2010 Football Game Preview: Virginia Tech vs. Wake Forest

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  • Date: Saturday, October 16, 2010
  • Time: 3:30pm
  • TV: ESPNU

For weather information and a roster card link, see the Info Center to the
right.

For the first time since ACC expansion, Wake Forest will travel to Lane
Stadium to take on Virginia Tech. The Demon Deacons and the Hokies have been
going in opposite directions recently, with Wake losing four in a row and Tech
winning four straight.

Wake Forest blew out Presbyterian 53-14 to start the year, and then narrowly
beat a bad Duke team 54-48 the next week. They were crushed at Stanford 68-24,
then drubbed by Florida State 31-0, but they’ve settled down and played better
the last two weeks.

They lost two straight home heartbreakers to Georgia Tech (24-20) and Navy
(28-27) in the final seconds. They have gotten better as a team over the last
two weeks, but they still lack two essential ingredients to success: talent and
experience. Jim Grobe and his staff are very good coaches, but not even they can
overcome those issues.

The Wake Forest Offense

Wake Forest will enter Lane Stadium with their hopes hinging on a true
freshman quarterback. Tanner Price (6-2, 190, Fr.) has started three games this
year, and he seems to have entrenched himself as the starter. He is easily
Wake’s best passer, and he’s also a dual threat quarterback.

As a senior in high school, Price passed for over 2,000 yards and rushed for
over 1,000. A very smart quarterback, he had scholarship offers from Stanford
and was heavily recruited by the Ivy League schools. He’s likely to have a very
good career at Wake Forest.

For the season, Price is completing 58.7% of his passes. He’s thrown for 631
yards, with five touchdowns and three interceptions. Against Navy last week, he
was 37-of-53 for 326 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He seems
to be picking up the game rapidly. How many true freshmen would be trusted to
throw the ball 50+ times in a game? Very few.

He has a solid group of wide receivers to help him out. Marshall Williams
(6-1, 190, r-Sr.) and Devon Brown (5-9, 185, r-Jr.) are very experienced
football players, and Williams was one of the most productive receivers in the
ACC last year with Riley Skinner throwing him the football. Brown leads the team
in receiving so far this year, with 23 catches. He doesn’t seem to be a big-play
threat, as he averages just 7.5 yards per completion.

Chris Givens (6-0, 195, r-So.) has 18 catches for 281 yards and two
touchdowns. Wake Forest routinely runs three wide receiver sets, so Givens will
be on the field quite a bit on Saturday.

The Demon Deacons are also known for throwing the ball to the running backs
and the tight ends under Jim Grobe. Now that Grobe has discovered his best
passing quarterback, look for the Deacons to try to spread the ball around.

Wake Forest has three quality tailbacks, though they run behind an offensive
line that isn’t particularly good in the running game. Josh Adams (6-0, 185, r-Sr.)
is a talented runner who has had an unproductive career partly because of the
inadequacy of the Wake offensive line. Brandon Pendergrass (5-9, 200, r-Jr.) is
a tough runner, and Josh Harris (5-10, 205, r-Fr.) is the back of the future.

All three will get carries against the Hokies, though Jim Grobe indicated
yesterday that Harris could make his first collegiate start. Those three backs
have combined for 505 yards and five touchdowns on 118 carries, which are solid
numbers. Look for them to be involved in the running game and the passing game
on Saturday.

Here’s a look at Wake’s starting offensive line.

The
Wake Forest Offensive Line
Pos. Name Ht. Wt. Yr.
LT
Dennis Godfrey
6-3 335 r-Jr.
LG
Joe Looney
6-3 315 Jr.
C
Russell Nenon
6-4 295 r-Sr.
RG
Michael Hoag
6-6 295 r-Jr.
RT
Doug Weaver
6-8 295 r-Jr.

You might remember the name Dennis Godfrey. He was once a major Virginia
Tech recruiting target
at tight end. He chose Wake Forest where
he played early as a defensive tackle, but he had since put on a massive amount
of weight and moved to offensive tackle. Look for him matched up against Steven
Friday. Godfrey doesn’t seem to have the height or arm length to be an effective
pass blocker on the edge, so the Demon Deacons might have to double team Friday.

The strength of the Wake offensive line is on the inside, with Joe Looney and
Russell Nenon. They are returning starters and good players.

Throwing out the season opener against Presbyterian (a very bad 1-AA team),
here is what the Wake Forest offense has accomplished this year.

The
Wake Offense
Opponent Rush
Offense
Pass
Offense
Total
Offense
Score Sacks 3rd
Down
Conv.
3rd
Down
Att.

Duke
229 271 500 54 0 6 16

Stanford
207 76 283 24 5 6 16

Florida State
103 82 185 0 6 4 15

Georgia Tech
161 107 268 20 0 6 18

Navy
77 326 403 27 0 7 16

Ave./Totals
155.4 172.4 327.8 25 2.2 29 81

The Demon Deacons haven’t been able to get a lot accomplished against teams that
have real 1-A talent on defense. Navy is a service academy, and Duke basically
has a 1-AA level defense this year. The Wake offense was smothered by Stanford,
Florida State and Georgia Tech.

By my count, Virginia Tech has shown four different defensive formations this
year: their base defense, the nickel package, the 30 package, and a dime. They
are able to run all their coverages out of all those formations, so Tanner Price
will be facing his most significant challenge to date.

The Wake Forest Defense

Though their offense has not played particularly well to date, the true
weakness of this Wake Forest team has been their defense. They’ve played better
the last couple of weeks, but in general they are getting lit up by opposing
offenses.

The
Wake Defense
Opponent Rush
Defense
Pass
Defense
Total
Defense
Score Sacks 3rd
Down
Con.
3rd
Down
Att.

Duke
129 358 487 48 1 7 15

Stanford
303 232 535 68 0 5 8

Florida State
201 284 485 31 3 8 14

Georgia Tech
209 130 339 24 2 5 17

Navy
274 94 368 28 1 10 17

Ave./Total
223.2 219.6 442.8 39.8 1.4 35 71

Several years ago, the Wake Forest defense featured future NFL draft picks such
as Aaron Curry (1st round), Alphonso Smith (2nd), Chip Vaughn (4th), Stanley
Arnoux (4th), Jeremy Thompson (4th) and Josh Gattis (5th). Not to mention solid
college players such as Jon Abbate and Boo Robinson, who did not go to the NFL.
That team was pretty loaded with talent on defense. The success of that team was
not all due to Jim Grobe … a lot of those defensive players could play for
anybody.

Now the talent level is way down, and there is also limited experience.

Wake
Forest Two-Deep
by Class
Class Num
r-Sr. 4
Sr. 0
r-Jr. 6
Jr. 0
r-So. 3
So. 0
r-Fr. 7
Fr. 2
Total 22

Nine of Wake’s 22 two-deep defensive players are r-freshmen or true freshmen. 12
of the 22 are r-sophomores or younger. You can lack experience and still be a
good defense, if you are talented. You can lack talent and still be a good
defense, if you are experienced. Wake Forest lacks both talent and experience,
so their defensive numbers this season shouldn’t be surprising.

Wake’s most productive defensive player thus far has been defensive end Kyle
Wilber (6-4, 235, r-Jr.). Wilber has 12.5 tackles for loss and five sacks on the
season. He’s an athletic player off the edge, though he’s not particularly
strong at the point of attack. However, one thing to remember is that five of
his tackles for loss and three of his sacks came against Presbyterian, one of
the worst 1-AA teams in the country.

Both of Wake’s starting defensive tackles are r-freshmen. In fact, three of
their top four tackles are r-freshmen, including undersized Nikita Whitlock
(5-11, 235, r-Fr.), who is the smallest defensive tackle on the 1-A level that
you’ll probably ever see.

He’s also the quickest. He redshirted as a linebacker last year, but moved to
nose guard in the spring. Against Georgia Tech, Whitlock had 10 tackles and two
tackles for loss. Wake has run a 3-4 scheme at times this year, and Whitlock
seems comfortable lined up right over the center in that defense. A naturally
good football player, he was the state player of the year in Texas as a nose
guard.

The other defensive tackles are Frank Souza (6-4, 285, r-Fr.), Ramon Booi
(6-6, 300, r-So.) and Kris Redding (6-4, 255, r-Fr.). This is a very young group
of players, which partially explains why Wake has run a 3-4 at times. The 3-4
was mainly used against Georgia Tech and Navy’s option attacks, so we’ll
probably see the Demon Deacons back to their regular 4-3 for most of Saturday’s
game.

Matt Woodlief (5-11, 260, r-Sr.) and Hunter Haynes (6-2, 240, r-So.) are Wake
Forest’s best and most experienced linebackers. Woodlief plays on the weakside
and has seven tackles for loss on the year. Haynes is the middle linebacker, and
he has 38 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. The strongside linebacker
is Joey Ehrmann (6-4, 215, r-So.), who lacks size and experience.

The strength of the secondary is starting free safety Alex Frye (6-3, 195, r-Sr.).
Frye is the most experienced player on the defense. He has seen a lot of action
since his r-freshman season. He has three interceptions on the season, which is
tops on the team.

The starting strong safety is one of the youngest players on the defense.
Daniel Mack (6-0, 195, r-Fr.) has 19 tackles in his three starts this year. Cyhl
Quarles (6-3, 205, r-Jr.) will also get heavy playing time. He is fourth on the
team with 34 tackles.

Josh Bush (5-11, 200, r-Jr.) and Kenny Okoro (6-0, 195, r-So.) are the
starting corners, and true freshman A.J. Marshall (5-11, 180, Fr.) has started
two games as well. Marshall was a
big-time cornerback recruit
from Durham whom Virginia Tech
offered, along with Tennessee, Ole Miss, Oregon and North Carolina. Had Marshall
decided to go out-of-state, his choice likely would have been Virginia Tech. But
he liked Wake’s recent history of excellent defensive backs, so he decided to
stay in-state.

Marshall and Okoro are the most talented corners on the roster, though
Marshall is very inexperienced. Down the line, they are going to form a very
good duo.

Overall, this Wake defense lacks the talent and experience necessary to be
good. The best talent on the defense is very young, such as Marshall and Okoro,
as well as r-freshman safeties Daniel Mack and Duran Lowe.

No one with decent offensive talent has had a lot of trouble moving the ball
against Wake, so there’s no reason the Hokies shouldn’t be able to put up some
points.

Special Teams

Wake Forest always seems to have a good kicker and a good punter (sometimes
they are the same player), and this year is no different. Shane Popham (5-11,
185, r-Jr.) is only averaging 40.4 yards per punt, but he’s put nine punts
inside the 20 and has three of 50 or more yards.

Starting kicker Jimmy Newman (6-2, 200, So.) has shown range and accuracy. He
is 6-of-7 on the season, and he’s made two of his three attempts from beyond 40
yards. His longest came from 48 yards.

Neither Popham nor Newman has had any kicks blocked this year. As usual, Wake
Forest is very sound in the kicking game, which is why they are often able to
stay in games with teams who have superior talent.

Wake Forest has also been good in the return game. The kickoff returners are
Devon Brown (5-9, 185, r-Jr.) and Michael Campanaro (5-11, 185, r-Fr.). Brown
averages 21.7 yards per return, and Campanaro is even better at 25.7 yards per
return. Both players have returns of 50+ yards this year.

Devon Brown also doubles as the punt returner, and he is averaging 13.7 yards
per return. However, the Demon Deacon defense has only forced 25 punts this
year, and eight of those came against Presbyterian.

Final Thoughts

This is a football game that the Hokies should win, and win with relative
ease. The Demon Deacons are starting a true freshman quarterback, so they’ll
need to rely on help from the running game behind a below average offensive
line, as well as a defense that is allowing nearly 450 yards and 40 points per
game against opponents not named Presbyterian.

That doesn’t bode well. Tanner Price looks like he has a very bright future
at quarterback, and there are some solid, young players on the Wake Forest
defense. However, this team doesn’t have Virginia Tech’s talent, and they’ll be
playing in Lane Stadium for the first time since ACC expansion.

I think this will be a game where the wide receivers will be focused after
last week’s drop fest, and we’ll see the offense achieve some balance. Facing a
true freshman quarterback, the defense should also play well.

Overall, I see the Hokies playing with much more of a purpose than they did a
week ago against Central Michigan and walking out of Lane Stadium with an easy
win.

Chris Coleman’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 41, Wake Forest 10

Will Stewart’s Take: As Chris pointed out, the Hokies have never hosted
Wake Forest in ACC play. Tech visited Winston-Salem in 2004 and won 17-10, and
when Boston College entered the conference in 2005, the ACC was split into
divisions, schedules were shaken up, and BC was designated as Tech’s
cross-division rival. The result is that Tech visited Wake again in 2006 (an
easy 27-6 victory). Now the Hokies finally get to host the Deacs, the last team
to make their way to Lane Stadium for an ACC game.

The 2006 win was an easy one for the Hokies, over a Wake Forest team that
went on to beat Georgia Tech for the ACC title in front of 329 fans in
Jacksonville, Florida. I try not to think about that season too much, because
the Hokies were clearly the best team in the ACC at season’s end, yet they
didn’t get to play for the title that year, thanks to regular season losses to
Boston College and a GT team that somehow went 7-1 in-conference that year with
Reggie Ball as their quarterback. (Chan Gailey is a genius.)

Trivia that most of you know: Wake Forest is one of three college football
teams with a stadium based on the same architecture as Lane Stadium. (Indiana is
the other: Wake
pic here
, Indiana
pic here
. The Indiana pic in particular looks eerily like Lane
Stadium “back in the day”.)

Enough fun stuff. Be nice to the Wake Forest fans, Hokies. The Deacs won 28
games from 2006-2008, including an ACC title, but they are staring mediocrity in
the face, having won just five games last season and being picked to finish
next-to-last in the ACC Atlantic Division this year, ahead of only horrid
Maryland. I like Jim Grobe and think he’s a good coach, but unless he can
manufacture more Aaron Currys, it’s a tough road ahead for Wake Forest. That’s
not new, though.

None of which has anything to do with this game. Wake Forest is giving up 223
rushing yards and 220 passing yards per game to teams not named Presbyterian, a
443 ypg average that would rank them 111th in the nation. (Even with the
Presbyterian game included, Wake is giving up 429 per game, which is 102nd in
the country.)

East Carolina’s defense is comparable, giving up 457 yards per game, 114th in
the nation. Virginia Tech scored 49 on the Pirates.

My new benchmark for the Hokies against bad defenses is 45 points. In case
you missed Monday Thoughts, Tech went 45 games from late 2005 to early 2009
without scoring 45 points, but they have done it four times since then (Marshall
and BC last year, ECU and CMU this year).

So my prediction for this game, which isn’t rooted the slightest in any sort
of analysis, is:

Will Stewart’s Prediction: Virginia Tech 45, Wake Forest 20

Here’s hoping the Hokie defense buckles down and makes it more of a 45-7 type
of score.

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