2011 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech at Wake Forest

, TechSideline.com, on October 12, 2011
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  • Date: Saturday, October 15th, 2011
  • Time: 6:30
  • TV: ESPN3.com (no regular TV)


Virginia Tech is heading into a dangerous game this Saturday night on the
road against a Wake Forest team that has won four in a row and sports a perfect
3-0 record in conference play. In fact, the Demon Deacons would probably be
undefeated were it not for some bad injury luck in their season opener at
Syracuse.

In that season opener against the Orange, Wake Forest jumped out to a 29-14
lead early in the fourth quarter. However, starting quarterback Tanner Price
(6-2, 205, So.) was knocked out of the game with an injury, Ted Stachitas (6-1,
205, r-Jr.) came in and threw an interception, and Syracuse came back and won
36-29 in overtime.

Since then, Wake Forest is unbeaten. They knocked off NC State (34-27),
Gardner-Webb (48-5), Boston College (27-19) and Florida State (35-30). The NC
State and FSU games were not as close as the final scores indicate, as the
Wolfpack and Seminoles scored late touchdowns when the game was already out of
reach.

As a result, Wake is tied at the top of the ACC Atlantic Division with the
Clemson Tigers, and one of four teams remaining with an unblemished conference
record (Clemson, Georgia Tech and Duke are the others). This will be a huge game
for Wake. They want to keep pace with Clemson, and after beating FSU at home
last weekend, they’ll be very confident against Virginia Tech.

It’s tough for Wake Forest to recruit in-state against North Carolina and
poachers from out-of-state. Instead, Jim Grobe goes out-of-state to get many
unheralded recruits that other schools have never heard of. Grobe recruits good
natural football players, though they might not fit the physical descriptions
that online recruiting services require for elite status.


Wake Forest Starters by State

State

Starters
Florida 7
North Carolina 5
Texas 4
Maryland 2
Missiouri 1
Tennessee 1
Virginia 1
Georgia 1

Wake recruits the states of Florida and Texas a lot. There are a lot of good
players in those states who don’t get recognized by the major powers in college
football, and Jim Grobe and his staff turn over a lot of stones in those states
to find players. It has worked for them in the past, and it is working for them
again this season.

The Wake Forest Offense

The Wake Forest offense is led by talented sophomore quarterback Tanner
Price, who is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the country. His
numbers speak for themselves: 101-of-162 (62.3%) for 1,352 yards, 10 touchdowns
and just two interceptions. Price is a left-handed quarterback, and he is ahead
of former Wake Forest great Riley Skinner at the same stage of their careers.

Price is a pro-style quarterback who is also capable of running with the
football if needed. He played major high school football at Westlake High School
in Austin Texas, and he chose Wake Forest over Stanford, Harvard, Dartmouth and
Columbia. He’s a very smart football player, and he was advanced enough to start
as a true freshman last season.

Behind Price, the Wake Forest offense has gotten off to a hot start.


The Wake Forest Offense

Category

Stat

Rank
Rush 112.4 ypg 102
Pass 303.8 ypg 18
Total 416.2 ypg 48
Scoring 34.6 ppg 33
Pass Eff. 153.45 27
Third Downs 42.3% 54
TFL Allowed 7.6 per game 109
Sacks Allowed 2.4 per game 86

The Demon Deacons have struggled to run the football this season, but the
passing game with Price at the helm has been able to keep them on top. Wake
needs to work on being more balanced this year, as their running numbers attest.


Wake Forest
Rushing Yards by Game

Opp.

Yards

YPC
Syracuse 80 1.9
NC State 101 3.0
Gardner-Webb 149 3.5
BC 104 3.2
FSU 128 3.4


Their best game running the football was against Florida State, and that
includes a 57 yard run by Josh Harris (5-10, 205, r-So.). Virginia Tech is
certainly aware of how capable Harris is. In Blacksburg last season, he exploded
on the Tech defense for 241 yards on just 20 carries. He has a lot of speed, and
he ran for 136 yards on Florida State last week. For the season, Harris
averaging 82 yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry.

Brandon Pendergrass (5-9, 200, r-Sr.) is also a quality back who should see
action against the Hokies. However, expect Josh Harris to get the majority of
the work, if he’s healthy. Harris is questionable for this game with a hamstring
injury that he suffered in the third quarter against Florida State. If he can’t
go, then Pendergrass will be the primary ball carrier.

Tanner Price has four main receivers whom he likes to target through the air:
Chris Givens (6-0, 195, r-Jr.), Danny Dembry (6-2, 185, r-Sr.), Michael
Campanaro (5-10, 190, r-So.) and Terence Davis (6-1, 195, r-Jr.).

Givens is the best, catching 33 passes for 599 yards and five touchdowns
already this season. He averages 119.8 receiving yards per game, which is tops
in the ACC and #8 in the nation. Like Tanner Price and Josh Harris, Givens is
from Texas, where he was another underrated two-star recruit that Wake Forest
found. He was one of the fastest runners in the 100 meters in Texas, and that
speed has made the transition to the football field. He has always been a
productive player for Wake. In 2009, he led all freshmen receivers in the
country with eight touchdown receptions.

It’s almost hard to believe that Givens has developed into an impact player.
He tore his ACL in the first game of his junior season in high school, and later
tore his ACL again in the first month of his senior year. Wake took a chance on
him, and it worked out. Josh Harris also had an injury plagued high school
career, and his path to Wake Forest was similar.

Danny Dembry is Wake’s biggest receiver, and he is a reliable guy with 23
catches for 296 yards and a touchdown on the season. Michael Campanaro is a very
dangerous player for the Demon Deacons. Not only does he have 20 receptions for
263 yards and two touchdowns, but he has also completed all three of his passing
attempts for 106 yards and two touchdowns. He’s another guy with good speed who
is a good natural player. Campanaro ran for over 1,800 yards and 29 touchdowns
as a senior at River Hill High School in Maryland.

The fourth receiver is Terence Davis, who has 10 catches for 166 yards and
three touchdowns. An exceptional leaper, Davis is the top big play threat for
Wake Forest after Chris Givens.

Wake also has experienced players at fullback and tight end who are capable
of getting involved in the passing game: fullback Tommy Bohanon (6-2, 245, Jr.)
caught a touchdown last week against Florida State, while tight ends Andrew
Parker (6-5, 245, Sr.) and Cameron Ford (6-4, 255, r-Sr.) have combined for 29
career starts.

The offensive line also has plenty of experience, and very good size.


The Wake Forest Offensive Line

Pos.

Name

Ht.

Wt.

Yr.

Starts

Career Starts
LT Steven Chase 6-7 305 r-So. 3 3
LG Joe Looney 6-3 320 Sr. 5 33
C Garrick Williams 6-4 310 r-Jr. 5 8
RG Michael Hoag 6-6 305 r-Sr. 5 15
RT Doug Weaver 6-8 320 r-Sr. 5 19

We could also see left tackle Dennis Godfrey (6-3, 315, r-Sr.), who has
started 14 games in his career. Godfrey is a former Virginia Tech recruiting
target as a tight end.

Despite their size and experience, this offensive line hasn’t been
particularly good at blocking thus far. They are allowing 2.4 sacks per game,
and they haven’t gotten much of a push in the running game.

Virginia Tech’s defensive line situation is in flux. We aren’t yet sure
whether or not defensive end James Gayle will play. He was knocked out of the
Miami game with a sprained ankle on the first series. If he can’t go, then
undersized Tyrel Wilson (6-1, 219) will get the start. At defensive tackle,
Luther Maddy has an ankle injury, and we could see a lot of Isaiah Hamlette,
Dwight Tucker, or even Courtney Prince. Prince was an offensive guard up until
the week following the Clemson game.

Not to mention that Jeron Gouveia-Winslow is injured. Reading between the
lines, it doesn’t sound as if he’s going to be ready for Saturday, and there are
even rumors flying that he’s done for the season. If that’s the case, the
undersized Alonzo Tweedy (6-2, 189) will get the start. Wake Forest generally
throws the ball a bit more than they run it, but if the Hokies have to play
undersized, inexperienced players up front, that could change on Saturday night.

Still, Wake hasn’t been able to run the ball on anyone they’ve played thus
far, with the exception of one long Josh Harris run against Florida State. I
think they’ll have limited success against a banged up Tech defense, but they
aren’t balanced enough to score a lot of points unless they get turnovers and/or
field position.

The Wake Forest Defense

After struggling defensively in 2010 with many young, undersized players, Jim
Grobe decided to give his defense a shot in the arm in the offseason. Wake
Forest is now playing a version of a 3-4 defense that can morph into 4-3 or 5-2
looks at any given time.

The Demon Deacons are much improved, though at times they have struggled to
stop the better offensive teams on their schedule.


Wake Forest Defense vs. 1-A Teams

Opp.

Rush

Pass

Total

Points
Syracuse 121 178 299 36
NC State 109 315 424 27
Boston College 148 188 336 19
Florida State 110 315 425 30

Average

122

249

371

28

Wake Forest has been solid against the run this season. They have given up a
number of passing yards in a couple of games, but they also picked off Mike
Glennon, E.J. Manuel and Cody Trickett a total of five times. Their pass
efficiency defense ranks 26th nationally as a result, and they are allowing just
3.6 yards per carry, and 4.9 yards per play overall.

To improve the defense, Jim Grobe began by finding the right positions for
his players. Kyle Wilbur (6-5, 240, r-Sr.) was moved from defensive end to an
outside linebacker position, where he can play either standing up or with his
hand on the ground. He has 4.5 tackles for loss, three sacks and two forced
fumbles on the season, and he is arguably the top playmaker on the Wake Forest
defense. Joey Ehrmann (6-4, 220, r-Jr.) plays a similar position, and he came up
with a huge interception against Florida State last week.

The best pure football player on Wake’s team is nose guard Nikita Whitlock
(5-11, 260, So.). He started every game at defensive tackle as a true freshman
last season, despite weighing just 235. Whitlock was the Class 5A Player of the
Year at Wylie High School outside Dallas, TX. He made 101 tackles, 24 tackles
for loss, 15 sacks and blocked seven kicks as a senior defensive lineman at
Wylie. Those are huge numbers for an undersized defensive lineman playing top
notch competition in the state of Texas.

Whitlock has the right attitude for football, playing for a high school
program that wore the logo “AHMO” on their jerseys and helmets, which
is short for “Ahmo kick your [butt]“. Because he lacked size coming
out of high school, he only had offers from Wake and SMU, but don’t be fooled;
he’s one of the best pure football players in the ACC. He’s a mid-90s Virginia
Tech player, basically. He has five tackles for loss and two sacks on the
season. In fact, he and Kyle Wilbur are the only Wake Forest players who have
sacked the quarterback in 2011.

Wake has some other good players up front. Middle linebackers Scott Betros
(6-1, 240, r-Jr.) and Mike Olson (6-3, 230, r-So.) have split time and combined
for 44 tackles and 4.5 tackles for loss. Riley Haynes (6-1, 220, r-Jr.) and
Justin Jackson (6-1, 220, r-So.) have combined for 42 tackles and 4.5 tackles
for loss. The Demon Deacons play their linebackers by committee, and they are
all capable of being productive.

Tristan Dorty (6-2, 255, r-Sr.) and Zach Thompson (6-5, 255, r-So.) are the
starting defensive ends. Thompson, a native of Stone Bridge High School in
Ashburn, VA, is the best playmaker of the ends. Backing them up are Kris Redding
(6-4, 265, r-So.) and Gelo Orange (6-1, 240, r-Sr.).

Sometimes Wake Forest is prone to give up some big plays in the passing game,
but they do have a good mix of experience and talent in the secondary. They have
excellent experience at safety, with Josh Bush (5-11, 205, r-Sr.) starting at
strong and Cyhl Quarles (6-3, 210, r-Sr.) starting at free. Quarles leads the
team in tackles with 41, while Bush has three interceptions on the season.

There is good talent at the cornerback position. Kenny Okoro (6-0, 190,
r-Jr.) starts on one side, and he is backed up by A.J. Marshall (5-11, 180,
So.). Marshall started as a true freshman for Wake in 2010. He was one of the
highest-recruited players in the state of North Carolina as a senior in high
school, and he ultimately chose Wake Forest over Virginia Tech.

Marshall isn’t starting this year because the talented Merrill Noel (5-11,
180, r-Fr.) emerged to take over that position. Noel has an interception this
year, and he has also broken up eight other passes. He leads the ACC in passes
defended. Noel is an interesting story. He played high school football at
Pahokee High School in Florida (Zabian Dowdell’s hometown). He originally
committed to Florida State, but decommitted from the Noles and committed to Wake
Forest following an unofficial visit to Winston-Salem. He had an interception
and broke up three passes last week against Florida State.

Noel is a legit prospect. He’s a playmaker already, but he’s got a chance to
be very good for the Demon Deacons before it’s all said and done.

Wake Forest is a solid defensive team, and they’ve got some quality depth. As
a team, they are a better defensive team than the one the Hokies faced last year
in Blacksburg. They’ve got some quality young, natural football players such as
Nikita Whitlock and Merrill Noel, and an athletic veteran in Kyle Wilbur. This
is not going to be an easy defense to move the ball against, particularly on the
ground. That said, David Wilson is easily the best running back the Wake defense
will have faced, and they haven’t played an offensive line nearly as good as
Tech’s either.

Wake Forest Special Teams

Wake generally has a pretty good kicking game under Jim Grobe. This year’s
placekicker is Jimmy Newman (6-2, 195, Jr.), and he is 11-of-12 on the season,
with a long of 40 yards. He has been almost automatic for the Demon Deacons. He
also went 12-of-13 last year, and made 3-of-4 from beyond 40 yards. Overall, he
has made 23 of his last 24 field goal attempts after missing his first attempt
of the 2010 season.

Punting hasn’t gone quite as well for the Deacs. Alex Wulfeck (5-9, 175,
r-So.) is averaging just 36.6 yards per punt, and Wake is just 113th nationally
in net punting. Virginia Tech is 118th in net punting, though their production
is likely to go up with new punter Michael Branthover in the lineup. For the
first time this year, Virginia Tech isn’t at a distinct disadvantage at punter.

Wake Forest has been pretty average in the return game. Merrill Noel is
averaging 23.2 yards per kick return, with Lovell Jackson (5-10, 185, r-Jr.)
averaging 22.2. Jackson also averages seven yards per punt return.

With better players in the return game, the most dominant kickoff man (Justin
Myer) in the ACC, and an improved punter, Virginia Tech probably has the
advantage in special teams in this game. However, it’s not a definite advantage,
and the Hokies will have to bring their A-game.

Final Thoughts

Going to Wake Forest is always a fun trip. The Hokies played there in 2004
and 2006, and it’s an easy trip down 81 and 77. The night game in 2006 was
particularly fun. In case you never realized, Grove Stadium looks almost exactly
like Lane Stadium before all the end zone and press box expansion. The
tailgating was good, and the environment is good. It’s a fun trip, and I’d
encourage you to go if you get a chance. You can still get tickets from the Wake
ticket office
.

This is a big game. Win it, and the Hokies have a great chance to play for
the Coastal Division Championship in Atlanta in November. Lose it, and they can
likely kiss any chances of playing in the ACC Championship Game goodbye, and you
can go ahead and book your reservations for the Belk Bowl or some such
postseason trip.

Wake Forest is a tough, solid team. Jim Grobe has done a great job with the
program. He finds unheralded high school recruits, who might be two inches too
short or 20 pounds too light for the big programs, and molds them into quality
college players who win football games. Basically, Wake is very similar to the
Virginia Tech program in the early to mid 90′s. They aren’t quite as physical on
defense or as good up front on the offensive line as the Hokies were back then,
but the principle is still the same. They win on toughness, good coaching, and
disciplined play with recruits that other teams didn’t want.

The Demon Deacons have an outstanding quarterback. Tanner Price is arguably
the best quarterback in the ACC, and the southpaw has a great future ahead of
him. Their defense is solid and opportunistic, and Wake is 3-0 in the ACC for
the first time in school history
. They will be confident, and they’ll be
playing at night on their home field. I expect this one to be a great game
between the two best program coaches in the ACC.

Chris’ Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Wake Forest 17

Will Stewart’s Take: I dislike the use of the term “trap game,”
but this has all the markings of it. The Hokies have just been through two
emotionally-charged home contests, and they’re about to go on the road against a
team that plays in a cozy, peaceful place that holds about half as many fans as
Lane Stadium. The name “Wake Forest” doesn’t scare anyone, and this is
the perfect setup for an emotional letdown. Hokies, beware.

As Chris noted, Wake Forest is rolling, confident, and stocked with
“football players” who work hard for everything they get, not prima
donna “athletes” who expect to win just by showing up (*cough* – Miami
- *cough*). I thought Wake’s nose dive to a 3-9 record last year was an
indicator that the good players Jim Grobe inherited had all left the program,
never to return, but instead it appears the Deacs were just taking a breath.

Wake Forest isn’t a powerhouse, no, but Grobe can coach, and the Hokies are
going to have to earn this one. The Demon Deacon coaches no doubt pored over the
VT-Miami game film and noticed (a) the Hokies getting blown off the ball on
defense and (b) all the ways the Hokies used the read option to good effect in
both the passing game and the running game.

It’s unlikely the Wake Forest offense will run the ball as well as the
Hurricanes did. Wake’s offensive line is similar in size to Miami’s, and Josh
Harris is a good tailback who’s a tick smaller than Lamar Miller, but we’re
talking about an operation that is ranked #102 in the nation in rushing. Wake
might be able to move the ball on the ground, because the Hokies are depleted on
the defensive line, but I don’t anticipate seeing, say, a rushing touchdown on
2nd and goal from the 30.

Wake Forest will play much smarter defense than what the Canes played,
because the Demon Deacons are more disciplined, and they have seen the read
option on film, a luxury the Canes didn’t have. Not to mention that Wake Forest
is ranked #26 in the nation in total defense, giving up just 324 yards per game.
The sledding will be tougher for the Hokies than the pitch-and-catch drill they
ran against Miami.

Having said that, the Hokies have a couple of advantages they didn’t have
against Miami. They’ve had a week to evaluate their own film of Hokie defensive
reserves who saw a lot of playing time for the first time ever, guys like Corey
Marshall, Luther Maddy, Tyrel Wilson, Alonzo Tweedy, et al. Bud Foster knows a
little more about what he’s got to work with and can coach accordingly.

Offensively, Virginia Tech has a better mindset than they did at this time
last week, having put together a 482-yard, 38-point performance. The windows
will be tighter this week than they were against the Canes, but the confidence
of the guys trying to hit those windows will be higher.

One of these days, Wake Forest is going to beat Virginia Tech. I don’t know
that the day will be this Saturday, but I do expect a close, hard-fought game.

Will’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 24, Wake Forest 20

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