Game Preview: Virginia Tech Hosts No. 22 Wake Forest

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Bud Foster, Virginia Tech
Bud Foster will be honored before Saturday’s game with Wake Forest. (Jon Fleming)
  • Virginia Tech vs. Wake Forest: 3:30pm, ACC Network
  • Virginia Tech vs. Wake Forest Betting Line: Wake -2.5
  • Virginia Tech-Wake Forest roster cards: Click here
  • Game notes from Hokiesports: Click here
  • Blacksburg weather: Click here
  • Gameday information: Click Here
  • Tickets from StubHub: 

Virginia Tech welcomes No. 22 Wake Forest (7-1, 3-1) to Lane Stadium for a Saturday afternoon kickoff. The Demon Deacons are enjoying a great season, and they’ll hope to beat the Hokies this weekend so they can attempt to challenge Clemson for Atlantic Division supremacy on November 16.

Through the first eight games of the season, this appears to be the best Wake Forest team since Jim Grobe’s 2006 team won the ACC Championship. The Hokies beat that team back in 2006, and they’ll be looking for a repeat in 2019.

Wake Forest is a team that, if you argue on one side of the coin, could be 8-0. They ran 102 plays to Louisville’s 69, and outgained the Cardinals 668 to 520, but lost the game 62-59 thanks to special teams miscues and turnovers. However, on the other side of the coin, they have narrow wins over 4-4 Utah State (38-35), 5-4 Boston College (27-24) and 4-5 Florida State (22-20).

However, like everybody else, they are what they record says they are. Their top 25 ranking is legitimate, and head coach Dave Clawson and his staff deserve credit for putting together one of the most prolific offenses in the country.

Speaking of the Wake offense, let’s get started with the preview on that side of the ball.

The Wake Forest Offense – By The Numbers

Justin Fuente noted that Wake Forest has a high-tempo offense. He’s right. It’s also the best and most balanced offense that the Hokies have faced all season. Though one team has a national name and the other doesn’t, this Demon Deacon offense is much better than the one the Hokies faced in South Bend last week. Here are Wake’s numbers against Power 5 competition…

Scoring Offense: 35.2 ppg, No. 14
Rushing Offense: 180.6 ypg, No. 31
Passing Offense: 296.6 ypg, No. 17
Total Offense: 477.2 ypg, No. 12
Yards per Play: 5.56 ypp, No. 50

You’ll notice that Wake’s yards per play ranking doesn’t quite match up with their other numbers. The other numbers are heightened by the fact that the Demon Deacons run 86.4 plays per game, which ranks No. 1 in the country. The more plays you run in a game, the more likely the opponent is to make a mistake, and the more likely you are to score. However, that strategy can backfire with a bad defensive game, or a game where the offense turns it over, as it did against Louisville.

That said, the strategy has paid off for the Demon Deacons this year. They’ve been good with turnovers (No. 10 in the nation in turnover margin) outside of the Louisville game, and they’ve been good enough defensively (though not dominant), again outside of the Louisville game.

Quarterback Jamie Newman

Wake Forest quarterback Jamie Newman (6-4, 230, r-Jr.) is perhaps the best football player in the country that most of the nation has never heard of. He’s graded out higher than any starting quarterback in the ACC this season, according to Pro Football Focus.

Jamie Newman, Wake Forest: 90.8
Hendon Hooker, Virginia Tech: 85.6
Trevor Lawrence, Clemson: 82.5
Sam Howell, UNC: 77.4
Micale Cunningham, Louisville: 75.1

Considering that we have a limited sample size of Hendon Hooker, it’s not particularly close between Newman and the rest of the ACC. Here are his numbers for the season…

Passing: 167-of-247 (67.2%) for 2,059 yards, 20 TDs, 5 INTs
Rushing: 98 carries, 305 yards, 3.1 ypc, 5 TDs

Newman picked Wake over Duke, NC State, Vanderbilt, West Virginia, and others, and he is without a doubt the best quarterback the Hokies will face all season, despite what preseason prognosticators said about UVA’s Bryce Perkins.

Newman redshirted, hardly saw the field as a redshirt freshman, and was a part-time starter as a redshirt sophomore. He’s the perfect example of why it’s important to be patient with quarterback prospects. He could end up being the first Demon Deacon quarterback to be drafted since Mike Elkins in 1989.

Armani Chatman, Virginia Tech
Armani Chatman (25) will face a major challenge in his first career start. (Ivan Morozov)

Sage Surratt and the Wide Receivers

Sage Surratt (6-3, 215, r-So.) was ranked outside the nation’s top 1,110 recruits by 247. He picked the Demon Deacons over Harvard, Yale, UNC and South Carolina, but who knows if those offers from UNC and South Carolina were legit? ESPN’s scouting service was much higher on him, ranking him the No. 13 player in North Carolina and issuing the following scouting report…

“Surratt is just darn productive. He is athletic, flexible and possesses ideal measurables to develop into a productive red zone target and jump ball player. Makes a lot of plays while the ball is in the air and is a sneaky deep receiver. Good player with talent to warrant attention from programs in the big five conferences.”

As it turns out, ESPN was correct. Surratt is an excellent college wide receiver with good size and good speed, and will probably be the best receiver the Hokies face in 2019. He has 62 catches for 948 yards and 15.3 yards per catch, with nine touchdowns, and he’s still got four regular season games left. He ranks in the top ten in the nation in receiving yards, yards per game, yards per catch, and total touchdowns … in other words, every receiving stat that matters. In case you were wondering, he is the brother of former UNC starting quarterback and current starting linebacker Chazz Surratt.

Surratt isn’t Wake Forest’s only good target, either…

Scotty Washington (6-5, 225, r-Sr.): 35 catches, 607 yards, 17.3 ypc, 7 TDs
Kendall Hinton (6-0, 195, r-Sr.): 43 catches, 497 yards, 11.6 ypc, 1 TD

Sort of like Virginia Tech’s 2016 offense, Wake Forest is not deep at wide receiver, but their starters are very good players. To top it off, tight end Jack Freudenthal (6-3, 235, r-Sr.) is a dangerous player with 22 catches and four touchdowns on the season.

Wake Forest throws big outside receivers against opposing defenses in the form of Surratt and Washington, and fortunately the Hokies faced an offense with similar size on the outside last week at Notre Dame. However, this is a tough week to lose Jermaine Waller for the first half. Waller is the ACC’s highest-rated cornerback, according to PFF, with Caleb Farley coming in third.

Experience Level – Offense

Wake Forest starts three redshirt seniors on the offensive line, and their youngest linemen in the lineup are redshirt sophomores. Here are how the career starts break down for their projected starting lineup…

LT Justin Herron (6-5, 290, r-Sr.): 46 starts
RT Jake Benzinger (6-7, 295, r-Sr.): 35
WR Scotty Washington (6-5, 295, r-Sr.): 26
RB Cade Carney (5-11, 215, Sr.): 24
RG Nathan Gilliam (6-5, 300, r-Sr.): 24
TE Jack Freudenthal (6-3, 235, r-Sr.) 23
WR Sage Surratt (6-3, 215, r-So.): 17
QB Jamie Newman (6-3, 230, r-Jr.): 11
C Zach Tom (6-4, 290, r-So.): 9
LG Sean Maginn (6-3, 290, r-Sr.): 8
Total: 232 starts

Tech’s projected starting defense on Saturday has a combined 160 starts (with Armani Chatman and his zero starts substituted for Jermaine Waller and his eight starts). That’s actually an impressive number for the Hokies, considering they start five sophomores and only one senior. A year or two from now, this Tech defense is going to be as experienced as this Wake offense. In fact, so will the Hokie offense. But that’s another topic for another day.

Hendon Hooker, Virginia Tech
Hopefully Hendon Hooker is back on Saturday. (Jon Fleming)

The Wake Forest Defense – By The Numbers

After being shredded by Louisville, the Wake Forest defense has played very well in its last two games against Florida State and NC State, but on the whole it has not distinguished itself on the season. Here are their numbers against Power 5 competition…

Scoring Defense: 26.8 ppg, No. 43
Rushing Defense: 181.2 ypg, No. 79
Passing Defense: 238.8 ypg, No. 67
Total Defense: 420 ypg, No. 65
Yards per Play: 5.66 ypp, No. 54

The Wake Forest defense actually allows more yards per play than their own offense gains. They’ve been a bit of a bend-but-don’t-break defense at times. Against Louisville, they broke, and against their other Power 5 opponents, they did not.

Defensive Players to Watch

DE Carlos Basham, Jr. (6-5, 275, r-Jr.): 11.5 TFL, 6 sacks. Basham was a lightly recruited player from Roanoke, but he has blossomed at Wake Forest. He will be excited to play in front of family and friends. Overall, he’s the No. 8 rated defensive player in the ACC per Pro Football Focus.

CB Amari Henderson (6-1, 180, r-Sr.): Henderson leads Wake Forest with four interceptions, and he is the No. 8 rated cornerback in the ACC per Pro Football Focus.

LB Ja’Cquez Williams (6-2, 220, r-Jr.): Williams replaced the injured Justin Strnad, who was lost for the season with a bicep injury after the first seven games of the season. Williams has four career starts, but only one this season.

A Trend That Has to Change

Take a look at these numbers…

Wake’s Offensive Plays: 678
Wake’s Defensive Plays: 576
Difference: +102

Virginia Tech’s Offensive Plays: 559
Virginia Tech’s Defensive Plays: 596
Difference: -37

In Tech’s most recent game against Notre Dame, the Hokies ran just 64 offensive plays to Notre Dame’s 91. The Irish gained 442 yards, which seems like a lot, but averaged just 4.9 yards per play, which would rank just No. 77 in the country against Power 5 teams. The Tech defense is doing a pretty good job right now.

Everyone wants to talk about how the Virginia Tech defense matches up against Wake Forest, but the key is probably how well the Hokie offense does. Can they keep the football? This is a game that could be decided by the number of offensive snaps each team takes.

Overall Experience Comparison

There are all sorts of ways to compare experience. Wake Forest redshirts nearly everybody (have I ever mentioned how much I like Dave Clawson?) and plays very few true freshmen. Let’s compare the percentage of snaps by true freshmen for both teams, starting with Wake Forest…

Snaps by true freshmen: 685
Total offensive/defensive snaps: 14,133
Percentage of snaps by true freshmen: 4.8%

And now for the Hokies…

Snaps by true freshmen: 1,702
Total offensive/defensive snaps: 13,109
Percentage of snaps by true freshmen: 13.0%

Virginia Tech is at an experience disadvantage against pretty much everybody, but that’s especially true against Wake Forest.

Final Thoughts

I’m sure he could put it more eloquently than I always manage, but I’m sure that Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson would agree with my “Always Be Redshirting” philosophy. Here’s how their roster breaks down…

Senior Class: 9 of 13 players redshirted
Junior Class: 15 of 17 players redshirted
Sophomore Class: 23 of 28 players redshirted

There are also 22 redshirt freshmen on the roster, and only four true freshmen appear in this year’s two-deep.

Clawson knows that to maximize the potential of the program, he needs to make heavy use of the redshirt. It allows your players to develop over a longer period of time, both physically and mentally, and there’s a lot to be said for having a large number of fourth- and fifth-year players on the field, which is what the Demon Deacons have this year. It helps when those players are smart, too. Sage Surratt was once committed to Harvard. Jamie Newman was heavily recruited by Vanderbilt. Smart, experienced football players are hard to beat, unless you can completely out-talent them, or you have equally experienced players.

The Hokies don’t have equally experienced players, and though Tech recruits well, they don’t recruit so well that they can completely out-talent a team like Wake Forest, especially if that team is experienced.

That being said, Justin Fuente is a smart football coach. He can look at the numbers the same as I can and realize that controlling the football is the key to Virginia Tech’s victory. Could the Hokies possibly win a shootout of 40-50 points? Sure, it’s always possible. But a better chance of winning comes by controlling the ball, limiting Wake Forest’s possession, and keeping the game in the low-30s, or preferably the 20s. Whether or not Tech can execute the type of plan that can help them win a game like this remains to be seen, but I’ll feel a lot better about it if Hendon Hooker is 100% and ready to rock and roll.

Outside of Clemson being unbeaten, not a lot has made sense in the ACC this year. I’d certainly feel a lot better if the Hokies had Jermaine Waller in the first half, too.  

I picked UNC to beat Tech 27-24, and the Hokies won.  I picked Notre Dame to beat Tech 27-24, and VT was winning with 30 seconds left.  Since we’re spinning the wheel of destiny for each game this year anyway, I might as well keep going.

Chris’s Prediction: Wake Forest 27, Virginia Tech 24

Will Stewart’s Take: Dave Clawson clearly knows how to run a program like Wake. This is his sixth year in Winston-Salem, and he is hitting his stride. Not much was expected of the Deacs, who were projected sixth in the ACC Atlantic in the preseason media poll, but two months into the season, they are all that stands between Clemson and another Atlantic title. (The two teams play November 16.)

Clawson looks like an excellent coach, but here’s a bit of Dave Clawson trivia: going into this season, his career record in 19 seasons as a head coach was only 118-115. Hmmm. Not sure how that relates to this game, but it’s interesting, and it does make me pump the brakes a little bit on my Dave Clawson man-crush.

Anyway, back to the topic. Here we go again: Notre Dame started 12 seniors and 7 juniors against the Hokies, and they squeaked out a narrow win at home over VT. Wake will start 9 seniors and 5 juniors against Tech, not quite the huge age advantage that the Irish had, but a significant one nonetheless. (Virginia Tech is expected to start 1 senior and 8 juniors.) Wake doesn’t have as many junior-senior starters as Notre Dame, but I also think Wake is a better football team.

I said on this morning’s podcast that I see this as a similar outcome to the Notre Dame game, with Wake Forest winning a close one. I also said this is the last time I’ll pick the Hokies to lose this season on their way to a Coastal Division title (don’t @ me, bro!).

Will’s Prediction: Wake Forest 31, Virginia Tech 24

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28 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Four times in a row Chris picks our opponent and Will follows suit. Thus far you are 1-2. Hope after Saturday you are 1-3. Should be an interesting game. Go hokies!

  2. What cannot happen this weekend is the abysmal production on first down that we suffered vs ND. We’ve got to produce 3-5 yards on first down to stay competitive and have a shot. Getting into 2nd and long and 3rd and long killed us last week. That, and the home cooking from those ND refs. Neutralize those BS calls and we’re talking about a whole different story that renders some of the comparisons against ND’s Jr and Sr count vs ours less meaningful in the context of translating it to the Wake game.

  3. Hmmm – Will is saying is we lose to Wake and win the last 3 and win the Coastal. If you don’t think we can beat Wake at home, why would you think we can beat UVA on the road? If you use Sagarin ratings we would be 10 pt, underdogs to UVA right now because they are rated higher than Wake. Winning the next 3 and losing to UVA is a more likely scenario although I would prefer Will’s outcome. Maybe that was explained on the Podcast. Our defense has really improved throughout the season. I think we will beat Wake.

  4. Play to win the game! With Hooker on offense the focus should be on execution and scoring points, not time of possesion. If the offense executes, the time of possession will take care of it self. We put points up early and get a lead, I like our chances. We fall behind early, I do not.

  5. This one is a tricky one for Tech, especially on the defensive side. It’s going to take a masterful game plan from Bud, mixing in some form of pressure in opportune moments and prob more of the infamous 3 man rush we all love to hate. Be interested to see how they play this one. ND game gave me some hope we can hold an offense to under 30 but I think Wake is a different monster than ND offensively. 30 will a tough ask, see if the boys are up for it. GO HOKIES!

  6. When Clawson was the coach at University of Richmond, he did the same thing with the red-shirts. When he left and Mike London (ex UVA coach) took over, he left London with a roster full of experience. In the UR 2 deep there were almost all R-Sr., Sr., or Juniors. Of course London went on to win the FCS national championship that first year will all of Clawson’s players. Really embellished London’s resume, but those in the know knew it was due to Clawson’s recruiting and stockpiling with red-shirts. There were a lot of coaches that could have won with that UR team. Clawson has always espoused the red-shirt philosophy, but to be competitive at Wake, it is a must.

  7. Will Wake be looking ahead to Clemson? Trap game? They can lose this game and still claim the Atlantic next week. Just sayin…maybe?

    1. If Clemson beats NC State as expected, Wake’s only chance is to tie Clemson at 7-1 and win the head-to-head tie breaker. A loss to the Hokies will most likely knock them out of it.

  8. Over the long run, teams generally have about a 50% winrate in games decided by a touchdown or less. So, if Wake Forest goes 5-0 in such games in a single season, that would get pretty far into unusual territory. I think they will either win by more, or not win at all.

  9. Totally agree that VT has to control the TOP and limit the opportunities for Wake Offense has the ball. Key is to allow HH to run the RPO & keep the misdirection and tight end engagement in the passing game. Hokies must Keep moving those sticks as it’s paramount to a victory. Hopefully a lesson was learned from the single page, 6 plays playbook employed at ND.

  10. WF reminds me of when we played in the Carrier Dome against Babers and they ran like 90 plays or so….there is REALLY one main key to this game. We hired Justin Fuente because of his offensive prowess. I believe that HH will start and mainly stay in the pocket and hit open receivers all day…but I think we also get a large dose of QP, in the run game, and mix in a few throws just to throw off their defensive scheme.

    My point is if we can even have a 50/50 TOP, we have an excellent chance of winning this game.I also believe that Washington and Hinton are not 100% which may slow them down slightly, due to depth.
    VT 30-WF 24

  11. Hoping you two are wrong again! I feel like Wake has a lot left to prove. Nothing in their resume scares me thus far. I see a fairly weak schedule and they are likely to be a bit full of themselves after beating down a weakened NCst squad.

    Maybe I’d be more worried if Wake WR Scotty Washington was really 6-5 295 lbs as you have him listed 🙂 225 lbs according to ESPN.

    1. Most talented roster we will see all year, especially at the skill positions. ND prob has the edge in the trenches but this QB, WR, and RB make for a tough combo. Gonna be hard to slow this offensive attack.

  12. We’re due. We’re due for one of those surprise games when a confluence of events leads to an unexpected beat down of a well regarded opponent. My gut tells me this is the one. Hokies win by 17.

  13. You guys have been on a hot streak of being wrong so let’s keep it rolling. Wake is not going to out athlete VT. Play error free ball and the Hokies can win this by controlling the ball. I see Wake crashing back down to earth and Hokies winning by two scores!

  14. How can VT ‘red-shirt’ all the time in the modern era of players fleeing to the portal the second playing time is threatened??? Will it help we are recruiting players with less stars???

    1. Let me just strongly disagree with this “agree with my “Always Be Redshirting” philosophy”

      Do you shirt the Edmond brothers? Do you shirt Ryan Williams? Do you shirt freshmen that can contribute and are headed to the pros after 3 years? Do you redshirt players that will transfer?

      I don’t think the good programs like Clemson agree with this philosophy – they get good ones and they play them early.

      There is still a place for shirting, and even more so now that players can play 4 games. But it’s a tool to be used wisely. “Always shirt” or close to Always shirt is not wise coaching, IMHO.

    1. This is something I have thought about that makes me optimistic about the game’s outcome. They have played mostly at home on artificial turf, and I think this is their first away game on a natural surface. It could be a big Hokie advantage. I hope so. Go Hokies!!

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