WHO: Wake Forest (2-2, 0-1 ACC) at No. 3 Clemson (3-0, 1-0)
WHEN: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
WHERE: Memorial Stadium, Clemson, S.C.
LINE: Clemson by 28.5
CLEMSON — Had any of the Clemson coaches or ACC referees been paying attention to Martavis Bryant’s celebration after his first touchdown Thursday night, perhaps he wouldn’t have had a chance to catch a second score.
Caught on tape making a “throat-slashing” gesture after hauling in a 30-yard touchdown reception from Tajh Boyd during the third-ranked Tigers’ 26-14 win at North Carolina State, Bryant escaped a 15-yard flag, but won’t be free from the coaching staff’s wrath this week leading up to hosting Wake Forest Saturday.
“He’ll play this weekend, but it will affect his playing time a little bit,” head coach Dabo Swinney announced during his Tuesday press conference. “Just an unacceptable gesture after scoring a touchdown that nobody even knew about until after the game, but it’s not representative of what we want. So there will be some team discipline for him.”
Freshman Mike Williams will see his snap count increased in place of Bryant, who has spent time in the doghouse before due to academic problems. The 6-5 junior was suspended for the Chick-fil-A Bowl last Dec. 31, but has been lauded for his change in behavior during the past eight months.
“Listen, he’s been good. Just one of those situations that you’re always growing and teaching,” Swinney said, referring to Bryant. “It’s just unacceptable behavior, and he knew it. I wish I had seen it during the game. I wish the refs had called a flag. There’s no better punishment than immediate.
“Everybody missed it, but TV sure didn’t miss it. He’ll be fine. I don’t think he’ll do it again.”
Bryant isn’t Clemson’s only offensive player facing consequences. Freshman left tackle Isaiah Battle punched an N.C. State defender in the fourth quarter, and was immediately tossed from the game. He’s suspended for the entire Wake Forest contest on Homecoming Weekend, when the heavily-favored Tigers could have given the second-stringer a chance for more playing time.
“I definitely talked to them and let those guys know that this is kind of a fragile time in our season because we’re still in the midst of building camaraderie as a unit,” Boyd said. “It’s disappointing to have those guys missing some time, but at the same time, action is needed in those situations.”
‘Toying with them’
Stuck in the doldrums at times during the past couple of weeks, Boyd received some text messages from Swinney during Monday Night Football. Each man was watching four-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning master the quarterback position in the Broncos’ 37-21 win over the Raiders.
“This guy here. You see this? He’s just toying with ‘em,” Swinney texted to Boyd. “It’s a game within the game. It’s unbelievable. But that’s the type of ownership that you want at that position.”
Boyd’s been steady yet unspectacular, accounting for nine touchdowns without a turnover but completing 62.2 percent of his passes, ranking sixth in the ACC.
“The expectations I have for myself and this program are pretty high. I’ve also expected more out of myself than anyone else has expected,” Boyd said. “I don’t think it’s changed. I’m in the process of fixing some things.”
A perfectionist in his own right, Boyd admits he “naturally” shoulders too much of the responsibilities as a quarterback and Heisman Trophy contender.
“But that’s why this is a team sport,” Boyd said. “This isn’t track; this isn’t an individual sport. It takes a joint effort, it takes a group effort.”
Game plan for Alexander
Freshman cornerback Mackensie Alexander will undergo a procedure Thursday to hasten his recovery from a pulled groin sustained early in fall camp.
“We feel like this is what’s holding him up from progressing like we need him to,” Swinney said. “Hopefully, in a few weeks we’ll be able to address that a little bit further.”
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables was annoyed to admit a couple weeks ago he’s yet to see the prized recruit partake in a full practice yet. Alexander has been present in team meetings.
If and when Alexander is healthy enough to return, two factors will play into the decision whether to redshirt him: the performance of Clemson’s four veteran corners, and Alexander’s own ability to catch on quickly in practice and earn the coaching staff’s collective trust.
“Right now, that door’s still open. We’ll just wait and see,” Swinney said. “We all know he’s a great player — or going to be a great player.”
The ACC’s active career leader in tackles for loss comes to town Saturday.
Wake Forest senior nose guard Nikita Whitlock, who has 38 tackles for loss and 36 starts under his belt, is the star of the Demon Deacons’ No. 24-rated scoring defense.
“I thought he was gone; I couldn’t believe he was still on the roster,” Swinney said. “I don’t think that guy is ever going to get out of this league. He is a nightmare. Man, he plays tall and big.”
Swinney doubts Whitlock’s listed height of 5-foot-11 and weight of 250 pounds. Either way, Whitlock shared ACC Defensive Lineman of the Week honors with Clemson’s Vic Beasley, after torturing Army with 14 tackles (3 for a loss), a forced fumble and pass break-up.
“Definitely one of the more aggressive players in the ACC. Just a really disruptive player,” Boyd said. “Every play, he gives everything he has. He’s gained respect in my eyes, as one of the more fearless players on the field.”
Right tackle Gifford Timothy is questionable for Saturday after being treated for concussion symptoms lingering from the N.C. State victory.
Linebacker B.J. Goodson is also questionable, recovering from a concussion.
Defensive tackle Carlos Watkins, who was in a car accident Saturday that killed another one of the passengers, is questionable to play. He has no officially listed injuries. Offensive lineman Patrick DiStefano is questionable with a sore neck.
Officially out are Alexander, wide receiver Charone Peake and linebacker Kellen Jones (torn ACLs), running back Tyshon Dye (back) and defensive tackle Scott Pagano (ankle.)