Three Reasons Why Wake Forest Could Beat Virginia Tech
The #19 Virginia Tech Hokies take their 3-1 record to Winston-Salem this Saturday to take on the plucky 2-2 Wake Forest Demon Deacons.
The Demon Deacons have been a bit up-and-down this season, especially on the defensive side of the football, but have shown resiliency offensively all season long. The 'Deacs have scored over 40 points on three separate occasions, with the lone mark under 40 points coming against Clemson (we'll give them a pass).
This is an offense that has potential to score with Virginia Tech if the Hokies' defense doesn't come ready to play, so fans, players, and coaches shouldn't be taking this game lightly. Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson has done a nice job in his tenure, and his teams are always well-coached, so don't rule out a closer game than the experts think on Saturday afternoon.
Here's three reasons why Wake Forest can pull off the upset against the Hokies.
1. Wake Forest's passing offense continues its success against Virginia Tech's defense
Coming into the season, most expected the Wake Forest offense to take a bit of a step back. When former starting quarterback Jamie Newman announced his transfer to Georgia (and eventual opt-out) and leading receiver Sage Surratt elected to sit out the season due to COVID-19 concerns, it was reasonable to assume that Wake's passing offense would regress.
Quarterback Sam Hartman, who started as a true freshman before being unseated by Jamie Newman, stepped back into the position as a redshirt-sophomore this season and has played well. He's been efficient, which when paired with an adequate running game, is all that you can ask for as a Wake Forest fan. Hartman is completing 62% of his passes for 893 yards and three touchdowns. He also has taken care of the football through the air, as he has yet to throw an interception this season through four games. In ACC play, he's third in the conference in yards per attempt (8.7) and fifth in passer rating (140.8).
Over the last couple of games, Virginia Tech's secondary has started to get healthy, which is a welcomed sign to a defense that's allowing 7.7 yards per play through the air this season, which is fifth-worst in the ACC. Tech has started 11 different players in the secondary through four games, so it hasn't exactly been the most reliable unit from a health standpoint this season - that's 2020 for you.
This is a match-up to watch on Saturday, given Wake Forest's surprising success slinging the football around in the early going this season.
2. Wake Forest finds a way to consistently run the football against Virginia Tech's defense
Virginia Tech's rushing defense was better last week against Boston College than in the week prior against North Carolina - but it wasn't perfect.
Boston College finished the game against Virginia Tech with non-sack adjusted rushing statistics of 25 carries for 90 yards - another poor performance for the conference's worst rushing offense.
However, it was not always pretty. Virginia Tech struggled throughout most of the first half with tackling in the front seven, leading to some chunk plays that could have been avoided. The Hokies tightened things up in the second half, but the early tackling returns provided shades of the North Carolina game.
But, like I said, it WAS better in totality.
Virginia Tech faces a similar task against the run with Wake Forest. The rushing offense on a yards per play basis hasn't been great - averaging a mere 2.88 yards per play on the ground in ACC play. However, Wake Forest is coming off one of its best outings of the season on the ground, as the offense ran for 174 yards and three touchdowns on 4.1 yards per attempt in the 40-23 victory over UVa last Saturday.
Christian Beal-Smith has been Wake's best back this season, and it will be imperative for Virginia Tech to tackle well against the run to put Sam Hartman out of his comfort zone throwing the football in the game on Saturday.
3. Wake Forest slows down Virginia Tech's rushing attack
File this under "unlikely to happen."
It is safe to say that the key to stopping Virginia Tech's offense is to bottle up the run. This is much easier said than done - just ask every opponent on Tech's schedule thus far.
The offensive line for Virginia Tech has been phenomenal, and Khalil Herbert is a Doak Walker Award candidate and Heisman contender as a result.
The Hokies are second in the nation in rushing offense, but the passing offense has been a work-in-progress as Tech's skill position players outside work to find their footing. What's helped is that Virginia Tech's rushing offense has been so good, that it hasn't mattered how the passing game has looked. Eventually, Tech will be tested through the air on a day when the running game is struggling to produce yards at peak efficiency.
We're to the point in the season where it's safe to assume that Virginia Tech's rushing offense is going to "get theirs" regardless. The rushing game has been too good to bottle up completely, so opponents will need to simply find a way to slow it down and make life more difficult on the offensive line and ball carriers alike.
Wake Forest's rushing defense is averaging 5.06 yards per play against the run, so it's unlikely that the Demon Deacons are the candidate to make Tech's rushing offense struggle....but stranger things have happened in 2020.