Peake

Wide Receiver
Nuk Hopkins
Hold on position: Strong
Next in line: Martavis Bryant

Tight End
Brandon Ford
Hold on position: Strong
Next in line: Sam Cooper

Center
Dalton Freeman
Hold on position: Strong
Next in line: Ryan Norton

Left Guard
David Beasley
Hold on position: Moderate
Next in line: Ryan Norton/Kalon Davis

Left Tackle
Brandon Thomas
Hold on position: Strong
Next in line: Isaiah Battle

Right Guard
Tyler Shatley
Hold on position: Strong
Next in line: Reid Webster

Right Tackle
Gifford Timothy
Hold on position: Moderate
Next in line: Shaq Anthony

Place-kicker
Chandler Catanzaro
Hold on position: Strong
Next in line: Ammon Lakip/Spencer Benton (Long attempts)

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Nose Guard
Grady Jarrett
Hold on position: Weak
Next in line: DJ Reader

Defensive Tackle
DeShawn Williams
Hold on position: Moderate
Next in line: Josh Watson/Carlos Watkins

Defensive End
Malliciah Goodman
Hold on position: Weak
Next in line: Tavares Barnes

Bandit End
Corey Crawford
Hold on position: Moderate
Next in line: Vic Beasley

Inside Linebacker (MIKE)
Spencer Shuey
Hold on position: Strong
Next in line: Stephone Anthony

Outside Linebacker (WILL)
Jonathan Willard
Hold on position: Strong
Next in line: Corico Wright/Tony Steward

Outside Linebacker (SAM)/Nickel Back
Quandon Christian
Hold on position: Weak
Next in line: Travis Blanks

Cornerback
Bashaud Breeland (Questionable with Abdominal Injury)
Hold on position: Strong
Next in line: Garry Peters/Dante Stewart

Cornerback
Xavier Brewer
Hold on position: Strong
Next in line: Cortez Davis

Strong Safety
Jonathan Meeks
Hold on position: Strong
Next in line: Robert Smith

Weak Safety
Travis Blanks
Hold on position: Moderate
Next in line: Rashard Hall

Punter
Spencer Benton
Hold on position: Moderate
Next in line: Bradley Pinion

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INACTIVE LIST
(Players who would be listed but are currently expected to miss game)

CB Darius Robinson (Ankle – Out for Regular Season)
LB Justin Parker (Groin – Out for Season)
QB Tony McNeal (Knee – Out for Season)
CB Martin Jenkins (Hip – Out for Season)

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