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Hokies' Preview & Prediction: Wake Forest

By Sam Stromberg | October 12
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RB Justice Ellison alongside WR Jahmal Banks in Wake Forest's 2022 win over Missouri in the Gasparilla Bowl (photo via Charlotte Observer).

Saturday, October 14th, 2023

Wake Forest (+1.5) @ Virginia Tech (-1.5); o/u47

3:30pm ET


Head Coach: Dave Clawson (10th year as HC)
Last time out for Wake Forest: L; 17-12 @ Clemson

On Offense

Offensive Coordinator: Warren Ruggiero (2021 Broyles Award finalist)

5’11” 193-pound, Ashalnd, Virginia native Mitch Griffis leads this Demon Deacons offense. With Sam Hartman’s departure to Notre Dame, Griffis has big shoes to fill. Despite being only a sophomore, Griffis is in his fourth year at Wake (redshirt in 2021 and COVID redshirt in 2020). So, the Hokies will get a taste of a veteran QB, yet not an extremely experienced one.

Thus far in 2023, Griffis has thrown for 1,150 yards and nine touchdowns on a 60% completion rate. Griffis has certainly been decent. OC Warren Ruggiero will utilize Griffis on the ground. In his last two games, Griffis has totaled 34 carries on the ground, good for an average of 17 against Georgia Tech and Clemson respectively (this stat is a bit flawed, as some sacks are accounted for). Griffis is certainly capable, but should not be deemed as a threat against this Virginia Tech DB unit.

Wake still utilizes that slow mesh offensive scheme (the very slow developing run-pass option where the QB holds the ball for a couple seconds and reads D-line and LB’s). You may remember this exploited the Hokies back in their 2020 loss to Wake. However, the Demon Deacons have been far less successful in 2023, highly due to the loss of talented RB’s Christian Beal-Smith and Kenneth Walker (back in 2021) and QB Sam Hartman. The play of Virginia Tech’s DT’s: Norell Pollard, Pheldarius Payne, Josh Fuga, and Mario Kendricks, will determine the success of Wake’s slow mesh. The Hokies do have quick defensive tackles. Quickness matters when blowing up these plays, so I like where Virginia Tech stands in this aspect.

Sharing a hometown with his QB, Ashland native Justice Ellison has been impressive on the ground thus far in 2023. Ellison is averaging 5.6 yards a carry. Expect Ellison (who has been banged up) to get a majority of carries alongside the 5’9” 200-pound power back, Demond Claiborn.

In the pass-game, Wake did lose some talented playmakers from a year ago. Obviously the loss of the aforementioned QB Sam Hartman was pivotal, but the Deacs also lost WR A.T. Perry to the NFL and WR Donavon Greene to injury prior to the start of the season. The Deacs did return the speedy (and Virginia native) WR Taylor Morin, who has been a reliable pass-catcher for Wake. The number one target for QB Mitch Griffis ,though, has been the 6’4” junior Jahmal Banks. Banks 32 receptions for 331 yards and three touchdowns in 2023.

On the offensive line, the 6’6” 300-pound 7th year senior Spencer Clapp is back at tackle. Talented center, 6’4” 311-pound Michael Jurgens, made the switch to guard. Clapp and Jurgens lead a veteran, yet abysmal offensive line. Wake ranks 127th in FBS in sacks allowed per game, allowing 4.40 a game.

On Defense

Defensive Coordinator: Brad Lambert

Senior LB Jacob Roberts leads a top-40 ranked defense. Roberts leads the team in tackles and has already accounted for five sacks.

Sophomore cornerback DaShawn Jones has had an impressive 2023 as well, totalling three interceptions through five games. Alongside Jones at corner is junior Calen Carson who leads the team in pass deflections with three. Wake has an athletic DB group. The infamous Nick Anderson (had three interceptions against VT in 2020 as a walk-on) is also back and has been a solid contributor. Malik Mustapha is also back at safety and is one of the more aggressive players on this defense.

A week ago vs. Clemson, Wake held Clemson QB Kade Klubnik to 131 yards through the air.

Four juniors round out the defensive line, a group that has not been solid this year. A week ago vs. Clemson, however, the unit generated no sacks. 6’4” Kendron Wayman is the name to know off the edge. Wake’s defense got bailed out plenty of times a week ago vs. Clemson, as the Tigers turned the ball over in its own territory a couple times.

Brad Lambert coached a very stout defense through about the first three weeks. Since then, it has fizzled out a bit. Wake will get a taste of Kyron Drones, a matchup that should be interesting given his running ability. Wake has not yet faced a true running QB

Key Matchup Battle: RB Bhayshul Tuten against the edge.

Tuten showed some promise around the edge a week ago vs. FSU and certainly against Pitt. Wake has some talented sideline to sideline linebackers and edge rushers, who the Hokies must evade if they want to find some success on offense. I like where the Hokies stand in this aspect, given the growing chemistry of Drones and Tuten, and the increased creativity by OC Tyler Bowen. I think this is the week where Tuten breaks out.

Final Prediction

Virginia Tech 25 – Wake Forest 20

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Been a Hokie fan ever since I can remember. Immensely passionate about journalism and Virginia Tech sports. Go Hokies!

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